Managing Internet domain names

Harmonizing internet IP addresses
Mapping the internet by domain
Regulating DNS registration practices
The Domain Name System (DNS) maps Internet addresses and is a necessary element enabling communication routing to function. While some may view the DNS as a narrow technical issue its implications for GII-GIS are extremely important. At present there is no consensus among the Internet community and all sectors of the Internet industry on how a governance structure will evolve for the DNS. There is increasing agreement that decisions over reforms to the DNS should involve all stakeholders and in particular industry. Accordingly the transition period must be inclusive particularly of the for-profit sector, since, (to a large extent) educational and research institutions would only be minimally affected by the proposed addition of new generic TLDs. To ensure public confidence, the transition process itself should be subject to standards of openness, transparency, and public accountability, and so should the rules which bind the final authority.

DNS reform will be ongoing over the next several years at the national and international level. Much of this reform is expected to be industry-led. A growing number of governments are also reviewing their requirements, across of all sectors of activity, and publishing policy principles in relation to the DNS to assist the development of industry self regulation codes and other industry-led reforms. In respect to generic Top Level Domains reform the Clinton Administration had, at the time of writing, an interagency task force preparing policy recommendations based on a public consultation process. The European Commission has also been actively studying and raising awareness of DNS reform. The declaration arising from the European Ministerial Bonn Conference stressed the importance of Internet domain names for the development of electronic commerce. European Ministers also noted support for the principle of an internationally recognised and transparent system of DNS management.

In addition the leading proposals for reform all call for competition to be introduced into domain name markets. The role of governments is to ensure that the administration and operation of the DNS is stable and that competition occurs in a fair and open manner. The DNS may also prove to be very important for governments in areas such as taxation compliance and protection of minors. The databases of DNS registries not only perform critical functions in signposting information highways, they are the only identification records available for governments, businesses, consumers and parents.

Several main issues are emerging which governments could benefit from reviewing. In commenting on these issues the OECD notes that Member governments hold, as a fundamental GII-GIS principle, that they should exercise caution before implementing regulation on a new communication media such as the Internet. On the other hand, experience shows that monopolies are open to potential abuse and that some government action may be required to ensure that this and other public policy matters can be addressed.

Despite their critical importance for electronic commerce the policies and procedures of many registries in the OECD area have had little input from business or consumer groups. DNS Registrars currently have monopoly power based on their administration of national or generic top level domain names. In the transition to a commercial and competitive market for DNS the need to introduce safeguards, to ensure transparent and non discriminatory practices, is increasing. A first step could be to monitor prices via international benchmarks and for monopoly registrars to publish accounts.

Over the longer term governments could benefit from supporting industry-led reforms seeking to introduce competition in generic and other top level domain markets. As in other communication markets which have been opened to competition it may be necessary to introduce safeguards to ensure DNS infrastructure, where it can be said to form a bottleneck, can be accessed on an equal and non discriminatory basis.

In those areas where governments are looking to exercise some regulatory oversight, law enforcement, consumer protection, taxation compliance, protection of intellectual property rights, protection of minors and so forth in respect to the Internet, the information and database associated with the DNS may prove to be critical. As a general rule this information should be made public and readily accessible. Registrars, who have not already done so, should make available search and retrieval tools for users to interrogate registration databases. These databases need to have appropriate information included such as the full contact details of registrants. Consideration should be given to the frequent suggestion that certain domain names, such, might be usefully employed in ongoing efforts to protect minors. If after careful consideration this idea is proves to be impractical, this analysis should be published given the public interest in this question. Further consideration should also be given to the longer term impact intelligent agents may have on the definition of location and the responsibilities of users.

Currently there are a great number of disparate practices and policies associated with domain names throughout the OECD area. Accordingly it is necessary to ask whether this lack of harmony forms a barrier to electronic commerce. In other instances some policies raise fundamental issues of rights. For example the restriction preventing individuals from registering a domain name in some OECD countries seems to stem from some registrars wanting to avert legal action that might result from trademark disputes. Whatever the merits or otherwise of these different requirements they have not been devised in an open and transparent manner with all public policy implications considered. Accordingly the differences across the OECD area need to be be highlighted and potential benefits or drawbacks discussed. Users need to be be very much involved in this process to a much greater degree than in the past in virtually all OECD countries.

An.EU domain would strengthen the image and the infrastructure of the Internet in Europe, and allow the identification of companies and institutions as European. In the longer term, it would also strengthen the internal market and would stimulate electronic commerce in Europe. The Commission's working document "The Internet Domain Name System Creation of the.EU Top Level Domain (February 2000)" raises several specific issues for consultation.

Since 1993, the US National Science Foundation has designated InterNIC as the exclusive registrar for all Internet domain names containing the generic abbreviations ".com" (for commercial entities), ".org" (for non-profit organizations), ".edu" (for educational institutions), ".net" (for computer networks and Internet Service Providers) and ".gov" (for government entities). InterNIC currently administers over 1.2 million domain names, and its Web Site is visited over the Internet approximately 1 million times per day. InterNIC also administers the popular "WHOIS" directory, which identifies names and addresses on the Internet.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions