The internet naming system, known as the
"domain name system," operated by the Internet
Network Information Center (InterNIC) under the
guardianship of the National Science
Foundation (NSF), a government organization
funded with tax dollars, has been privatized.
InterNIC, the name registry part of the
internet, is now run by Network Solutions, Inc.
(NSI), which now enjoys a highly profitable
InterNIC, administered by NSF, began name service on the internet for free. In 1993, InterNIC was privatized with a contract between NSF and NSI, awarding the domain registration service of the internet to NSI. In March of 1995, NSI was bought by the Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC). In September 1995, NSI began charging a $100 fee for name registration. Thus, InterNIC was transfered from the public sector (NSF) to the private sector (SAIC), with no public hearings or a competitive bidding process.
SAIC, a multi-billion dollar company, has
strong ties to the Pentagon, Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security
Agency (NSA). SAIC is a 20,000 employee-owned
company with about 450 offices around the globe.
Its current board of directors includes former
NSA chief Bobby Inman, former Defense Secretary
Melvin Laird, and the former head of research
and development for the Pentagon, Donald Hicks.
Ex-CIA director Robert Gates, Secretary of
Defense William Perry and CIA Director John
Deutsch have been past SAIC board members.
Eighty three percent of SAIC's $2 billion
annual revenue comes from government contracts,
including defense, intelligence, and law
enforcement contracts. SAIC is designing new
information systems for the Pentagon, helping
to automate the FBI's computerized fingerprint
identification system, and last year won a $200
million contract to provide "information
support" to the IRS.
SAIC also has the public data base listing of internet registration names. Since the SAIC take over of NSI, internet name registrations
have been delayed due to investigations of those
When NSI began charging for the once free name registrations, the internet was on its way to the transition to a commercial marketplace. The regis-tration fee of $100 for the first two years of service has richly lined NSI's coffers as the number of registrations reached around 50,000 per month during 1996 alone. During this interval, the limitations of the current naming para-digm became obvious as companies discovered that they had to race, or in some cases litigate, to secure their internet identities ("their name".com) --only to discover that those names had already been assigned.
Part of the problem lies not just in human greed, but in the limited number of the so-called "top level domains" administered by InterNIC. They are ".com" ".edu" ".org" ".net" ".mil" and ".gov." This system, which has its roots in the Department of Defense, was designed to identify the purpose of computers on the internet. The ".com" domain was the division given to commercial network addresses,
who, at the time the system was established,
were a minority of networks on the internet.
Now that the number of commercial networks has
grown beyond any scale ever imagined by the
architects of the internet, the ".com" domain
has just about reached its limits.
Users have been frustrated by the limitations, speculation, and bureaucracy associated with registering an address on the internet with the InterNIC/ NSI/SAIC monopoly. Since ".com" is a limited realm, corporations soon began fighting over domain name space. Their increased pressure on the committee that assigns unique parameters on the internet, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), to expand name space, has pushed IANA to form an ad-hoc committee to decide how to deal with the domain name "shortages."
Though IANA has no authority to do so, IANA is now proposing applications under which corporations may compete with InterNIC domain space. In late 1996, IANA joined forces with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Telecommunications
Union (ITU), the Internet Society (ISOC), the
Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Federal
Networking Council (FNC), the International
Trademark Association (ITA) and the Internet
Engineering Task Force (IETF), to form the
International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC).
After their conference in San Jose, California in December, IAHC put forth a controversial plan to license would-be registries who wish to compete in the market for domain name service: a $20,000 non-refundable application fee, a percentage of the companies' revenues, and a requirement that potential registries submit to full examination of their books by an "independent" auditor.
IAHC claims that these funds will be spent on maintaining the root servers (the computers which hold the internet's central name database.) The computers holding the domain name database are currently run by an inner circle, most of whom are members of IANA. Two examples are the root server at the University of Southern California (USC) run by John Postel, the head of IANA, and the root server residing
at the army base at the Aberdeen Proving
Grounds (the source of complaints by female
recruits of sexual abuse by drill instructors.)
IAHC's plan, which has no legal authority or congressional mandate, seeks to impose regulations on a deregulated market, subsidizing corporations and collecting double taxes on American and international companies. More than half of the existing root nameserver computers are already supported by US tax dollars, not to mention the for profit companies who run the other computers serving the balance of root servers.
In essence, the feds are allowed to have a database and then have the audacity to charge the public for the priviledge under the pretext of free enterprise.
Enter the free market. In response to the command economy of artificial shortages that have been imposed by a militaristic bureaucracy, a few enterprising independents have created new networks of root servers outside the "sanctioned" servers on which all connections to the internet depend. One such independent server is "name.space."
Name.space, Inc. is creating unlimited
names on demand for its users. You can create
just about any domain name you want for yourself
in name. space: "shadow.press," "fuck.you," or
Commercial registrations in name. space are currently free, but will be eventually charged at $25 per year per name once name.space names are resolvable on the entire internet, which will happen in a few months. By comparison, InterNIC/NSI charges $100 for the first two years with a $50 annual renewal charge.
Name.space also gives users the option of protecting their individual privacy with unpublished listings. InterNIC/NSI forces mandatory publication in their publicly-available "whois" database, and your personal information is in the hands of SAIC and various intelligence agencies.
You can register your name with Name.Space
in the "free.zone" accessible through the
name.space web site at:
instructions on how to change your computer
settings to allow you access and recognition
throughout the internet will appear on your
Currently, if you go with an independent root server and your name does not appear in the sanctioned database of InterNIC's established root servers, your name will not be found everywhere on the internet. Only other computers who check the new expanded database will be able to resolve the new domain names created by the independents. There are already more than 250 new possible names under which one can register on these new services.
This poses a problem for the independent upstart name registries because, although they may have a fully functional root server system in place, and a fully automated and operational registration service in place, they are essentially frozen out of service. The defacto root servers, controlled by members of IANA,
decide which entries will be in the database of
the sanctioned root servers. Hence, IAHC has a
vested interest in protecting their control over
the "who's who" list of in-ternet networks, as
do their compatriots at NSI, SAIC and the
government agencies who do business with them.
Paul Garrin, founder of name.space explains: "The problem with the current models is the question of ownership of the new top level names. In fact, the common words used as descriptive top level names should be seen as a public resource, and the registries hold a stewardship on the name in the public's interest. Multiple registries must then share a database, and can assign names under the same top levels and insure uniqueness of names by cross-checking of their databases. Name. space is developing the software to do this. The doomed model of creating islands of privately-owned words is one of the final assaults on what is left of the public domain.
"Trademark holders of certain words only own
such words in their descriptive contexts, as in
`Apple Computer'. Apple doesn't own the word
`apple,' it owns the only `Apple Computer.'
Otherwise, every time one would use the word
`apple' in print or otherwise, they could face
potential trademark infringement. This is to the
point of absurdity. The issue of intellectual
property is pushing the envelope of what I call
the privatization of the public domain. When
factual data or statistics become the property
of some media conglomerate who invested mo-ney
to package the information, does this lead to
the total commodification of knowledge? When the
facts in an encyclopaedia become the property of
Time Warner, do we win or do we lose? When does
culture and history become private property? And
when this happens, when our society rea-ches the
total control over information by the
informations corporations, will they take our
In name.space, the public can suggest a new rootname, which is created for free and made available publicly for anyone to register under.
This is a collaborative process, and its popularity is proven by the fact that public requests outnumber the amount of private requests by 20 to 1. That seems to say something about the preferences of the users, and their acceptance of the words as a public resource.
To Garrin, this is more than just about business. He says, "Name.space is delivering the net back to the users, and creating an economy of scale where registries, providers and users can benefit from low cost and value-added services on their networks." He adds, "We're shifting the naming paradigm from militarism to democracy, and fulfilling the ideal nature of the internet, which is a virtual space with no borders."
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