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A history of developments
in the assigning of
domain names (1999-2000)

Threads Domain name policy
See also
2000-04-19, 03-31, 1999-12-16, 10-05, 08-30, 08-16, 07-26, 1999-07-21, 07-08, 06-14, 05-22, 04-21, 03-26, 03-01, [1998], [>1997-1996 ]

These developments in the naming of domains 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 ]

Dot Republicans

House Republicans grab their own piece of domain namespace

The US Republican party, currently in the majority in both houses of Congress, has annexed a piece of domain-name space to which it has a dubious claim. Longtime activist Jim Warren sent a note to several mailing lists with word that the House Republican leadership has put up a beta site at gop.gov. (For international readers not steeped in US political terminology: GOP, or Grand Old Party, is a synonom for the Republicans.)

Note that the site is unusable unless you bite the GOP's cookies.

I read Warren's note and a followup on Matthew Gaylor's Freemat list; since both seem to be missing from Gaylor's archive, I have posted them on the TBTF site.

I agree with Warren that a political party has no business whatsoever holding a second-level .gov name. These names are intended for official government functions, not for partisan organizations.

In a followup to the Freemat list, Richard Diamond from the House Office of the Majority Leader offered a rationale for the partisan use of the domain name.

So, yes, whether you like it or not "Republican" and "Democrat" are part of the institution that is the U.S. Congress. This top level domain reflects the institution. If the flat earth society can get a majority in Congress, they can have their own .gov -- but not until then.

I'm not buying it. It's disingenuous to imply that the Republican party is a part of the government in the same way that, for example, the FTC is. And it's cynical in the extreme to grab desirable real estate in domain-name space just because you're the majority party, and you can.

ICANN in Cairo

An interlocking set of agreements removes some roadblocks stalling domain-name reform

Harvard hosts a complete summary of the naming group's recent quarterly meeting. with video and audio from many of the sessions. ICANN had planned to hold arms-length elections for its nine remaining board members, but reversed field under near-unanimous pressure from attendees. ICANN conceded to direct elections for the first five board slots, after which they will examine how the process has gone before filling the remaining four. The election date was put back by a month to November 1. The Center for Democracy and Technology and Common Cause applauded the decision; the groups had submitted a report critical of ICANN's election plan.

NSI suspends its dispute-resolution policy

Old cases and suspended names to be revisited

Network Solutions has sent a letter to all parties who have requested invocation of NSI's Domain Name Dispute Policy, informing them that the policy will be superseded on 1 January 2000 by ICANN's new Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy. NSI will not begin any new proceedings under the old DNDP.

Furthermore, according to the Fross Zelnick E-LEGAL Letter (not archived on the Web), on 1 January NSI will reopen all previous disputes that resulted in the suspension of a domain name under the old policy. If by 1 April 2000 the parties to each of these disputes have not informed NSI that the dispute has been resolved, the domain names in question will be reactivated. NSI has not made clear whether the names will be reactivated if within 90 days the parties involved begin dispute resolution under the new UDRP.

Meanwhile, the first UDRP dispute has been filed at the World Intellectual Property Organization.

ICANN, NSI, Commerce kiss and make up

An interlocking set of agreements removes some roadblocks stalling domain-name reform

The three parties have been wrangling over contractual terms for the last year. Last week they announced a complex series of agreements that resolve all of the issues outstanding among them, including funding for ICANN's continuing operations. The best summary I've found of the interlocking agreements is this fact sheet [6] on Commerce's site. The agreements could come into effect as early as November, after ICANN takes public comment and ratifies them.


  • NSI assents to ICANN's authority and agrees to sign a modified Registrar Agreement.

  • Commerce takes over operation of the InterNIC.

  • The fee NSI charges to competitive registrars drops from $9 to $6.

  • NSI agrees in principle to a per-name fee to fund ICANN's operations, provided that NSI does not owe more than $2M under such a program. NSI hands over $1.5M to ICANN immediately.

  • NSI continues to run the authoritative root server for at least four years. Even after its eventual transfer to ICANN, Commerce continues to assert policy authority to direct this server. (I wonder what the EU thinks of this provision.)

  • NSI must totally separate its registry and registrar functions. If it accomplishes this within 18 months then it can hold onto the root server for an additional four years.

  • NSI effectively gives up the claim that it owns the intellectual property represented by the .com/.org/.net database.

With the contract fight behind them, ICANN moved forward with their proposal for a uniform policy for resolving disputes over domain names. Its main goals are to render domain-name hoarding profitless and to remove most disputes from the courts in favor of binding arbitration. ICANN will take public comments on the proposal until 13 October.

At the recent conference "Governing the Commons: The Future of Global Internet Administration", many participants were critical of ICANN's attempts to establish Internet policy, according to this account written by Ted Byfield <tbyfield at panix dot com> for the German magazine Telepolis. Byfield notes that ICANN has blown past the already controversial proposals of the IAHC-gTLD-MoU-CORE group which wanted to establish equitable dispute resolution mechanisms. ICANN proposes a much stronger uniform dispute resolution policy, drawing even more fire.

ICANN's Santiago meeting

Doing business in the public eye, in relative harmony

Much of the acrimony of the previous Berlin meeting seemed to be absent at Santiago. ICANN held its decision-making meeting in full public view (for that fraction of the public that had managed to travel to Chile, anyway); only some advisory committee meetings were closed. ICANN's interim chair, Esther Dyson, participated in an online chat session from one of those closed meetings. Its transcript provides a welcome human sidelight, typos and all, to the august proceedings.

This ICANN page gives a bare listing of all of the resolutions acted upon at Santiago. Today's NY Times coverage (free registration and cookies required) stresses the persistent complaint that ICANN's process to date has taken most of its input from large commercial organizations and governments, to the exclusion of not-for-profit entities and individual Netizens.

At Santiago ICANN initiated the process of gathering a broad-based, representative membership of at least 5,000 individuals, which will elect half of ICANN's board members next year.

ICANN's other significant action was to approve draft rules to limit cyber-squatting. In conciliation to individual domain-name owners, ICANN directed a sub-panel to add new language protecting individuals and others from losing legitimately registered domain names to large companies.

Domain naming news

bul Price war for domain names begins

CORE, the Council of Registrars, is one of the organizations accredited in the early-phase testing of competitive domain-name registration. One of CORE's members, CSL GmbH of Duesseldorf, is now offering two-year registrations in the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains for 40.9 Euros, or about $43.23 CSL thus becomes the first competitive registrar to actually compete on the basis of price. NSI and all the other active test registrars still charge $70 for two years -- but this won't be true for long. To register your .com domain for less than the price of a .nu, visit CSL's registration site joker.com (This is no joke.)

Note added 1999-08-22: TBTF Irregular Simon Whitaker <simon at netcetera dot org> went immediately to register a .com name with Joker.com and recounts his experiences here. Whitaker calls Joker.com "a refreshing if rough-cut alternative."

bul ICANN cuts NSI's influence

The Internet Commission on Assigned Names and Numbers issued a ruling that will limit Network Solutions's influence on domain naming policy. ICANN has declared that no entity may send more than a single representative to the Names Council, a body set up to advise ICANN on naming policy. Under the previous rules, NSI had 3 seats on the 21-member council.

House holds hearing on ICANN

To its surprise NSI gets roughed up, too

On Thursday 22 July a highly charged House subcommittee hearing convened to scrutinize ICANN. The politicians ended up taking the dominant registrar to task as well. The House Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations addressed allegations that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers had overstepped its authority. This news.com report opines that ICANN's Esther Dyson emerged relatively intact, while the new CEO of NSI, the monopolist that had prompted the hearings, was battered and shaken.

David Post "attended" the hearing by RealAudio. He notes in an email distributed on Declan McCullagh's Politech mailing list that the one "smoking gun" to emerge came from ICANN's lawyer, Joe Sims. At the hearing an email from Sims to the Department of Justice was made public. Sims had "suggested" to DOJ that it intervene in ICANN's negotiations with NSI and Commerce:

[O]ne thing DOJ could do is increase the level of pressure on DOC, by some form of formal communication or a higher-level contact... and that it would be useful for DOC to hear from significant organization that they were perfectly willing and capable of stepping into NSI's shoes with little difficulty, assuming access to the root files.

Domain naming developments

Commerce Department yanks ICANN's chain, backhands NSI

On 9 July the Commerce Department sent a 32-page letter to the ICANN board and the House Commerce Committee, responding to committee chairman Tom Bliley's questions on ICANN's recent actions. Here is coverage on this letter from news.com. and the NY Times (for the latter, free registration and cookies are required). Commerce Department officials said that ICANN should

  • hold all meetings in public,

  • drop a proposed $1-per-domain-name fee until a permanent ICANN board can vote on it, and

  • draw up binding contracts with domain-name services that would bar ICANN from going beyond their mission.

Commerce did not let NSI entirely off the hook, either. While chastising ICANN for a threat, issued in its Berlin meeting, to cancel NSI's authority to issue domain names, the Commerce letter states baldly that unless NSI signs ICANN's operating agreement, Commerce will in fact terminate that authority. NSI must stop at once claiming the .com, .net. and .org domain-name databases as their intellectual property, Commerce insists.

Congress has now scheduled the investigative hearing promised by Bliley. The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will convene "Domain Name System Privatization: Is ICANN Out of Control?" on Thursday, July 22, 1999 at 11:00 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2322.

On 16 July Commerce again extended the deadline for the end of the open domain registration test. The test had already been extended once before because of protracted wrangling among NSI, ICANN, and the test registrars. The new target date for wider participation in competitive registration is 6 August.

Anything ICANN do

The long strange trip gets longer and stranger

The Internet Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers was expecting its work, opening up to competition the process of assigning domain names, to be a minefield. They weren't expecting, perhaps, the snake-infested swamp or the barbed wire or the snipers or the high invisible planes dropping bombs on them. ICANN accuses the domain naming incumbent, Network Solutions, with fomenting trouble, in the form of an open letter from Ralph Nader and a Congressional investigation (see below). NSI too has its problems, with an EU antitrust investigation in the works (see below). Amid the acrimony and the duelling press releases, a source of information and open discussion has emerged. David Post, Michael Froomkin, and Dave Farber have established ICANNWatch to serve as a forum for informed debate about ICANN's role in managing the Domain Name System. Post authored the essay cited in the previous issue of TBTF calling for a Net-era incarnation of the Federalist Papers. ICANNWatch bids to fill this role.

Here are some of the recent developments in the domain-naming saga that began with the International Ad Hoc Committee nearly three years ago. This resource [no link -- it's the file you're reading] includes every story on domain-naming policy that has appeared in TBTF since before the IAHC was formed.

bul Test phase extended. As the shared registration system test neared its end date last month, only one of the initial five alternate registrars (register.com) had managed to register any domain names for the public. The others, after long wrangling with Network Solutions over terms of the agreement NSI required before it would grant access to its registry, finally were ready to begin as the test ended. The Commerce Department brokered a last-minute deal extending the test by three weeks. So far, so typical of a beta test in this industry. (Note this effect of the test: NSI's whois server no longer contains all of the .com names. GeekTools provides an alternate interface to whois that works no matter who registered the name. It also works for country-code domains as well as many TLDs.)

bul Stalemate looms. NSI and ICANN have each signed a cooperative agreement with the US government, but not yet with each other NSI threatens not to recognize ICANN's authority to manage the process of granting domain names, though its obligation to do so appears to be fully spelled out in Amendment 11 to the contract with the US government signed by NSI last fall. If NSI does not sign ICANN's accreditation agreement by the time the test phase ends, on 1999-07-16, ICANN may decide that the company cannot participate further in the granting of domain names. NSI shareholders would not be best pleased.

bul Congress probes ICANN. On 22 June Rep. Thomas Bliley, the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, issued a blistering attack against ICANN and opened an investigation into its actions. The crux of his complaint is that ICANN may have exceeded its authority when it decided to fund its operations by assessing a fee of $1 per domain name granted. ICANN says it will cooperate with any investigation, and blames NSI for setting Bliley upon them.

bul EU probes NSI. The European Union is investigating whether a Network Solutions contract for new registrars violates Continental antitrust laws. NSI might be forgiven for wondering whether CORE whispered in the ear of EU staffers. The Council of Registrars is based Europe (though in Switzerland, not in an EU country). Besides being one of the five designated testers of open registration, CORE was the end-point of the IAHC process. As such it had gained broad international credibility -- bluntly, Europeans believed that CORE was not totally captive to US interests. In this light ICANN is viewed from Europe with considerably more suspicion.

bul Moving the root. ICANN is working on a plan to move the A root server -- the base of the domain name system -- from NSI's premises to California NSI is obliged under its contract to give over responsibility for the A server when so instructed by the Commerce Department.

bul New accreditations. On 1999-07-07 ICANN blessed 15 new organizations to act as registrars when the process is opened up beyond the initial testers. In all 57 organizations have received accreditation to date. NSI is not among them.

bul NSI is cracked. On 2 July crackers redirected traffic intended for Network Solutions to the sites of CORE and ICANN (the NY Times coverage requires cookies and free login; that from news.com doesn't). Early reports claimed that the unexpected traffic brought down ICANN's servers as well. The FBI was investigating an ISP, SoftAware, that happens to be housed in the same building as ICANN. SoftAware said in a press release that it is cooperating fully.

bul ICANN is going broke. Because NSI has not agreed to pay the $1-per-name fee that ICANN's accreditation agreement requires, the nonprofit organization is on the verge of bankruptcy. The president of an ISP trade group said, "To fail because of politics would be one thing, but to fail because of money would be a catastrophe."

A report from ICANN's Berlin meeting

Country-code representatives are only one of the unhappy constituencies

Newly minted TBTF Irregular Ant Brooks <ant at hivemind dot net> travelled to Berlin for the ICANN meeting in late May as the representative for the .za country code, and sent TBTF this report. Brooks asks that we read it as an attempt to express his personal views of the proceedings, and nothing more.

In an unfortunate coincidence of timing, by leaving South Africa for Berlin, Brooks forfeited his right to vote in his country's second free election.

The wake of the Berlin meeting swirls with controversy over the way ICANN is carrying out its mandate (free registration and cookies required for this site). In this critical article David G. Post invokes the shade of US founding father James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. Post says we need to start a community dialogue -- call it the Netalist Papers if you must -- to define the governance we want for cyberspace.

Consumer advocates Ralph Nader and James Love sent an open letter to ICANN chair Esther Dyson asking her to clarify the organization's stance on the issues raised by critics. No reply so far.

Note added 1999-06-17: Dyson has replied to the Nader/Love letter, and the response is a warhead targeted at Network Solutions. Its tone is so blunt that the techie press, smelling blood in the water, has given it fairly wide coverage; here's an example.

ICANN increasingly under fire

Diverse critics voice concern about the organization's sewardship of domain names

Complaints are building about the way ICANN, the organization tasked with guiding Internet naming and numbering from government to private oversight, is pursuing its charter. This Telepolis article summarizes some of the concerns. Here are three separate controversies that have arisen in recent days in advance of ICANN's next meeting in Berlin, scheduled for 26 May.

  • A number of domain-name activists have petitioned ICANN and the US Department of Commerce protesting ICANN's intention to consider, at the Berlin meeting, a trademark resolution report from the World Intellectual Property Organization. The petition argues that ICANN's charter gives it no power to implement such a far-reaching power shift as the WIPO proposal calls for; the current unelected ICANN members are supposed to limit themselves to the transition to a permanent ICANN with elected representation. Here is a response from the US Small Business Administration to the petition, and here are WIPO representative Michael Froomkin's comments on the final WIPO report.

  • Recently Ellen Rony, coauthor of The Domain Name Handbook and one of the signatories to the WIPO report, posted a note requesting that ICANN make stronger provisions for input and participation via the Internet, instead of answering all critics with the less-than-helpful (and quite expensive) suggestion that they come to Berlin.

  • The people who run the country-code top-level domains around the world are unhappy with ICANN for a variety of reasons. One of the principals of Adams Names, which handles registration for five island ccTLDs, posted a note to the wwTLD mailing list (not online as far as I have been able to discover) detailing how the official representative from the Turks and Caicos Islands was denied admission to the Berlin ICANN meeting on the grounds that T & C is not a country, but a colony. (The islands are in fact a British Overseas Territory with their own democratically elected government.) Ant Brooks <ant at hivemind dot com> sent this summary of the ccTLD community's complaints with ICANN; it is posted on the TBTF archive by permission.

At long last, domain-name competition

AOL, four others to participate in competitive testbed

On 21 April ICANN announced the first five companies selected to provide domain-name registration services in competition with Network Solutions, Inc. The initial five registrars will be:

  • America Online
  • CORE (Internet Council of Registrars)
  • France Telecom/Oleane
  • Melbourne IT
  • register.com

These five new registrars will open up for business on 26 April, and after a 2-month test registration will be opened up to any organization that meets ICANN's criteria (so far 29 additional organizations have qualified). Here's Dan Goodin's look at whether, when registration is opened to new players, some animals will be more equal than others.

NSI's power grab

The Net's second most-beloved monopolist makes its move

Once there was a free and useful site called the InterNIC -- originally a US government project, the Internet Network Information Center. ISPs around the world used it daily, by hand and via automated tools, to check on names using whois and to access domain name registration forms. The InterNIC was run by the current monopolist in the granting of domain names, Network Solutions Inc.

Over the weekend of March 20-21, NSI made the InterNIC site go away. They redirected "internic.net" to point to the NSI corporate site. Need To Know points out that NSI sued Eugene Kashpureff in 1997 over a not dissimilar act of Net hijacking.

At its meeting in Singapore earlier this month, ICANN -- the agency chartered with privatizing domain naming and numbering -- established rules and a timetable for opening domain-name registration to five new competitors. NSI must open its databases to new registrars on April 26.

In recent months NSI has mounted an advertising campaign calling itself "the dot com company." (Do not confuse with Sun Microsystems, who "put the dot in dot com.") Last week NSI took more technical steps to cement its central position once competition arrives. The moves generated a storm of protest from ISPs and network operators, as well as from potential competitors. When NSI unveiled a new Web site and new services and redirected "internic.net" to point there, would-be competitors cried foul and complained to the US Commerce Department, which historically has overseen NSI's contract. Their complaint is that the term "internic" now means "domain name registration" to a great many people around the world (NSI would probably agree with that) and that the name should not devolve to the monopolist incumbent.

Here's what NSI did, apparently, over the previous weekend.

  • Redirected the name "www.internic.net" to resolve to "www.networksolutions.com".

  • Choked down telnet access to rs.internic.net. Saying "telnet rs.internic.net," which used to allow you unlimited requests in an interactive session, now returns "This service is no longer available. Please use http://www.networksolutions.com". If you specify telnet port "nicname" you can issue a single query, however. Type quickly: the connection times out in a few seconds.

  • Changed the URL for direct access to the 'whois' query CGI, without notice or warning. A query that worked last week now returns "Your client does not have permission to access the requested item." This one works.

  • Closed the loophole noted in TBTF for 1999-03-01 that allowed you to retrieve creation date information on domain names.

NSI's troubles are mounting. Yesterday Asensio & Company, a member of the National Association of Securities Dealers, issued a press release titled NSOL Possesses No Lock on Domain Registry or Registrar Businesses. It begins:

Investors may be buying Network Solutions, Inc.'s (Nasdaq: NSOL) stock believing the company possesses some market advantage, recurring income or proprietary technology that has allowed it to create, and will allow it to grow, its Internet domain name registry and registrar business. We found no reasonable basis for these beliefs. NSOL's domain name business has been and remains totally reliant on a 7-year-old U.S. federal government contract, which is expiring and will not be renewed. We believe that NSOL's management has purposely disseminated misleading information, and failed to disclose material negative information, that has led investors to believe that the expiration of this contract will be postponed or that it cannot be entirely and easily terminated. Investors have also been led to believe that even if the contract is terminated, NSOL's business value will continue to grow. These expectations are baseless and false.

Note added 1999-03-30: NSI now claims that the whois database, assembled under the US Government-funded InterNIC project since 1993, is its proprietary property.

This story notes that the government owns the trademark on the term "InterNIC." How fast can the Commerce Department move on a trademark lawsuit?

Following Asensio's short-sell report cited above, NSI's share price plummeted more than $52 over the past week to close on Friday above $106.

The database that NSI forgot

Want data on domain-name creation dates? Act quick

TBTF for 1999-02-01 noted that Network Solutions has stopped providing the "date created" field for domain names in whois queries. Recently the E-LEGAL email newsletter from the law firm of Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, P.C. (subscribe here) carried timely news of a database that NSI seems to have forgotten. Enter at this query screen and you can still get creation-date information -- for the moment.

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


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Most recently updated 2000-06-16