Volume 3, Number 10
The Power of a Name
With all the money to be made on the Internet, and with the US Government's efforts to let competition decide who runs all communications services, great battles are raging for control over key services. For connectivity, the Telephone companies, ISP's and Cable companies are all fighting to get Internet access into your home. But that's not the only battle that is being fought for your money.
When you point your web browser to a page on the Internet, or when you send an email, or when you FTP to a download site, more than likely you go to a computer's name (like www.scroom.com), but that name means nothing to the hardware that connects you to the Internet. For the hardware, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are required. Fortunately, the Domain Name Service (DNS) determines the correct IP address so you don't have to worry about it.
The DNS system is owned by just about every site out on the Internet, because every site maintains their own little section of it. To navigate from one site to the next, every DNS server keeps a list of top servers, or root level servers, which can always point you in the right direction. These root level servers are in charge of the .com, .int, .gov, .edu, .mil, .net, .org domains, and all the 2 letter domains which represent the different countries in the world (such as al. for Albania).
Once upon a time, these root level servers were maintained by volunteers at different organizations. Then the politicians made a bizarre decision to appoint a single company as the keeper of the top level domain servers. That company was Network Solutions, under the guise of the InterNIC. It didn't take long for Network Solutions to start charging people for new domain name registration, and it didn't take long for the complaints to start rolling in. Internet users cried foul at the government imposed monopoly, the problems with service, and the distinctly US-centric flavor of the domain name heirarchy (notice that there ain't no www.russia.gov). Also, who says that there can't be other root level domains, like .biz, or even .porn? Whoever controlls the root name servers is in complete control of who gets a domain name, and what the general structure of the Internet is.
So the government stepped in again. They decided to designate an International, non-profit organization as the trustee of Internet names, known as Internet Cooperation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Why does all this matter? Because there is a lot of abuse out there in the domain registration world. There are even domain name investors who simply go through the dictionary, buying up every name.com they can think of. They then sell the names back to users and companies, at a higher price. Further, there are arguments about whether trademarked names can be used by anyone else as a domain name. True, when you type in www.pepsi.com, you don't want to wind up at Joe Bob Pepsi's home page.
But what about www.clue.com? This is an Internet site started by a couple computer entrepeneurs. They chose a common, catchy word as the name for their company. Nobody would care if it were only the name of the company, but when they registered clue.com as a domain name, Hasbro threw a fit (you know, makers of the Clue boardgame). Clue computing has been wrapped up in a legal battle over their name for years now.
Who says you have to use the root servers that everyone else uses? Well, you don't. Of course, if you want to be able to find all the same things that everyone else finds you have to. But there are a couple companies out there that think they can run their own root level name servers just fine, and all you have to do is use them. One of the biggest is Alternic who has stood up their own servers, and even created several new top level domain names.
This is a fight about control. This is a fight about money. This is a fight about the future of the Internet. The outcome, whatever it is, had better work.
Your good name depends on it
5 Links to Make You Think