Domain name issues have been an important and sometimes controversial part of the reshaping of New Zealand's Internet over the past year. But events in the US, which now see proposals to create seven new "international" or "generic" top-level domains (gTLDs) to ease the squeeze on names, may be just as important to us. And it's later than you think - submissions on this major initiative close on January 17 for a decision at the end of the month. Netscape World's BARRY D. BOWEN backgrounds the vital gTLD debate.
The explosive growth and commercialization of the Internet pushed its collaborative anarchy towards a more tightly regulated management infrastructure. At the same time the growing international character of the Net recoiled from the US hegemony - real or perceived - over generic or international top level domains, especially the .com domain.
Over the last year there has been much discussion, and some action to address these concerns. On December 19th an International Ad Hoc Committee issues a proposal (see the resources section below) to revamp both the generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and the number and method of selecting who has the right to register these domain names.
Here is a concise summary of recent events and the core issues, and a reader survey. The 30-day public comment period for the IAHC proposal ends mid-January.
From 1993, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) paid Network Solutions Inc. to function as the Internet registrar for all gTLDs - .com, .net, . org, .edu, .gov, .mil. In September 1995, with nearly 20,000 domain registration requests per month and a five-week processing backlog, the NSF agreed to Network Solutions' plan to charge applicants $100 for new domain registrations to .com, .net, and .org, and to charge a $50 annual fee for domain name holders. The NSF would continue to pay for .edu domains, the US government's networking agencies would pay for .gov domains, and the US Department of Defense would pick up the tab for .mil domains.
At face value, this move was intended to lessen the US taxpayer subsidy for domain name management and to lessen frivolous demand by making applicants pay some fee. But the move did far more than that, angering many in the Internet community and disenfranchising many international interests. The fact that Network Solutions was purchased as a wholly owned subsidiary by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) - a major US defense contractor - also fueled concerns over a big-business, US government-sponsored monopoly over the Internet.
Demand for commercial domains resulted in many applicants finding their first and second choice already taken. In some cases, businesses found their highly prized trademarked names already taken by relatively unknown entities. The unscrupulous launched schemes to intentionally register high-profile names in the hope that deep-pocket companies would buy the rights to the already registered domain name.
Network Solutions promulgated several versions of dispute resolution guidelines (see the resources section below) in an attempt to balance the rights of trademark holders against the rights of established Internet domain name holders. But since Network Solutions was a US-based business, some litigants successfully argued that US trademark law ruled the day and the Network Solutions/InterNIC policy was largely irrelevant. This further alienated international interests.
While the Internet establishment informally discussed the situation, small alternative "InterNICs" (see the resources section below) sprang up, arbitrarily claiming the authority to create and register a plethora of new top level domains. Options to the crowded .com name space ranged from .inc, .ltd, and .comp, to topical domains such as .books, .oil, and .sex. Disputes have already arisen between these self-appointed registrars, and some users are concerned about the reliability and longevity of the domains they promote. For others, this trend is a refreshing return to the creative, collaborative anarchy of the early Internet.
The Internet establishment, under the auspices of the Internet Society, responded formally in mid-September 1996 by forming the IAHC to resolve "assignment and management aspects" of international (the IAHC prefers generic) top level domain names. The IAHC task force was selected by ISOC, IAB, IANA, ITU, INTA, and WIPO.
The "Draft Specifications for Administration and Management of gTLDs" issued December 19th calls for creating seven new gTLDs of three to five letters each, that will have general contextual meaning suggesting a connection with the Internet, with business, or with personal uses. Network Solutions will continue to function as registrar for the .com, .net, and .org domains, while up to 20 to 30 new registrars would share the ability to register users in the new gTLDs. The IAHC draft calls for prospective registrars to put up $20,000 and then be selected by lottery. Those not selected would have their entrance fee refunded. More registrars could be added each year. Network Solutions' monopoly position over the .com, .net, and .org domain name space is relegated to further discussions.
The IAHC plans to close public comment on January 17th and issue a final document on January 31, 1997. Netscape World is also seeking responses to a survey on the DNS issue and on this article. You can participate directly at: http://www.netscapeworld.com/netscapeworld/nw-01-1997/nw-01-domain.html
NetscapeWorld's top-level domain reader survey for January 1997
IAHC Press Release for Draft Specification dated Dec. 19, 1996
IAHC Draft Specification
Proposals Submitted to the IAHC
IAHC Discussion List Archive
September 1996 Conference Papers, sponsored by the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project
Network Solutions' InterNIC
Organizations Sponsoring the IAHC Task Force
Internet Society (ISOC)
Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)
http://www.iana.org/iana Internet Architecture Board (IAB)
Federal Networking Council (FNC)
International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
International Trademark Association (INTA)
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
Selected Alternative gTLD registries
Alternic Registry and other links
Web Domain Registry by Image Online Design
Name Space Registry
Another discussion list with more alternative viewpoints
NewDom discussion list and archive
Domain name dispute policy
Rev 1 to the Domain Dispute Policy was obsoleted by Rev 2 on Sept. 9, 1996. Rev 2 is available at the following URLs: