Is it possible to have a rational Domain Name System?

by Andy Oram

It gave me a warm, nostalgic feeling when I read of ICANN's proposed agreements to let domain name registrars raise
prices arbitrarily on domain names. This is what the Domain Name
System is all about--at least, since I got involved in policy debates
around the Domain Name System about 1994: milking a monopoly for all
the cash you can get. But the issue also made me re-examine an old
question: in place of the ordained chaos of the current governance
policy, is it possible to administer the Domain Name System in a way
that apportions names in a rational manner?

The rent-seeking history of DNS


The thrust of the proposed ICANN agreement with three top-level
domains (.BIZ, .INFO, and .ORG) is simple: a registry could charge as
much as it wants for a domain name once it finds out if it's popular.
Thus, if some scrappy startup-in-a-dorm-room registers
GitYourCheapMovies.biz and it turns into the next Internet sensation,
the registrar could raise its fee to a million dollars.


Admittedly, there's a built-in lag: the registrar would have to give
six months notice, and the site registering the name could lock in the
old fee for ten years. But with commerce on the Internet becoming
mainstream, this is inadequate protection against exploitation. The
business of registering domain names becomes like the old joke of the
gunman who demonstrated perfect marksmanship--until he admitted that
he shot the holes first and then drew the targets around the holes.


This is, of course, all about ICANN supporting its own bureaucracy, a
quest that has been an almost perpetual crisis since ICANN began. The
fees paid by registrars to ICANN are based partly on what the
registrars charge their clients (see, for instance, paragraphs
7.2(a)(ii) and 7.2(a)(iii) of the .BIZ agreement). So the proposal is just a particularly scary
variation of an old trend: to siphon off from innovators some of the
substantial revenues that the Internet makes possible, and use it to
benefit those with a choke-hold on the indispensable Domain Name
System.


The policy debates around the Domain Name System began in the
mid-1990s when Network Solutions decided to charge $100 to register a
.COM domain, and $50 to maintain it hereafter. Because maintaining the
computers that serve up .COM domains costs a fraction of a penny per
domain name, this was what I called Information Highway robbery, and
it generated (along with various other abusive practices) a revolt
among Internet activists.


The cost of domain names has gone down drastically since then, but
egregious rent-seeking behavior has remained. ICANN created a huge
superstructure that does nothing very much, and does it mostly to
perpetuate ICANN's own dominance, rather than things that would
actually improve the Internet for its users (such as promoting IPv6
adoption, or measures to secure DNS such as DNSSEC, or truly
internationalized domain names that are fit for every
language). Flirting with bankruptcy every couple years, ICANN has
tried to fund this superstructure through various fiats such as trying
to collect one dollar per year per domain name.


Can we leave this sordid history behind and look toward a future
Domain Name System that offers sensible policies and enhances the
user's Internet experience?


3 Comments

steveit_is
2006-09-08 22:23:21
Indespensible?!? The DNS system? Sorry pal, but not only can it be replaced, but it should be. DNS was invented LONG before the advent of P2P, and not only can it be replaced, but should be. ICANN will eventually loose. It's just a matter of when.


When the percentage of administrators pissed off at ICANN becomes greater than the percentage of people happy with ICANN the system can, and will change. DNS is just one more protocol, and like other outmoded protocols it will eventually die.

Matthew Sporleder
2006-09-09 06:49:05
Did you find this website through a search engine, p2p network, dns, or other?


I don't think dns will die. It will just slowly evolve. How would you like your business (especially your brand.com) to suddenly lose that identity? My suggestion is that TLD's are simply eliminated. Go back to the old /etc/hosts-style naming. (where oreillynet is what it is)


Other protocols that won't die are smtp/pop (despite my wishes), http, and ftp (although ftp is becoming less useful every day). The only popular protocol that I've seen almost die is gopher, and that one didn't even suck! :)

Paul
2006-09-10 04:15:48
The easiest way to destroy the domain system and promote IPv6 would be for ICANN to charge what it likes for domains. People would deregister them before you could say "DNS is dead". The bigger and more powerful businesses would bend over backwards to find another way, any way, rather than pay additional taxes to ICANN.