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The following comments address the Draft Specifications for Administration and Management of gTLDs published by the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) on December 19, 1996 as well as the Final Draft published February 7th 1997. Unless it is explicitly stated, the ideas expressed in what follows are ours and not those of IAHC or ISOC. Further comments on the role of the Internet Society (ISOC) in the future of the Internet are to be found in Legitimacy and Pertinence and on models of the governance of the Internet in Models of governance?.

What's in a name?
Changes to the domain name system

As the cost of administering domain names, which has been in the hands of Network Solutions Incorporated (NSI), became too costly with the rapid growth of the Internet, the National Science Foundation (NSF) who funded NSI, agreed to the charging of a 50$ registration fee. The considerable revenue generated by these fees as the Net continued to grow and expand led to an outcry from those who criticised NSI's monopoly. Certain commercial concerns decided to take the law in their own hands and set up business selling top level domain names.

In order to deal with this situation which threatened the correct functioning of the Net, the Internet Society (ISOC) created an International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) to propose both extensions to the top level Domain Name space and ways of administering them. Top level domain names are the main areas the Internet is divided up into. They are designated by the few letters at the end of an Internet address, like .com, .edu, .fr, .dk.

Dividing up Internet space

The IAHC proposition involves redefining top level domains (TLDs) and adding an increasing number of new TLDs. IAHC suggests that there are three categories of TLDs:
  1. National TLDs like .uk, .jp, .ch - the so-called ISO 3166 codes (full list);
  2. International TLDs of which .int is the only one that currently exists;
  3. Generic TLDs like .com, .org, .net.
IAHC points out that the .us domain is poorly used. In reality, in the States, Internet space has been naturally divided up in terms of activity. This instinctive choice fitted in well with the inherent logic of the Internet in which geographical distance and borders made no sense. This logic makes even more sense as globalisation becomes increasingly a reality. When other countries started widely using the Internet, the first reaction was to include them with names reflecting their geographical origin. In the light of this, it is interesting to note that in the IAHC classification there are, in reality, two ways of dividing up Internet space:
  1. geographically (reflecting our traditional approach to space)
  2. in terms of activity (reflecting the intuitive attitude to Internet and informational space)
The .int domain is both geographical and reflects the type of activity.
Currently, for people outside the States, choosing a name in terms of activity (e.g. .com, .net or .org) costs more. Clearly people should be free to chose between a geographical or an activity-based name space and there should be no difference in price between the two.

Private space or public space?

In a recent meeting of the Geneva Chapter of ISOC, a member of the audience raised the question as to whether it would be possible for an organisation like IATA to have a specific domain name for its members (.air, for example). This would imply exclusively allocating the right to a top level domain to a particular organisation, thus creating a monopoly on the attribution of that name. Only those members of the organisation would be allowed to use that domain. It could be argued that opening the way to limited private TLDs raises the thorny question of who is to decide the attribution of such private TLDs. IAHC's basic philosophy is that the top level domain name space is a public resource and as such must be dealt with in an open and public manner so that the interests of all stakeholders be represented. In addition, as it is apparently unfeasible, on the open market, to verify that applicants correspond to predetermined criteria before accepting their application, there will be no imposed criteria to obtaining an address in a particular domain.. There are, however, historical exceptions that contradict this rule. One is .mil which is reserved for the American military and another is .edu which is reserved for US educational establishments. To be consistent these should be renamed or and The .int domain is also to be a limited domain.

What's in a name?

The Second Level Domain name (SLD) generally reflects the name of the company or organisation using it. Both in personal and in commercial terms the choice of a name is of extreme importance. As more and more activities take place on the Internet, the significance of the Internet address increases. One might argue that this has been no problem for postal addresses. Not all companies have sought to have the road they are in named after themselves. The Internet address would seem to be different, partly because it is essential for all on-line communication and partly because there are no satisfactory name directories.

Names in the real world - unlike IP numbers (the numeric address of computers on the Internet) - are not unique. Several people or companies may have the same name. In order to correctly map names to IP addresses, however, the names also have to be unique. There is currently no satisfactory way to have a multiplicity of names.

A related problem exists with trademarks. The main aim of trademarks is to protect consumers and trademark owners from companies capitalising on a well known name without actually being that company or offering its quality. In the current trademark system, companies pay to reserve the right to use a particular name in a given field within a given country. In the case of national TLDs the existence of registered trademarks might make delaing with litigation easier. However, identical trademarks may exist within one country because they apply to different spheres. The IAHC proposal creates mechanisms to arbitrate disputes related to domain names using the rules set up by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center.

Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise

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Created: January 23rd, 1997 - Last up-dated: January 27th, 1997