Metcalfe's column: Time now for DNS to get an overhaul

The IP DNS began as pneumonic plumbing -- an indirection to save typing IP numbers like 123.45.67.89 all day long.

But with electronic-commerce booming, domain names have become valuable intellectual property. And it's often expensive and sometimes impossible to get www.yourtrademark.com.

Which is why I think we should abolish the .com designation.

This came up last week near Los Angeles at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

ICANN (www.icann.org) is a private international organisation authorised by the US Department of Commerce to take over the work of Postel and his team, and until recently it was called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, or IANA (www.iana.org). IANA has been a US-sponsored DNS registry since even before Al Gore invented the Internet.

ICANN allocates blocks of IP numbers. This will get interesting as the Internet upgrades to IP numbers such as 123.45.67.89.0.123.45.67.89.0.123.45.67.89.0.123.

ICANN also tracks protocol port numbers. If Sun puts the dot in .com, then you might say that ICANN puts the http:// in .com -- it's port 80.

But what's keeping ICANN in the news is DNS. Mike Roberts, ICANN's interim CEO, has announced the next step towards demonopolising DNS registrations.

Now, instead of Network Solutions Inc (NSI; www.nsi.com) not giving you www.therightname.com, your ISP will soon not be getting you the domain name you want from the six competitive DNS registrars, including NSI and America Online. There will be 35 registrars by July. Whoop-dee-doo.

All of these registrars will be reselling registration services provided to them by NSI for $9 a name, and you will mostly still be unable to get the .com domain you deserve.

ICANN administers the Internet's top-level domains (TLDs) including .com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov, .mil, and .int, as well as some 240 country-code TLDs, such as .us, .ca (Canada), and .tv (Tuvalu).

ICANN's really big problem is not demonopolising DNS registrars, but getting DNS and trademark law aligned. The .com designation is worldwide and not aligned with any trademark jurisdiction.

Maybe ICANN can ignore trademarks because the Internet is exempt from the established rules of real-world commerce. Maybe the World Intellectual Property Organization will invent the .com jurisdiction in the real world.

Or maybe we can adopt my quick fix. I urge that ICANN abolish all but the geographical top-level domains, letting each country administer its own DNS servers under its own trademark laws.

Or let's do what Postel recommended. He foresaw Web browsers, search engines, and directories dealing with Internet names. He saw DNS plumbing fading back into the woodwork from which it has inappropriately burst.

ICANN has another problem for which I have a quick fix. Who will pay for its offices and staff salaries? The plan might be that fees be paid ICANN by registrars, who will in turn charge you for www.therightname.com.us.

But Postel years ago reserved most of the single-letter and single-digit domain names. I urge ICANN to auction off these domains to endow itself. How much might my former company pay to get 3.com? Or, if we abolish .com, how much for 3.com.us, 3.com.jp, and the rest?

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