Who Owns .Com?
Saturday, May 1, 1999 by Dave Winer.
Being a casual participant in the DNS world for my previous 43 years, last week I got an education when Network Solutions accidentally deleted our main domain, userland.com, wreaking havoc on my business, and teaching me that DNS problems are hard to diagnose, and harder to fix because we have to work with Network Solutions, Inc., or NSI.
I learned that lots of system managers and entrepreneurs have had similar experience with NSI, and came to believe that the system worked so poorly because they didn't have competition.
"No problem!" I optimistically believed, "NSI will soon have competition, and things will improve."
"You were fooled," said John Gilmore, a leading authority on the architecture of the Internet. "Those companies are not competing with NSI. Those companies are competing to *send business* to NSI."
"Could this be true?" I wondered.
"John is partly right," said Esther Dyson, firstname.lastname@example.org, chairman of ICANN, the quasi-governmental master of Internet naming.
Here's the rest of Esther's email.
We haven't created competition for NSI in toto, but for the *service* of registering domain names - i.e. its *registrar* business. NSI still maintains the database (the registry), but does so under a price cap (which may be further reduced in negotiations between NSI and the Department of Commerce).
One of our jobs at ICANN is making sure that NSI maintains a Chinese wall between its registry and its registration operations, where it will be competing with five new registrars for the next couple of months and eventually with virtually all comers.
Yes, service quality is an issue, and we hope competition among registrars will improve it, as well as lowering prices and leading to more innovation in related services. (Yes, NSI still maintains the central database. What can I say? No one is perfect. They have a US government contract to do so, and the government is monitoring their performance.)
That is a first step. One next issue is indeed to consider whether it makes sense to add new gTLDs - a question about which there are many opinions!
We learned .com; why can't we learn the next new thing?
From Charlie Jackson, email@example.com.
There's another facet of this NSI stuff that I've encountered which is really bad. It appears that NSI does not protect their web site from some kind of snooping or sniffing or whatever it might be called. Speculators can grab domain names. Here's what happened to me.
I attempted to register a domain name, but made a typo (both the primary and secondary DNS names were the same instead of being different). The registration couldn't go thru and I got a message back to that effect. When I saw the e-mail the next day, I attempted to register the name again, but it was taken. I looked up who had taken it, went to their web site, and there was the name, for sale (www.ideatrade.com).
In fact, this guy did this to me twice. The first time, Nov of 98, I just used some web site that I'd discovered to check the availability of the name and thought it was coincidental that the name was taken a week later - at that time I wasn't serious about anything and had just been idly looking at names. When I got serious and searched again in Feb, I was pleasantly surprised to see the name available again and tried to register it.
This guy grabs names and puts them up for sale. He registers them, but does not pay for them. After about 90 days they get released again. I sent an e-mail to NSI complaining about this and asked for them to release the domain name. I never received a response by e-mail. I was able to get an NSI support person on the phone about two months later and was able to verify that the domain name had not been paid for. But she said I would have to call InterNIC about the issue.
When I tried to call InterNIC, all the circuits were busy all day long and I gave up on that. At Internet World I got the name of a person to call at NSI, and it took three days to get her on the phone. I told her the story, and included the facts that I had the .org and .net versions of the name and had filed for a trademark. Nothing. This was about 75 days after the filing. She said that there was nothing she could do (I was asking that the domain name be released right then), and that I would simply have to wait. I now have about 10 days left, and the new business has been on hold for weeks.
My beef with NSI is that they are not protecting information flowing on their site and that they are totally unresponsive to customers. I'm the customer, the other guy isn't going to pay them for the name. You know, I could see something catastrophic happening because that one company put their profits ahead of making sure that the whole system is bullet proof. Why haven't they protected the communications on their web site? This is a ludicrous situation.
I misunderstood, as I think a lot of people have, that this situation could improve because NSI is now getting competition.
Anyone who is seriously maintaining a .Com domain name will just deal with NSI. The other companies, unless they *pay us* to register with them (it's thinkable in this crazy world), will achieve an installed base of zero.
So to answer the question posed by this piece, Network Solutions owns .Com, for the forseeable future. That should clarify the situation, a simple statement. If you're proud of your domain name, as many of us are, know that you share ownership of that name with a company that's become famous for super-bad customer service, who also controls every other domain name from aol.com to yahoo.com to joesDiner.com.
Esther poses the possibility that we could have another Internet, one that wouldn't be based on .Com names. At first I thought this was unthinkable, now I want to give it some thought. What if we could start over? Let's see how this shapes up.
Thanks Charlie and Esther for adding to the discussion.
PS: ICANN is at http://www.icann.org/.