Michael van Eeden on Fri, 21 Feb 97 20:01 MET

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nettime: Web Review--Will the Domain Name Game Remain the Same?


>     [Feature Story]
>     [Will the Domain Name Game Remain the Same?]
>         by                  What's in a domain name?
>         John Gilles
>                             Well, for starters, a combination
>                             of confusion and consternation, as
>                             rival groups battle over the
>                             lucrative right to register names
>                             while domain owners wait and
>                             watch.
>                             The conflict came to a head this
>                             month when the International Ad
>                             Hoc Committee of the Internet
>                             Society floated a proposal to
>                             create seven new top-level domain
>                             names and open up the registration
>                             process to 28 new registrars. It
>                             is being challenged.
>         Internet Assigned   The move came after the Internet
>         Numbers Authority   Assigned Names Authority, which
>         (IANA)              doesn't necessarily have any
>         A clearinghouse     authority in this area, proposed a
>         for Internet        similar plan that was subsequently
>         protocol            shot down by critics. The earlier
>         parameters, run     plan was dinged for not dealing
>         by the University   with possible international
>         of Southern         trademark disputes, a lack of
>         California's        public input and its source --
>         engineering         since the IANA is a US
>         school.             organization, out of the
>                             University of Southern California.
>                             It's not that the critics don't
>                             agree that a change needs to be
>                             made. Demand for domain names is
>                             beginning to outstrip supply, and
>                             trademark disputes are beginning
>                             to mount. Everybody is
>                             acknowledging that there must be
>                             some life after .com. But getting
>                             there is the problem.
>                             [First, A Little History]
>                             As most amateur Net historians
>                             already know, the Internet was
>                             born when researchers for the
>                             Defense Advanced Research Projects
>                             Agency devised a way to
>                             communicate with each other
>                             through a computer network.
>         National Science
>         Foundation (NSF)    Over time, other academics joined
>         Once administered   the network, and -- we're
>         the Internet, now   compressing history a little here
>         funds network       -- eventually the World Wide Web
>         research.           evolved as a subset of the
>                             Internet, leading to the
>         Internet            commercial explosion we have
>         Engineering Task    today. The National Science
>         Force (IETF)        Foundation took over some of the
>         Engineers who       Pentagon's leadership
>         write Internet      responsibilities, before handing
>         standards.          those off to private organizations
>                             (mostly telcos and regional
>                             service providers) in Spring 1994.
>         InterNIC            Internet communication relies on
>         Assigns domain      the the Domain Name System (DNS),
>         names.              which converts recognizable names
>                             like "www.webreview.com" to a
>                             numerical IP address like
>                             "" First proposed
>                             by D.L. Mills of Comsat
>                             Laboratories in 1981, the actual
>                             top-level domains in use today
>                             (sych as .com, .net, and .org)
>                             were adopted in 1984. InterNIC
>                             keeps a registry of the domain
>                             names, while IANA keeps a database
>                             of the IP addresses.
>                             Later, new top-level domains to
>                             indicate geographical location,
>                             based on internationally
>                             recognized country codes, were
>                             included, such as .ca for Canada
>                             and .us for the United States of
>                             America. Domain name registrations
>                             outside the U.S. are typically
>                             handled by national or regional
>                             registries and may include
>                             subdomains not presently used in
>                             the US.
>                             In most countries, the country
>                             code is always part of the domain
>                             name, and the failure of most U.S.
>                             companies to use them is perceived
>                             as simply American arrogance.
>                             However, there is no doubting the
>                             international appeal of a Uniform
>                             Resource Locator (URL) that ends
>                             in ".com." Indeed, there are now
>                             somewhere in the neighborhood of
>                             500,000 URLs ending in .com, and
>                             it's becoming obvious that the
>                             number of useful words and phrases
>                             is quickly running out.
>                             [Who's Behind the Plan?]
>                             To address the problem of too few
>                             addresses, the Internet Society
>                             formed the 11-member IAHC with the
>                             charge to expand the DNS. The IAHC
>                             plan would preserve the current
>                             six top level domains and add
>                             seven new ones, including .store,
>                             .firm and .nom.
>                      Current and Proposed Domains
>       The
>       Old                            The New
>       .gov  government                .firm   firms
>       .edu  education                  .web   Web-related content
>                                               and activities
>       .com  commercial                 .rec   recreational, such
>                                               as games
>       .mil  military                  .info   information or
>                                               research services
>       .org  non-profit                 .nom   personal Web pages
>             organizations
>       .net  networking providers      .store  retail sites
>             international treaty
>       .int  organizations and         .arts   cultural content
>             Internet databases                providers
>         Internet Society    Composed of resepresentatives from
>         (ISOC)              Internet, telecommunication and
>         A nongovernmental   legal standards groups such as the
>         group of            International Telecommunications
>         companies and       Union and the World Intellectual
>         agencies            Property Organization, the IAHC
>         fostering global    was convened five months ago, but
>         growth of the       all its members were already very
>         Internet,           familiar with the DNS issue.
>         formerly part of
>         the Corporation     Since both the Internet Society
>         for National        and the Internet Assigned Numbers
>         Research            Authority are the main bodies that
>         Initiatives.        need to approve the plan, and they
>                             have already indicated their
>         Internet            support, the plan seems to be a
>         Architecture        foregone conclusion. But don't
>         Board (IAB)         count on it, because there are
>         Technical           some opponents gearing up to
>         advisors to the     battle the proposal, and they may
>         Internet Society.   find substantial support abroad.
>                             [InterNIC, Meet AlterNIC]
>         AlterNIC            When Eugene Kashpureff calls
>         An alternative      himself the Internet's "foremost
>         domain name         revolutionary," he is only
>         system.             half-joking. As the founder and
>                             owner of AlterNIC (the alternative
>                             domain-name system), Kashpureff
>                             and his allies are fighting tooth
>                             and nail to keep the IAHC proposal
>                             from coming to pass.
>                             "I'm the alternative to the U.S.
>                             government controlling the
>                             Internet," Kashpureff claims.
>                             "While the world is pretty
>                             thankful for the gift of the
>                             Internet, the U.S. still holds a
>                             stranglehold on this international
>                             asset."
>                             Kashpureff opposes the IAHC
>                             proposal on both political and
>                             technical grounds. First, he says
>                             the planning process was secretive
>                             and undemocratic. "The IAHC forgot
>                             to invite a few people to the
>                             table, like the Electronic
>                             Frontier Foundation and the
>                             Computer Professionals for Social
>                             Responsibility," he says. To him,
>                             that means there isn't consensus
>                             on the DNS issue: "It's still a
>                             wide-open playing field."
>                             On technical grounds, Kashpureff
>                             objects to the IAHC plan because
>                             he says it depends on "vaporware"
>                             to administer the shared
>                             registries. "There are 28
>                             different groups sharing seven
>                             top-level domains with code that
>                             doesn't exist yet," he says.
>                             Despite that, he has applied to
>                             make AlterNIC one of the new
>                             registries.
>                             In addition, Kashpureff said he
>                             doesn't much like the IAHC plan
>                             for settling trademark disputes,
>                             which calls for a 60-day
>                             publication period in which a
>                             trademark holder to challenge a
>                             new domain name. "The registry
>                             should not be in the business of
>                             settling trademark disputes," he
>                             says.
>         Network Solutions   Under his plan, there would be as
>         Incorporated        many as 20,000 top-level domains,
>         (NSI)               such as .zine or .web, operated by
>         Owned by SAIC,      individual registrars. Large
>         holds contract to   companies could own their own
>         run InterNIC and    top-level domain, such as .coke or
>         has a               .wired.. Trademark disputes would
>         near-monopoly on    be handled in court, not by the
>         most generic        domain-name registrar. And control
>         domain name         of the Internet would be
>         registrations       decentralized.
>         through 1998.
>                             [Busting the NSI Monopoly]
>                             If Kashpureff's claims about U.S.
>                             government control of the Internet
>                             seem paranoid, then consider the
>                             sole registrar of the current
>                             top-level domains, Network
>                             Solutions, Inc. of Herndon,
>                             Virginia.
>         "Domain Name Fees   As Web Review first reported in
>         Benefit Defense     1995, NSI is owned by Scientific
>         Contractors"        Applications International Corp.,
>         by Stephen Pizzo    which has board members with ties
>         Sept. 29, 1995      to the U.S. intelligence
>                             community. NSI charges $100 for a
>         Federal             two-year license on a domain name,
>         Networking          and registers 80,000 to 100,000
>         Council (FNC)       domain names a month. Competition
>         Includes members    would likely cause the fee to drop
>         from 17 US          if 28 new competitors were allowed
>         agencies that use   into this exclusive marketplace.
>         the Net,
>         including NASA      [Can Someone Steal Your Domain?]
>         and Dept. of        Assuming the IAHC plan passes and
>         Energy.             seven new domain names come
>                             online, what does that mean for
>                             current domain-name holders?
>                             Should you change your top-level
>                             domain from .com to, say, .firm?
>                             If you already own a domain name
>                             ending in .com, can someone come
>                             along and take yourname.web or
>                             yourname.firm? Like everything on
>                             the Internet, answers are not
>                             readily apparent.
>                             Domain-name holders would have to
>                             make some decisions. Retail Web
>                             sites may want to switch from .com
>                             to .store, or they may want to
>                             keep both domains and pay the
>                             extra fee every year. Large
>                             companies may erect domain-name
>                             fences to keep others away from
>                             their trademarks, such as
>                             ford.com, ford.store, ford.firm
>                             and so on.
>                             Alternatively, a domain-holder may
>                             wish to keep the currently held
>                             name and simply challenge every
>                             new application that seems to
>                             tread on its trademark turf. This,
>                             however, might require undue
>                             vigilance on the part of the
>                             domain-name holder.
>                             Neither option sounds appealing,
>                             which is why small entities should
>                             just stick to the top-level domain
>                             that best suits its identity, and
>                             leave the other domains to others.
>                             So for instance, your consulting
>                             company might be smith.com, but an
>                             unrelated Internet service
>                             provider could be smith.web. If it
>                             sounds confusing to the Web user,
>                             it could be. With five existing
>                             domains and seven new ones on the
>                             way, there could be a dozen
>                             different permutations of a given
>                             name.
>                             [What's in *.store]
>                             If the IAHC's plan is accepted by
>                             both the Internet Society and the
>                             Internet Assigned Numbers
>                             Authority, new domain names could
>                             be in place quickly, possibly as
>                             soon as this summer. However, the
>                             timetable is hard to figure
>                             because IAHC has still not issued
>                             its final legal guidelines, nor
>                             has it released a milestone
>                             calendar.
>                             In addition, opponents have
>                             promised to fight the plan with
>                             legal action, if necessary. A
>                             group of auto dealers in Southern
>                             California say they already own
>                             the rights to the .web domain, and
>                             have promised to sue to protect
>                             them.
>                             With obstacles like that to
>                             hurdle, we can expect some delays
>                             along the way to the Brave New
>                             World Wide Web. So hold onto your
>                             .com, and start thinking about
>                             whether you're really a .firm or a
>                             .store.
>                             -----------------------------------
>                             Would you pay additional fees to
>                             license multiple domain names?
>                             Send us email.
>                         [Web Review Contents]
>    -----------------------------------------------------------------
>           Web Review copyright  1997 Songline Studios, Inc.
>  Web Techniques and Web Design and Development copyright  1997 Miller
>                              Freeman, Inc.
>                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Michael van Eeden (mieg@factory.org)
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