An Overview of the Domain Name System:

Domain Name Service is an Internet protocol that provides mapping between a computer's numeric address and a human-friendly name that is easy to remember. Take for example the main Stanford webserver -- www.stanford.edu. DNS translates www.stanford.edu into

DNS names are structured in a hierarchtical manner that allows for distributed administration. The highest layer are the Top Level Domain Names. TLDs, as they are often called, are the last portion of a DNS name. So, .edu in the Stanford example is the top level domain.

Currently, there are 7 TLDs plus one for each country. The first 3 can be used by anyone while that the last 4 are restricted to those who meet certain qualifications.

  1. .org - used by non-profit organizations
  2. .net - supposed to only be used by network providers but typically used for more
  3. .com - used by commercial organizations
  4. .edu - used by four year educational institutions
  5. .mil - used by the United States of America Military
  6. .int - used by international organizations
  7. .gov - used by the United States of America government

One of the most important issues in the domain name controversy is who allocates the unrestricted TLDs. Currently, they are administered by Network Solutions.

In addition to the seven TLDs already mentioned, each country has its own TLD. France is "fr", Brazil is "br" and so on. The United States has also defined a heirarchy inside of its country code. Each state has it also has "us" and each state has a subnetwork such as "co.us" for Colorado.

For more information on some of the technology that the Domain Name System lies on top of, see our explanation of a Network Stack.

An Overview of Current DNS Regulation

In late January of 1998 the US government issued the Green Paper, officially making recommendations to transfer the Domain Name System to private governance, which would open DNS to marketplace control. Network Solutions, Inc. had previously held a monopoly on registration on generic top-level domain names (gTLDs). Under the new plan, NSI would be split apart into separate components:

I. The registry and registrar, overseeing the task of registering users' domain names and the maintenance of the registry list of domain names

II. Control of the Primary root server, transferred to the new DNS governing body

I. Registry/Registrars: The new proposal would additionally implement the annexing of five new registrars, each maintaining a new TLD. Hence, each TLD would be maintained by a separate, competing company under the review and approval of the overhead non-profit organization. Before the announcement of the new policy, the group of 88 companies called the Council of Registrars (CORE), organized under the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, had planned on creating seven new TLDs: .firm, .shop, .web, .rec, .arts, .info and .nom. However, the implementation of the new policy meant that CORE would have to be reviewed under the new system before they could become registrar for one of the five approved TLDs. CORE was not supportive of the new policy because it interferes with Internet self-governance. However, others were pleased with this proposal because it enabled users to more easily change domain-name providers to get better service or pricing.

II. The Primary Root Server: A new nonprofit organization would gain operating control of the DNS primary root server (the central repository for all domain names). Any business or organization with an interest in Internet governance could petition to be one of the 15 representatives in the new organization, with membership selection regulated by the government. In addition to working with different registries entering domain names into the DNS, the group would work as a policy-setting agency and would decide which TLDs would be added to the Internet. In the past, the primary root nameserver had been controlled by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which oversaw the DNS and IP address allocations. In transition to the new policy, Jon Postels, who had been the leader of IANA, would run the organization.

In 1998, the US Government solicited the internet community for a joint plan outlining the details of the non-profit entity, which would govern the domain name system. This non-profit entity eventually became the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. However, the community did not coordinate a single submission for the new system; they split into several camps instead

1. The first proposal was submitted by the IANA and NSI, which had previously been contracted by the government to run the DNS. The two parties later split into separate groups with their own proposals. In particular, the IANA submission expanded the role of the new DNS entity beyond the production of DNS standards and into the creation of public policy issues. This model was heavily endorsed by international organization, including the European Union.

2. The second submission was a revision to the IANA/NSI draft and was organized by the Boston Working Group. An International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP) was held by the internet community in the summer of 1998 to work toward consolidating the interests of different groups, and it resulted in the creation of this proposal by the Boston Working Group.

3. The third proposal was produced by tbe Electronic Frontier Foundation in late September of 1998.

In October of 1998, the House Commerce Committee launched a probe to investigate the legal basis for transferring DNS control from the National Science Foundation to the Department of Commence and eventually to the private sector. It also questioned the role of the White House and Department of Commerce in forming the IANA proposal (#1). Concern was voiced because the IANA proposal was considered the leading submission, yet it did not address the concerns of any other internet interest groups. There was also suspicion regarding the influence of the White House and the DOC in the selection of interim board members, and the absence of their encouraging the IANA's participation in the International Forum on the White Paper.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, http://www.icann.org) is the non-profit organization, which was chosen to take charge of the privatization of the administration of the Internet. Their role would be to implement policy to help transition the domain name system into the private sector. Overall, the implementation of ICANN would create an explosion in the number of new TLDs.