History of DNS
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Domain names are the familiar and easy-to-remember names for Internet computers (e.g., "www.ecommerce.gov"). They map to unique Internet Protocol (IP) numbers (e.g., 18.104.22.168) that serve as routing addresses on the Internet. The domain name system (DNS) translates Internet names into the IP numbers needed for transmission of information across the network.
U.S. Role in DNS Development:
More than 25 years ago, the U.S. Government began funding research necessary to develop packet-switching technology and communications networks, starting with the "ARPANET" network established by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the 1960s. ARPANET was later linked to other networks established by other government agencies, universities and research facilities. During the 1970s, DARPA also funded the development of a "network of networks;" this became known as the Internet, and the protocols that allowed the networks to intercommunicate became known as Internet protocols (IP).
In the Beginning was Jon Postel
As part of the ARPANET development work contracted to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Dr. Jon Postel, then a graduate student at the university, undertook the maintenance of a list of host names and addresses and also a list of documents prepared by ARPANET researchers, called Requests for Comments (RFCs). The lists and the RFCs were made available to the network community through the auspices of SRI International, under contract to DARPA and later the Defense Communication Agency (DCA) (now the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)) for performing the functions of the Network Information Center (the NIC). (It was said to have been known as the Defense Data Network (DDN) Network Information Center (NIC) [Karrenberg, Development of RIRs])
Legend has it that Postel maintained the list of network address assignments in a paper notebook. [Karrenberg, Development of RIRs]
After Dr. Postel moved from UCLA to the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at the University of Southern California (USC), he continued to maintain the list of assigned Internet numbers and names under contracts with DARPA. SRI International continued to publish the lists. As the lists grew, DARPA permitted Dr. Postel to delegate additional administrative aspects of the list maintenance to SRI, under continuing technical oversight. Dr. Postel, under the DARPA contracts, also published a list of technical parameters that had been assigned for use by protocol developers. Eventually these functions collectively became known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
Network Solutions Inc. founded 1979 [NSI History]
Until the early 1980s, the Internet was managed by DARPA, and used primarily for research purposes. Nonetheless, the task of maintaining the name list became onerous, and the Domain Name System (DNS) was developed to improve the process. Dr. Postel and SRI participated in DARPA's development and establishment of the technology and practices used by the DNS. By 1990, ARPANET was completely phased out.
Transition from Military Project to Civilian Project
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has statutory authority for supporting and strengthening basic scientific research, engineering, and educational activities in the United States, including the maintenance of computer networks to connect research and educational institutions. Beginning in 1987, IBM, MCI and Merit developed NSFNET, a national high-speed network based on Internet protocols, under an award from NSF. NSFNET, the largest of the governmental networks, provided a "backbone" to connect other networks serving more than 4,000 research and educational institutions throughout the country. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy also contributed backbone facilities.
In 1992, the U.S. Congress gave NSF statutory authority to allow commercial activity on the NSFNET. This facilitated connections between NSFNET and newly forming commercial network service providers, paving the way for today's Internet. The U.S. Government created the Internet as we know it today. The U.S. Government consistently encouraged bottom-up development of networking technologies, and throughout the course of its development, computer scientists from around the world have enriched the Internet and facilitated exploitation of its true potential. For example, scientists at CERN, in Switzerland, developed software, protocols and conventions that formed the basis of today's vibrant World Wide Web. This type of pioneering Internet research and development continues in cooperative organizations and consortia throughout the world.
InterNIC and the Looming Storm"The transition of the Network Information Center from SRI International in Menlo Park, CA, to Government Systems Inc. in Chantilly, VA, is officially scheduled for 1 October 1991. This includes the transition of services currently offered to DDN and Internet users by SRI. These services include network/user registration (i.e., network number and top level domain name assignment), on-line information services, and Help Desk operations. GSI will also continue RFC and Internet-Draft archive and distribution services."
[RFC 1261 (written by NSI Staff)] [NSF9224 ("Internet registration services (and some information services) are provided by the DISA NIC operated by Government Services, Inc. (GSI).")] This action was conducted by the NSF pursuant to the High Performance Computing Act. [Rony p 127]. That action was taken by DISA. [Defense Data Network, Management Bulletin 84 (4 Sept 91)] GSI subcontracted this activity to NSI. [Thomas I.A.] GSI would carry out this function until Jan. 1, 1993.
In 1991-92, NSF assumed responsibility for coordinating and funding the management of the non-military portion of the Internet infrastructure, pursuant to the High-Performance Computing Act (Dec. 9, 1991) (sponsored by Al Gore) and the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act of 1992. [Thomas ("With the passage of the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act in 1992, NSF received an expanded mandate to support development of the Internet and to facilitate its use. See 42 USC s 1862(g)")]
In 1992, NSF solicited competitive proposals to provide a variety of infrastructure services (under the name "InterNIC"), including domain name registration services. [NSF9224 ("NSF funding is expected to be approximately $2m per year")]
In 1993, NSF entered into a five-year cooperative agreement with three companies to provides services:
NSF acted pursuant to the High Performance Computing Act, 15 USC 551 and 31 USC 6305. [Rony p 128]
"Later, General Atomics was dropped after a contract review found their services not being up to the standards of its contract. General Atomics InterNIC functions were assumed by AT&T. AT&T discontinued their InterNIC services after their contract ran out."
"Today more than 5000 networks comprise the Internet. These networks linked together hundreds of thousands of computers and millions of users throughout the world. The domestic, nonmilitary portion of the Internet includes NSFNET. It also includes other federally sponsored networks such as NASA's Science Internet (NSI) and Energy Science Network (ESNet). NSFNET, NSI, and ESNET, as well as some other networks of the Internet, are related to the National Research and Education Network (NREN) which was defined in the president's fiscal 1992 budget and which has been authorized by the passage in December, 1991, of Public Law 102 -- 194.
"The NREN is projected to evolve from a part of the Internet containing portions of NSFNET, NSI, and the ESnet. This evolution will reflect the legal requirements of the various sponsoring agencies. For example, NASA and DOE our mission agencies whose networks' traffic must relate to the agency's mission. NSF, on the other hand, is chartered to support most science and engineering research and education; hence NSFNET can carry all traffic contemplated for the NREN and may in fact support additional traffic as well." [NSF9224 (1992)]
NSI managed key registration, coordination, and maintenance functions of the Internet domain name system. NSI registered domain names in the generic top level domains (gTLDs) on a first come, first served basis and also maintains a directory linking domain names with the IP numbers of domain name servers.
"The original contract called for NSI to operate on a "cost-plus-fee"basis, meaning that NSI received reimbursement for its costs, plus a fixed fee that ensured the company's profit. Under the original contract, the costs and fees were paid by NSF out of its operating budget; users did not have to pay fees to register or to maintain domain names. The contract estimated that, over the five year life of the agreement, NSI would receive $4,854,061 in cost reimbursement and $365,278 in fixed fee profit. See Cooperative Agreement at Art. 8 para A." [Thomas Sec. I.B.]
The situation with NSI might be contrasted with the relationship NSF had with ANS for NSFNET services. NSF used its cooperative agreements with MERIT/ANS in order to contract out the function of administering the NSFNET. Like the arrangement with NSI, NSF was using government funds to set up one private company to offer Internet services, without having significant contractual control over how those services were administered. Unlike an actual government contract, the assets created pursuant to a cooperative agreement were the property of the private company with no further government recourse. This put NSF in the position of funding one company's R&D and hand picking the first mover in a market. The situation with ANS was surpassed by CIX and private commercial networks; the situation with NSI and DNS however took a great deal more consternation.
In 1995, NSF gave Network Solutions authority to charge for domain name registrations; Network Solutions announced that domain name registrations would cost $50 per year (which resulted in considerable backlash in the community and was one of the driving forces for the formation of IAHC with the agenda of opening the DNS to competitive forces).
The original agreement provided that charges may eventually been made; among these contemplative charges was "the imposition of a user based fee structure." Id. at the Art. 3, para G. The contract provided that these structures could be re-assessed through peer review at any time before December 31, 1994. Id. at Art. 5, para B. An independent panel (allegedly with no representatives of NSI or NSF) began its review in late 1994; in March 1995, NSI proposed to charge prospective users for registration. On September 13, 1995, NSF and NSI entered into Amendment 4 of the Cooperative Agreement. This amendment eliminated the "cost-plus-fee" method of compensation. In its place, it permitted NSI to charge fees for the registration and maintenance of domain names, which meant that, for the first time, users had to pay to register and maintain their domain names. The amendment set the fees at $100 to register and at $50 to renew annually. Since 1995, NSI has been solely responsible for collecting these fees.
The amendment does not permit NSI to keep the entire fee as reimbursement for costs and profit. Instead, NSI keeps 70% of each fee for itself and places the remaining 30% into the Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. The 30% contribution is commonly known as the "Preservation Assessment." NSI is responsible for maintaining the Fund, but the government directs the expenditure of monies from the Fund.
[Thomas I.C.] See also [FNC Resolution (May 1997) ( "The NSF should work with NSI to create a mechanism to ensure that the "30% Fund" will be available for the future development of Internet Intellectual Infrastructure, such as the funding of efforts like ARIN and IANA." )] [CRS p 1 2009]
For a period in the 1990s, Network Solutions adopted a policy that certain words could not be registered as domain names. This resulted in some weird results where shit.com had been registered but shitakemushroom.com could not be registered. Network Solutions also sought to implement a policy that would prevent the registration of domain names that might bother trademark owners.
Dynamic Info System v Network Solutions, 96-CV-1551 (DCCO filed 1996) Case ArchiveBeginning in 1996, Network Solutions began restricting the distribution of domain names containing a number of words on a "restricted list" through an automated filter. The filter is known to have rejected domain names containing the "least agreeable words in the English language". Applicants whose domain names were rejected would receive a form e-mail containing the notice: "Network Solutions has a right founded in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to refuse to register, and thereby publish, on the Internet registry of domain names words that it deems to be inappropriate." This filter came under heavy scrutiny, as legitimate domain names such as "shitakemushrooms.com" would be rejected, but the domain name "shit.com" was active, as it had been registered before 1996. Network Solutions eventually allowed domain names containing the words on a case-by-case basis, after manually reviewing the names for "obscene intent". This profanity filter was never enforced by the government and was not carried over to the ICANN organization when they took over governance of the distribution of domain names to the public.
IANA began to make statements that confused its source of authority:
- J Reynolds, J Postel, IETF RFC 1700, Assigned Numbers (Oct 1994) ("The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is the central coordinator for the assignment of unique parameter values for Internet protocols. The IANA is chartered by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Federal Network Council (FNC) to act as the clearinghouse to assign and coordinate the use of numerous Internet protocol parameters.")
- The IANA website at one point read: "The IANA is chartered by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Federal Network Council (FNC) to act as the clearinghouse to assign and coordinate the use of the numerous Internet protocol parameters." [Rony p 122]
- See also a much bolder statement by E Krol, E Hoffman, RFC 1462, FYI on "What is the Internet"? p 4 (May 1993) ("The ultimate authority for where the Internet is going rests with the Internet Society, or ISOC.")
The Internet Society (ISOC) was not founded until about 1991 and could not be the source of authority for IANA' or the Internet. ISOC is a nonprofit US corporation located in Northern Virginia, founded by Internet professionals, and had no authority over Internet resources to delegate.
In current discussions, any notion of Internet authority being derived from ISOC has been dropped.
In about this period, trademark owners were waking up to being concerned about their trademark's registered by third-parties as domain names. Cybersquatters of domain names emerged and attempted to extort large amounts for the use of domain names. Domain name law was unclear and firms were spending large sums on litigation in an unresolved area of law. At the same time a concern emerged that trademark interests were running rough-shod over free speech interests. Speech and critical uses of marks in domain names that would have been protected in the real world were under attack in the virtual world, aggravated by an artificial scarcity of domain names (ie., there could only be one "cannon.com").
A perfect storm began to emerge leading to upheaval in Internet governance and the formation of ICANN. The forces were the backlash from NSI's $50 a year domain name registration fee, NSI's attempt to become final arbiter of what domain names could and could not be registered, and trademark owners concerns over infringing domain name registrations. The later would become a singular driving force throughout Internet Governance reform.
Interlude: IP Numbers and Regional Internet Registries
In 1990, the Internet Activities Board sent a message to the US Federal Networking Council (anyone have a good history of the FNC?) recommending that the responsibilities for IP number assignment and registration be delegated on an international basis. [RFC 1174]. This recommendation was then supported in 1992 by the IETF with RFC 1366 which described a system of single registries within differing geographical regions.
In 1992, Réseaux IP Européens established and put into operations RIPE NCC, the first Regional Internet Registry which would serve Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. The Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC) was established in Tokyo in 1993.
In the United States, with the transfer of authority over the Internet from DOD to NSF, NSF had contracted IP number registration authority to NSI. According to Daniel Karrenberg:Over time, after lengthy consultation with the IANA, the IETF, RIPE NCC, APNIC, the NSF, and the Federal Networking Council (FNC), a further consensus was reached in the general Internet community to separate the management of domain names from the management of IP numbers. This consensus was based on the recognition that the stability of the Internet relies on the careful management of IP address space. Following the examples of RIPE NCC and APNIC, it was recommended that management of IP address space then administered by the InterNIC should be under the control of, and administered by, those that use it, including ISPs, end-user organizations, corporate entities, universities, and individuals. As a result, ARIN ( American Registry for Internet Numbers) was established in December 1997, as an independent, nonprofit corporation, with a membership structure open to all interested entities or individuals.
[Karrenberg, Development of RIRs] NSF described this as an additional step in the privitaization of the Internet.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today an action that moves the Internet toward privatization. Internet Protocol number assignments will soon be handled by a non-profit organization. . . . "This move is another step by the federal government in the continuing privatization and commercialization of the Internet," said George Strawn, director of the Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure division at NSF. "The Internet is no longer in its infancy. It is growing up into a commercially based, self-regulating entity."
[Internet Moves Toward Privatization, NSF Press Release 97-046 (June 24, 1997)]
Two additional Regional Internet Registries have recently gone online:
The Storm Breaks
|"The FNCAC reiterates and underscores the urgency of transferring responsibility for supporting US commercial interests in ITLD administrations from the NSF to an appropriate entity." FNC Resolution Oct 1996.|
In May of 1996, Dr. Postel proposed the creation of multiple, exclusive, competing top-level domain name registries. This proposal called for the introduction of up to 50 new competing domain name registries, each with the exclusive right to register names in up to three new top-level domains, for a total of 150 new TLDs. While some supported the proposal, the plan drew much criticism from the Internet technical community. The paper was revised and reissued. The Internet Society's (ISOC) board of trustees endorsed, in principle, the slightly revised but substantively similar version of the draft in June of 1996.
After considerable debate and redrafting failed to produce a consensus on DNS change - and in response to multiple pressures including the high registration fees NetSol was charging, the desire to open the business up to competition, and the concern over both trademarks and free speech - IANA and the Internet Society (ISOC) organized the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC or the Ad Hoc Committee) in September 1996, to resolve DNS management issues. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) participated in the IAHC. The Federal Networking Council (FNC) participated in the early deliberations of the Ad Hoc Committee.
The IAHC issued a draft plan in December 1996 that introduced unique and thoughtful concepts for the evolution of DNS administration. The final report proposed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that would have established, initially, seven new gTLDs to be operated on a nonexclusive basis by a consortium of new private domain name registrars called the Council of Registrars (CORE). Policy oversight would have been undertaken in a separate council called the Policy Oversight Committee (POC) with seats allocated to specified stakeholder groups. Further, the plan formally introduced mechanisms for resolving trademark/domain name disputes. Under the MoU, registrants for second-level domains would have been required to submit to mediation and arbitration, facilitated by WIPO, in the event of conflict with trademark holders.
Although the IAHC proposal gained support in many quarters of the Internet community, the IAHC process was criticized for its aggressive technology development and implementation schedule, for being dominated by the Internet engineering community, and for lacking participation by and input from business interests and others in the Internet community. Others criticized the plan for failing to solve the competitive problems that were such a source of dissatisfaction among Internet users and for imposing unnecessary burdens on trademark holders. There was also concern that the International Telecommunications Union might attempt to exert authority over DNS. Although the POC responded by revising the original plan, demonstrating a commendable degree of flexibility, the proposal was not able to overcome initial criticism of both the plan and the process by which the plan was developed. Important segments of the Internet community remained outside the IAHC process, criticizing it as insufficiently representative.
This led the White House and the Department of Commerce to step in. The US Government released The Green Paper, A Proposal To Improve Technical Management Of Internet Names And Addresses Discussion Draft (Green Paper), Department of Commerce (1/30/98), a proposal for how to privatize the DNS. The approach outlined in the Green Paper adopted elements of other proposals, such as the early Postel drafts and the IAHC gTLD- MoU. This was followed by the White Paper, Management of Internet Names and Addresses (White Paper), Department of Commerce (June 5, 1998), which provided final guidelines for the privatization of the DNS.
Derived From: Lennard Kruger, Internet Domain Names: Background and Policy Issues, Congressional Research Service p 2-3 (Oct. 28, 2009)
The White Paper endorsed a process whereby the divergent interests of the Internet community would come together and decide how Internet names and addresses would be managed and administered. Accordingly, Internet constituencies from around the world held a series of meetings during the summer of 1998 to discuss how the New Corporation might be constituted and structured. [These efforts struggled and man insiders anticipated that the forums were on the verge of collapse].
Meanwhile, IANA, in collaboration with NSI, released a proposed set of bylaws and articles of incorporation. The proposed new corporation was called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). After five iterations, the final version of ICANN's bylaws and articles of incorporation were submitted to the Department of Commerce on October 2, 1998. On November 25, 1998, DOC and ICANN signed an official Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), whereby DOC and ICANN agreed to jointly design, develop, and test the mechanisms, methods, and procedures necessary to transition management responsibility for DNS functions-including IANA-to a private-sector not-for-profit entity.
On September 17, 2003, ICANN and the Department of Commerce agreed to extend their MOU until September 30, 2006. The MOU specified transition tasks which ICANN agreed to address. On June 30, 2005, Michael Gallagher, then-Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator of NTIA, stated the U.S. government's principles on the Internet's domain name system. Specifically, NTIA stated that the U.S. government intends to preserve the security and stability of the DNS, that the United States would continue to authorize changes or modifications to the root zone, that governments have legitimate interests in the management of their country code top level domains, that ICANN is the appropriate technical manager of the DNS, and that dialogue related to Internet governance should continue in relevant multiple fora
On September 29, 2006, DOC announced a new Joint Project Agreement (JPA) with ICANN which was intended to continue the transition to the private sector of the coordination of technical functions relating to management of the DNS. The JPA extended through September 30, 2009, and focused on institutionalizing transparency and accountability mechanisms within ICANN. On September 30, 2009, DOC and ICANN announced agreement on an Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) to "institutionalize and memorialize" the technical coordination of the DNS globally and by a private-sector-led organization.3 The AoC affirms commitments made by DOC and ICANN to ensure accountability and transparency; preserve the security, stability, and resiliency of the DNS; promote competition, consumer trust, and consumer choice; and promote international participation.
The Storm Continues: Intellectual Infrastructure Fund
William Thomas decided that the fees that NSI (and NSF) were charging for domain names just wasn't right - so he sued. In 1998, the Court concluded that the 30% NSI was collecting and pocketing into the "Intellectual Infrastructure Fund" was an unconstitutional tax.According to Amendment 4, 30% of all registration fees are considered part of the "Preservation Assessment," and are placed in the Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. As of September 30, 1997, the Fund contained at least $37 million. Plaintiffs claim that, at the current rate of domain name registration, the Fund will exceed $120 million by December 1998. According to NSI's own statements, it deposits these funds and maintains the account, but it does so only as a proxy for NSF; NSI admits-- and, indeed, insists -- that the Intellectual Infrastructure Fund is the government's money, and that the government alone can choose how and when to spend it. NSI makes no claim at all for ownership of these funds.
Congress also seems to treat the Intellectual Infrastructure Fund as government money. In October of 1997, Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 105-65, 111 Stat. 1344 (1997), which authorized an expenditure of $23 million on the "Next Generation Internet" program. The Next Generation program is aimed primarily at upgrading the Internet infrastructure, improving the speed and accuracy of information delivery, and increasing access for schools. Although the statute does not mention the Intellectual Infrastructure Fund by name, there is little dispute that Congress intended it as the source of funding for the Next Generation project.
There are indications that the Preservation Assessment is designed to raise funds for government use. For example NSF's Inspector General commented that "a portion of the fees obtained to register Internet addresses [should] be allocated to support further Internet development." Inspector General's Report, February 7, 1997, at 1. In order to implement this proposal, the I.G. suggested that "federal oversight of Internet addresses should generate income for the government." Id. at 9. The Report then presents the Preservation Assessment scheme as the means to generate that income for use on broader Internet projects.
. . . . .
The Preservation Assessment is clearly a tax under any of these formulae. There is no dispute that the assessment is involuntary-- it is automatically charged to every domain registration, and registrants cannot opt out of the charge. Furthermore, NSI collects the assessment for the government's use on public goals, and not in any way to defray regulatory costs. In addition, defendants admit that the cost of providing the initial registration service is at most $70; the $30 paid to the Preservation Assessment is entirely in excess of cost. Thus, there is no dispute that the Preservation Assessment exists to generate revenue for public projects and goals, or that it is a fee imposed independent of and above the cost of domain name registration.
The Preservation Assessment is an involuntary assessment, it provides revenue for the government, for use on projects that do not directly benefit the payees or otherwise apply to the purposes furthered by the NSF-NSI Agreement, it is entirely in excess of the costs of the special registration services sought by plaintiffs, and it raises the overall cost of registration by nearly 50%. For these reasons, the Preservation Assessment is not a regulatory fee, but is instead a tax on registration.
. . . . .
As such, it is illegal under Article I, §8 of the Constitution.
Now that domain name registration has been opened to competition, the price of registering a domain name has dropped to a few dollars (frequently thrown in as free when other services are ordered). Funny how a little bit of competition drives down prices.
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