Who Will Govern the Internet?
If Apple Computer and Apple Records both want a home page? who gets the domain name
In looking at how the Internet is evolving, it helps to remember that this medium has its origins in an experimental network called the ARPAnet, built for the U.
In the late 1980s, the National Science Foundation was looking for an effective way to give researchers at remote campuses access to five supercomputer centers. That led to the development of NSFNet, a network based on IP technology. Between 1990 and 1993, NSFNet grew into the Internet as we know it, becoming in January 1993 the first production quality T3 backbone in the world. During this period, similar networks were emerging in Asia and Europe, all of them coming into the U.
But while the growth of the Internet infrastructure has been relatively smooth, the process of Internet governance has not. With the vast escalation in users, competing commercial interests, and the desire of the U.
In a speech last August at the ISPCON conference in San Francisco, Eugene Kashpureff, founder of AlterNIC, noted that "the US government still administers the true authority of the Internet, through the National Science Foundation, and its various grants and contracts, most notably to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which we are told is not an entity, but a 'function', performed by the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California."
Kashpureff has been a strong voice for opening up control of the Internet to competition, and in the process, has used guerrilla tactics that have gotten him into trouble. For a few days last July, anyone trying to access internic.
Kashpureff's hack was a way of objecting to a monopoly enjoyed by NSI. The company currently has exclusive rights to the world's most popular top-level domain (TLD) names, including .com, .net, .org and .edu. The first two, especially, have proven to be the information age equivalent of a motherload because if I want to locate the English language home page of virtually any corporation�from Sony to Toyota to Sun�www.
While name registry is now a worldwide occupation, much of the action remains at NSI. When the company first began offering registration service in 1993, the entire domain name database contained just 4,000 registrants and was growing at a few hundred each month. Last March, the company announced it had registered it's one millionth Internet domain name (bonnyview.
Of course, these aren't the only TLDs. There are also 243 two-letter TLDs that are assigned to countries and registered locally. For example, .jp is assigned to Japan, .cn to China, .hk to Hong Kong and .se to Sweden. Each of these assigned franchises can itself grant subsidiary franchises. The whole structure is implemented through DNS servers, with 13 root servers designated A.
In his speech, Kashpureff credited Jon Postel, director of the Computer Network Division for the Networking Information Sciences Institute�and the overseer of IANA�with coming up with an equitable solution for the top level domain name problem. "Postel wrote the excellent Internet draft which proposed specific recommendations for a solution to the top level domain name issue, and created the Internet International Ad-Hoc Committee, or IAHC, in the fall of 1996. Unfortunately, the first thing the committee did was throw out the basic framework for a solution that [Postel] had worked so hard to develop community consensus for..."
The IAHC is now disbanded. But its plan, called the Generic Top Level Domain Memorandum of Understanding, or gTLD-MoU, lives on. At this writing, the U.
Opposing central control
One of the best informed critics is Gordon Cook, publisher and editor of the COOK Report on Internet (http://
What concerns Cook are comments made by Peka Tarjanne, the ITU's secretary general. In an interview with tele.
Tarjanne says that the ITU must "be prepared for a situation in the future when pressures may mount to change the mandate of the Union so that it has something to do with content. That would be quite a change, but it is a possibility." According to Tarjanne, the ITU might get involved in regulating content that runs afoul of international law or morality. "These are very difficult for the national decision-makers alone to deal with because of the global nature of the network. The problems are those related to child pornography or things like that. They have not reached the point where there is any need for us to do anything except follow what's happening, but that is already a change. To be prepared for the future we have to know what problems different countries have with respect to the content of international communications."
While Cook agrees that the Internet is inherently an international medium, he isn't necessarily in favor of international control. For example, there's is already another, larger Cook Report based London that has nothing to do with the Internet. "If they wanted to claim my domain name, I would perhaps have to argue my case before the World Intellectual Property Organization and be prepared to go to Switzerland to defend my interests in a Swiss court of law," Cook says.
"I disagree with that. I think if I'm living in the United States, I should have the option of domain names that are subject to US law. If somebody is living in Honduras, that person should have the option of domain name subject to Honduran law. In practicality you have nearly 200 two-letter top level domains that are country domains�.us, .uk, .ru.
"Suppose a registrar starts in Germany and they want to register 'beer' as a top level domain name. I think that's fine, once you have a mechanism created to coordinate these registries into a common database�so that two people can't each be keeping separate databases for the top level domain name
In other words, Cook feels that the actions of the American government should not deny citizens of the world the right to register a domain name that falls under the legal system of their own country. The question for Cook is whether the American government should follow policy that would deprive American citizens of the opportunity to have domain names registered for their businesses that are adjudicated under United States law. The same, of course, could be said for Japanese citizens operating under Japanese law.
As Christy Hudgins-Bonafield wrote in the U.
Few technical issues have more acronyms per square meter than the Internet. Here are a few from the story:
- ARPAnet: Advanced Research Project Agency NETwork. Created in the 1970s, it no longer exists.
- IANA: Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. A service of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute (ISI). "The IANA is chartered by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Federal Network Council (FNC) to act as the clearinghouse to assign and coordinate the use of numerous Internet protocol parameters." IANA sets policy for implementing the domain name system, the IP number assignment system, and port and number assignments for new Internet protocols. Thus it serves as the court of last resort for resolving disputes and complaints in these areas.
- InterNIC, The: Inter-Network Information Center. Formed in 1993, the InterNIC is a cooperative activity between the National Science Foundation, AT&T and Network Solutions, Inc. The InterNIC supports, among other things, domain name registration services. ITU: The International Telecommunications Union. Based in Geneva and affiliated with the United Nations, the ITU helps coordinate telecommunications services across national boundaries. The organization's history dates back to the telegraph.
TLD: Top level domain. A domain name is composed of "domains" which are separated from each other by dots. The top-level domain is the last in the series. The six original TLDs are .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .org & .net.
Name Wars: lawsuits, imitators and greed
Symbolics Technology, Inc.
symbolics. com>symbolics. com> was the first company to register a name with the .com registrant. Few companies have ever shown such foresight. Today, the demand for names with the .com TLD has not only greatly outstripped supply, but has demonstrated the ingenuity of the capitalist mind.
Consider Kraft Foods, for example. This household American brand name has itself registered over 150 domain names, including velveeta.
com and parkay. com, names for its processed cheese and margarine, respectively. Another American household name, Procter and Gamble, has registered underarm. com and diarrhea. com (both currently go to the same page--a P&G link page).
In registering these sites, the two companies are following what has become gospel advice: when in doubt, register the site. Because if you don't, someone else will. MCI, the telecommunications company just acquired by Worldcom, found that out when it discovered competitor US Sprint already owned mci.
com. And then there's the story of Josh Quitter, a reporter for Newsday, who discovered early on that McDonald's had not registered mcdonalds. com, and grabbed the name for himself. He later gave it back to the hamburger maker in exchange for a donation to a New York City school. McDonald's got off easy. Sometimes, one site will masquerade as another. For example, Zero Micro Software of Austin, Texas, registered the domain name micros0ft. com (microsoft with a zero instead of an "o,") which Microsoft Corp. immediately disputed. During the 1996 US Presidential campaign, a computer test developer registered the domain name "dole96," listed as an official World Wide Web Internet site�though hardly the site candidate Robert Dole had in mind.
Even Network Solutions itself has fallen prey. NSI's official registration site is www.
internic. net. Another site, www. internic. com, also offers registration�via NSI�but for $150 above NSI's $100 first-year fee. The site has a disclaimer pointing out that it is not associated with NSI, but anyone not reading carefully, or without a good understanding of domain registration, could easily make the mistake.
And sometimes, companies will try to secure a domain name already awarded to someone else. For example, TimeWarner Entertainment, whose properties include the Roadrunner cartoon character, tried to acquire roadrunner.
com, which is held by Roadrunner Computer Systems in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Warner Bros. subsequently dropped its claim.) And when Phillip L. Giacalone registered the domain ty. com after his three-year-old son, Ty Inc., Ty Warner, a Chicago-based maker of stuffed toys, later claimed the site for itself. Giacalone later filed suit against NSI claiming his contractual arrangement took precedence over Ty Warner's trademark.
And sometimes, companies believe that the contents of another site can still hurt their reputation. For example, in 1996, toymaker Hasbro filed suit against Internet Entertainment Group for putting sexually explicit material under Hasbro's trademarked name, Candy Land, via the URL candyland.
com. And Radio Shack, the consumer electronics company, was unhappy about Bianca's Smut Shack bianca. com>bianca. com>, a chat room in operation since 1994.
Whatever happens to Internet governance, this lethal combination of trademarks and URLs is only going to get worse.