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A history of developments
in the assigning of
domain names (1998)

Threads Domain name policy
See also
[1999], 1998-11-17, 11-03, 10-19, 08-31, 06-29, 06-08, 05-11, 04-13, 03-30, 03-23, 02-09, 02/02, 01/26, [1997-1996].

These developments in the naming of domains in 1998 are presented in reverse chronological order -- to see the events in the order they happened, work upward from the bottom of this page. This material appeared in slightly different form in the TBTF issues listed at the right.
[ See also 1999-present | 1998 | 1997-1996 ]

Domain name meeting short on consensus

ICANN is flapping hard but gaining little altitude

The organization set to inherit dominion over Net naming and numbering held its first public meeting on 14 November. ICANN anticipated rough sailing and they certainly encountered it from an audience of more than 150. Fewer than one-third raised their hands when interim chairwoman Esther Dyson asked how many thought that a concensus on general principles could be reached at the meeting. One participant, complaining about the secret process by which ICANN's initial board had been selected, said "The board has sprung as a virgin birth from some unknown entity." (In fact the "unknown entity" was the late Jon Postel, as a lawyer working with Postel's agency IANA explained.) Dyson asked the meeting, "How many think ICANN is an out-and-out fraud and are here to try to stop it?" Only a few hands went up, but someone shouted, "Could you separate those questions?" This meeting indicates how hard it will be for ICANN to find common ground in the naming transition -- a process rendered vastly more fraught by the death of Postel, the resignation of the Network Solutions CEO, and the imminent departure from the Clinton administration of Ira Magaziner, one of the few visible White House staffers who has a clue on the Net. The ICANN board will hold a second public meeting in Brussels on 25 November; the European Commission will host.

ICANN names interim board, schedules public meeting

Names interim board, schedules public meeting

The organization that is in line to inherit oversight of Internet naming and numbering on 26 October named an interim CEO and board of directors. Some have criticized the move as inappropriate before the Department of Commerce's criticisms of ICANN are addressed; but the interim chairman, Esther Dyson, argues that a board was necessary to give the organization a concrete face, and the government someone with whom to negotiate. The interim officials are:
    Michael M. Roberts (US)

    Esther Dyson (US), Chairman
    Geraldine Capdeboscq (France)
    George H. Conrades (US)
    Gregory L. Crew (Australia)
    Frank Fitzsimmons (US)
    Hans Kraaijenbrink (The Netherlands)
    Jun Murai (Japan)
    Eugenio Triana (Spain)
    Linda S. Wilson (US)
  Executive Committee:
    Esther Dyson
    Gregory L. Crew
    Hans Kraaijenbrink
    Michael M. Roberts
See the bottom of this link for capsule biographies.

ICANN has announced an open, public meeting to be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA on Saturday 14 November (here are details and a registration and comment form. ICANN plans similar meetings in various locations around the world over the coming year.

The clouded future of domain naming

Early hope for consensus through an open process fades amid acrimony, accusations, and an untimely death

When last we looked in on the US government turning authority for domain naming over to a not-yet-created private corporation, in late August, the process seemed to be moving along smoothly. The International Forum on the White Paper had organized open meetings around the globe whose participants had agreed on a number of principles, but hadn't generated a concrete proposal for forming a "New IANA." A separate and, some argue, equally open process had been going on at IANA -- Jon Postel had been posting drafts of articles of incorporation for the new organization, taking comments, issuing revisions. Postel's third draft embodied many of the IFWP principles but, critics claimed, didn't build enough accountability and transparency into the New IANA.

Also conspicuous by its absence in IANA's process was Network Solutions Inc., the party with the most to lose in the upcoming transition (e.g. $18.6M over the last 30 days). In early September, at the urging of Ira Magaziner, godfather of the White Paper, IANA and NSI met. By 9/17 their meetings has produced what many took to be a good final consensus draft.

Then things began seriously to fall apart.

Magaziner insisted on one more draft to sew up the consensus. Gordon Cook, in his Cook Report on Internet, charges that Magaziner was determined to strip NSI of its monopoly cash cow. Time was running out -- a September 30 deadline was looming, the end of NSI's contract with the US government. NSI was unwilling to sign away 80% of its business and planned simply to let the contract expire. NSI accepted a 1-week extension, according to Cook, under unprecedented government pressure.

Then on October 2 Postel surprised everyone by issuing Draft 5 without NSI participation. The clauses from Draft 4 that had offered some protection for NSI's revenue stream -- and had also allowed the future participation of small companies such as Iperdome and Image Online Design -- had been excised from Draft 5. The new organization, when created, was to be called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names -- ICANN. IANA submitted the ICANN proposal to the Commerce Department for official consideration. It included a proposed 9-member interim board of directors who were to select the final board members.

Reactions to what many perceived as IANA's unilateral abandonment of an open process were largely negative, though some observers, such as Gordon Cook, said it was the government which had long since abandoned openness. But Postel continued to enjoy the support of a wide spectrum of the Internet community, especially the technical insiders.

Ira Magaziner accepted IANA's proposal along with two others and opened up a short comment period ending on 10/13. One alternate proposal was submitted by IFWP participants who called themselves The Boston Group and claimed to represent the true spirit of the open IFWP process which IANA had abandoned. Here is an analysis of the three proposals (but considering the IANA-NSI Draft 4, not the one finally submitted).

On 10/16 the head of a Congressional committee sent Magaziner a letter questioning the process by which IANA's proposal had been birthed and the truncated period allowed for public comment.

And on Friday night, 10/16, Jon Postel died of complications following heart surgery. He was 55. I believe it's safe to say that no-one knows what effect Postel's death will have on a process already polarized and fractal. Here is Dave Crocker's remembrance of Jon Postel; it's the truest that has come across the wires.

New domain-name organization taking form

"New IANA" plan pleases most of the people, most of the time

After a summer of meetings around the world, the "stakeholders" are near agreement on how to form the new corporation that will oversee Internet numbers and domain names. The proposal that has risen to the top was put forward by Jon Postel, head of the current Internet Assigned Numbers Agency. The proposed organization is being called, for the time, the "New IANA." Here are its FAQ, articles of incorporation, and the third iteration of its bylaws. Some of the salients:

  • The New IANA will be a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles.

  • The organization's main objectives will be to undertake whatever is necessary to maintain the operational stability of the Internet and to manage the allocation of new top-level domain names.

  • It will be managed by a nine-member board of directors that will notify the public of any meetings via the Internet at least 14 days in advance.

  • No government member can become a board member, but governments will have input through a special advisory committee.

  • No more than half of the members of the board of directors can be from one geographic region.

  • Directors will serve three-year terms and will receive no pay.

The New IANA must be up and running by September 30, when the US government's contracts with IANA and Network Solutions expire. This stage of the process aims only to form a New IANA that derives legitimacy and authority from the support of all parts of the Internet community worldwide. Most of the hard questions left unresolved by the US government's white paper are still unresolved, and will be early on the agenda for the new organization.

Thanks to Adam Rifkin <adam at cs dot caltech dot edu> for this pointer.

Cyberspace Constitutional Conventions in July

The scramble to define Internet governance begins, in exclusivity

Following the US government's abdication of decision-making in the issuance of domain names the Commercial Internet Exchange has invited 82 companies, organizations, and experts to a conclave on the subject in Reston, Virginia. It's called "Toward an Internet Assigned Numbers Entity: Charter Stakeholders Workshop." Invitees include the IANA, CORE, the Internet Society, AOL, PSINet, AT&T, and Disney Online, as well as organizations like the American Bar Association and the American Intellectual Property Law Association. Boston University Law professor Tamar Frankel will lead the workshop.

Separately, the Internet Society has called an Internet Summit for July 24-25 in Geneva, Swizerland. Characterized as a discussion of the structure and roles of the "New IANA," the meeting leverages the attendance at the Internet Society's eighth annual meeting in Geneva, and is expected to attract representatives from 120 countries.

Some in the Internet community have decried the stealth with which these meetings were set up. Einar Stefferud disclosed a June 16 email message documenting a conference call in which 19 participants settled the framework for the above two meetings; Declan McCullagh published it to his politech list. Did you hear about these meetings -- were you invited? Neither was I. So far the process has not exactly been a model of open self-governance.

Government abdicates domain naming

Long-awaited domain name white paper ducks the controversial decisions

On Friday 6/5 the US government released its final policy paper on Internet domain naming. Last January its predecessor, the so-called green paper, had been prescriptive; the white paper is laissez-faire. As many who commented on the green paper requested, the US government is not only getting out of the business of running the domain-name system, it is declining to decide the main questions as it hands over control to a private-sector organization yet to be formed.

If that's all they were going to do, why did they stall the whole process for a year doing it?

Almost everybody applauded the white paper -- even the people involved in the competing IAHC/POC/CORE process, which now appears dead -- probably because the paper takes no stands at all on the hard issues. Here are the questions on which the government punts:

  • What is the makeup of the new corporation?

  • How will its board be selected?

  • Is there one registry or are there competing ones?

  • What are the minimum criteria for approving a registry or a registrar?

  • How will trademark disputes be resolved?

  • Will there be new global top-level domains? How many? Which ones? When?

  • What role will NSI play in the future?

The process of forming the new corporation has already begun. Drafts of a proposed constitution and suggestions for the board's makeup have been circulating for several months in an effort led by the IANA's Jon Postel.

Whither Network solutions? Whereas the green paper had proposed leaving NSI with the authority to continue running the .com domain, the white paper devolves the issue onto the new corporation. NSI's stock price had been drifting down for six weeks in advance of the white paper's release, losing about 35% of its value to last Thursday. On Friday the stock gained back 20% and rose a further 12% today.

We're in for a further long period of uncertainty before the questions around domain naming settle down.

Congress belatedly authorizes fee for domain names

Does this mean the price will go back up?

You weren't waiting for a $30 refund from when you registered a domain name, were you? Now Congress has retroactively authorized the collection of the fee as part of Internet domain-name registration. The President has signed the measure. The lawyer who represented the companies filing suit against domain-name registrar Network Solutions, Inc., is not ready to let the matter rest. "We are going to very, very vigorously oppose any suggestion that that vague language surreptitiously entered into the bill ratified an unconstitutional tax," he said.

NSI stopped collecting the Intellectual Infrastructure fee on 1 April 1998.

NSF's $45M fund is illegal

Refunds coming? Don't hold your breath

On Wednesday a federal judge ruled that the $30 "Intellectual Infrastructure Fund" fee paid as a part of every domain name registration until this month had been illegally collected. He dismissed nine other counts against NSI, including the claim that it is an illegal monopoly. The plaintiffs will get refunds of their $30 fees; whether the rest of us do will hinge on a determination of class-action status in the case. This could take as long as six months. The ruling noted that even at this late date the fund could be made legitimate by an act of Congress.

Poles of the domain-name debate

The Green Paper fragmented and sharpened opinions

The Electronic Freedom Foundation has registered its comments on the Commerce Department's domain naming Green Paper. EFF weighs in from the side of radical Internet self governance. It wants the evolution of the domain naming system left completely in the hands of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and it wants NSI cut off completely from any ownership in the common property of domain namespace. The EFF urges balance for the rights of small companies and individuals against those of trademark holders.

Gordon Cook replied to the EFF comments; suffice it to say he is not sanguine. As Phil Agre notes in introducing Cook's comments, this debate has polarized almost beyond reason.


bul French up in arms over proposed US hegemony

They've coined a new word to describe domain-naming issues. The French are lobbying hard within the EU for coordinated opposition to the Green Paper plan for a US-based corporation to control global top-level domains. A technology advisor to the French government claims that this position is supported by Spain and Italy, less so by Germany, and opposed by Britain and the Scandanavian countries. The head of the French branch of the Internet Society warned that unless the Americans make real concessions from the Green Paper positions that a rival European-led Internet could be established.

bul The price of .com is going down

The National Science Foundation announced that on 1998-04-01 NSI will stop collecting the $30 "tax" on new registrations that has been collected for an Internet Intellectual Infrastructure fund. This action follows a suggestion in the Green Paper on domain naming, though that paper is a draft with no legal force. As of 1 April registering a domain name with NSI will cost $70 rather than $100 for the first two years; annual renewals will go for $35 rather than $50.

bul AlterNIC's Kashpureff pleads guilty

Eugene Kashpureff, the domain name system hacker who successfully rerouted millions of Web users last year, pleaded guilty to federal charges of computer fraud on Thursday.

bul A history of domain name developments

This investigative report gives useful background to the politics of domain naming, back to the days when Network Solutions was a tiny, minority-owned business with little understanding of the ways of government contracting. The same will never be said of NSI's parent, Science Applications International Inc.

$30 domain name fee may be illegal

On 2/2 a federal court issued an injunction barring the government from spending $46 million collected from NSI's registration of domain names. The money has been held in a fund intended for Internet infrastructure improvements, as specified in the 1995 amendment to the 1993 contract between NSI and the National Science Foundation setting up the current monopoly domain-name registration system. $30 of each $100 initial registration fee has been allocated to the Internet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. No plan was ever developed for spending these funds, and last year the Congress conducted what amounted to a raid on the account, earmarking half for the Internet II project. Last October a group of domain-name holders filed suit in federal court claiming that the NSF had no authority to allow NSI to collect any money in excess of its cost of providing the registration service. Judge Thomas Hogan said Monday that the plaintiffs had "made a significant showing that the fund is an illegal tax."

US Government green paper on domain names

The Commerce Department's long-awaited domain name plan is available. It proposes transitioning authority to oversee domain naming, the assignment of IP addresses, the registration of Internet protocol and port numbers, and the management of root servers from their current stewards (IANA and NSI ) to a new, US-based not-for- profit corporation with an international board of directors, over a period lasting from 6 to 30 months. The government contract with NSI under which that corporation acts as both registrar and registry for the existing global top-level domains (the proposal separates these functions) will end on 1998-09-30, after a 6-month extension permitted in the contract. NSI must hand over control of the root domain name server at a "date certain" to be negotiated.

The plan suggests that 5 new registries be selected and chartered as soon as possible by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. Each new registry would be granted exclusive control over one new TLD . The report solicits comments on what limitations might be placed on the pool of applicants, if any. Applying registries would have to meet technical, managerial, and legal criteria outlined in appendices to the report -- in particular they would need to define resolution processes in case of trademark disputes. Registries would be required to offer equal and open access to all registrars worldwide.

Three other notable facets of the plan:

  • NSI gets to keep control of .com, .net, and .org. They have to split off and "firewall" their registrar function for these TLDs, and open up registrar access to them to others; but NSI still emerges as the owner of the registry for these three original TLDs. (The green paper states that responsibility for .edu will be transferred to another not-for-profit ortanization; rumors have circulated that this will be Educom.)

  • As of 1998-04-01 the government would stop collecting $30 of each new NSI registrant's fee. (Of the $46M collected so far in the Internet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund, half has been allocated to the Internet II project and half is under dispute in Federal court.) The report does not require NSI to drop its initial registration fee from $100 to $70 after April 1, but in my view the company is well advised to do so.

  • The underused .us TLD should be reexamined for possible commercial use; perhaps .mil and .gov should be moved under it.

The existing process for reforming domain naming, CORE, is not specifically mentioned in the government report, though many of the green paper's ideas came from CORE; in fact CORE is among the biggest losers. The 88 entities around the world who each paid $10K to become CORE registrars seem to be out of luck, as do the individuals and companies who pre-registered names with the CORE registrars for the seven new TLDs whose future is now clouded. Emergent, the contractor with which CORE is working to build a registry database, would also seem to be a loser under the government plan, though presumably they have been paid for their work so far. Under the green paper plan, CORE and Emergent could apply to become a registry, but could only submit one of their proposed seven TLDs for consideration. All in all, the government gives greater credence to the companies that have lobbied to run registries for particular new TLDs, such as Image Online Design for .web and Iperdome for .per. But the green paper squelches the ambitions of those who favor a free-for-all marketplace in which anyone could create new TLDs.

I asked Dave Crocker, one of the original members of the International Ad Hoc Committee that led to CORE, to comment on the government green paper; his comments are posted on the TBTF archive by permission.

The plan is being attacked as too US-centric by European observers, who are especially invested in the Geneva-based CORE process. TechWeb quotes David Maher, chair of CORE's policy oversight committee, as saying the Clinton proposal is "too protective of NSI and other US interests." Maher said, "If this is treated as a US solution to US problems, people outside the US are not going to be happy. I think that's a very severe limitation on the viability of the [proposal]."

Here are other comments by CORE on the green paper. Trademark holders are not happy; they fear they will have to spend money to deal with numerous disparate registrars in order to protect their names.

A mostly sound summary of the user impacts of the green paper can be found on the igoldrush site.

The plan is open for comments (send to dns@ntia.dot.gov) until at least the first week in March. The closing date for comments will be determined when the paper is posted to the Federal Register this week.

US government will weigh in on domain naming

The long-awaited report of the Ira Magaziner task force on domain naming is expected out sometime this week. Its content has been the subject of rumors and leaks since the first of the year. I have no hard news to share on this subject -- the report will be the subject of a Tasty Bit of the Day once it's published -- so will content myself with pointing you to this recent Wired coverage and this TechWeb story on the companies that have signed up with CORE, the Council of Registrars now carrying the standard for 2-year-old IAHC plan to expand top-level domains If you want to hear Mr. Magaziner you can tune in to this 1/19 RealAudio news conference, but be warned that he spends 16 minutes saying general things about the proper role of government in the Net and not much about domain naming.

[ See also 1999-present | 1998 | 1997-1996 ]

Most recently updated 1999-12-11