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The following is a text published originally on the FreedomForum website but apparently is not longer available there. Regrettably the original links had not been preserved, nor was there a precise date of publishing. -hc
downloaded (Dec'97) from: www.freedomforum.org
THE INTERNET: PRIVATIZATION OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN
(AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT)
By Chris Flash
The internet naming system, known as the "domain name system,"
operated by the
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 registering.
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
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
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
residing at the army base at the
source of complaints by female recruits of sexual abuse by drill
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
companies who run the other computers serving the balance of root
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
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, 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 "anything.anything."
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:
http://namespace.autono.net. Importantly, instructions on how to
change your computer settings to allow you access and recognition
throughout the internet will appear on your screen.
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
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 money 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 language, too?"
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."
Visit the name.space website at http://namespace.autono.net