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The DOT Campaign: Making ".us" work for all of US by Katharina Kopp

The Digital Beat -- October 24, 2000 The Benton Foundation and the Media Access Project recently filed comments with the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) in response to its Request for Comments (RFC) on the management and administration of the .us domain space. This article provides background on the significance of this proceeding and the .us domain space. We hope that this article will spark further interest in this project and we invite comments and discussion on this important policy matter.(1)


The .us space on the Internet could be compared to our national parks and other public spaces that belong to all. How this valuable real estate should be used, leased or sold, for example, should be decided with the interests of all Americans in mind. Few Americans, we believe, will think that it is a good idea to give that space away for free without any obligations on how to utilize the space; many will probably want to preserve some of it for public use. For a long time the .us name space has not been utilized in the most efficient and creative ways. It is a public resource of great value. What we do with this resource and how to utilize it best in the interest of all Americans are the questions that are before us now.

Background on .us

Top level domains (TLDs), which appear at the very end of every Internet address, take two forms: generic TLDs such as, for example, .com for commercial enterprises, or .edu for education institutions; and two-letter country code TLDs such as .uk for the United Kingdom and .de for Germany. The .us domain is the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the United States. Contrary to practices in other countries, most companies, organizations and individuals in the U.S. use the generic TLDs as their Internet address, mostly because longstanding registration policies have made .us unattractive for users. They can only register as fourth-level domains under localities, e.g. Nevertheless, .us is now the third largest country-code domain with 1,900,000 host computers as of January 2000. The vast majority of these hosts belong to public agencies, mostly at the state or local level. Despite the rapid growth of the Internet and Internet addresses (there are now over 8 million registrations in .com), the cumbersome organization of the .us space under the geopolitical structure has not generated a high number of registrations compared to other ccTLDs. While many have recognized that registration under .us for generic names, such as or, would likely increase registration under .us, the original locality-based structure created under Dr. Jon Postel (see The U.S. Domain ( has remained virtually unchanged since its inception.

Network Solutions, Inc. is responsible for the administration of the .us top-level domain under its Cooperative Agreement with the Department of Commerce. Network Solutions has subcontracted the administration of the usTLD to the Information Sciences Institute of the University of Southern California (ISI). ISI has the responsibility of maintaining the registry of all .us addresses and is funded by Network Solutions, the contractor that continues to operate the registry for generic top-level domains under a memorandum agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce. The arrangement for .us ends in November of 2000, but is likely to be extended for an additional year. ISI has delegated the right to register fourth-level names under localities to thousands of private registrars on an exclusive basis, and these registrars are free to set registration fees for their localities. They are not accountable to the locality but only to ISI, which has no formal procedures for reviewing and reassigning delegations.

NTIA's Office for International Affairs is the lead division of the Department of Commerce on domain issues. NTIA undertook a public comment process for .us in August 1998 and posted online the comments it received. The agency then hosted an open workshop on March, 15, 1999. This workshop was inconclusive and the proceeding was dropped by NTIA, that is until recently. Since the arrangement between Network Solutions, the Commerce Department and ISI for .us ends in November of 2000, Commerce is under pressure to find a new arrangement for the .us space. On August 17, 2000, NTIA requested comments on a draft statement of work which is expected to be incorporated into a request for proposals for management and administration of the .us domain space.

Some Key Issues Concerning .us

Policy decisions around .us are affected by a number of related issues: Internet governance, tensions between trademarks and domain names, the creation of new generic top level domains, use of public resources in the public interest and what to do with the locality-based structure of the legacy system, if the .us space should be redesigned. Public attention has focused on the politics of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN was established in 1998 as an international, private-sector organization to oversee policy and procedures for domain names, network numbers, and protocol parameters. In principle, ICANN oversees country-code domain names, such as .us, but it customarily defers to national governments on administration of domains under their country codes. As the most visible entity responsible for setting international policy for domain names, ICANN has become a lightning rod for criticism. At the beginning, ICANN was criticized for not conducting open processes, and there have been claims that the U.S. Government was involved in determining the initial makeup of the organization. It will be important for the future administration of the .us space to ensure that full discussion and participation of all the stakeholders is ensured and that processes are transparent.

The history of ICANN not only emphasizes the need for an open and democratic decision making process particularly when we are dealing with public resources, ICANN itself has emphasized that a country code, such as .us, should be administered in the public interest. The Government Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN found that for the management and administration of country-code top level domains

the role of the relevant government or public authority is to ensure that the ccTLD is being administered *in the public interest,* whilst taking into consideration issues of public policy and relevant law and regulation. [emphasis added]

Furthermore The delegee of a ccTLD is a trustee for the delegated domain, and has a duty to serve the residents of the relevant country or territory.

The 'cybersquatting' issue, or speculation with domain names, has also been an issue in the ICANN process and for developing new generic top-level domain names. Cybersquatting is the practice of registering domain names which are identical or very similar to trademarks or famous names. Sometimes the intent is to sell the domain name back to the trademark owner, sometimes the intent is to exercise the First Amendment Right to express ones opinion, as, for example, in a domain name such as 'name of company' Similarly, so-called 'reverse highjacking' deals with trademark issues, however, this time it is the trademark holder that exerts the pressure. The term refers to the practice in which a domain name holder who has been using the domain name legitimately is challenged by a trademark holder who wants to take the domain name away. Congress passed a law last year restricting cybersquatting and ICANN established the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution process to settle conflicts. Whatever new model for .us will be developed, it will have to balance the trademark concerns with First Amendment rights.

Trademark owners who are concerned about the costs of policing new domains against trademark abusers have resisted the creation of new generic top-level domains. And yet, there is great demand for new generic names and the value of easy-to-remember domain names, such as or, is very high. For a fee of approximately $35/year, anybody can register a domain name, if it is not already in use. But the resale value of generic names is astounding:, for example, sold for $3 million last January. Taking high demand and trademark concerns into consideration, ICANN is currently establishing a few new generic top-level domains as a means of reducing the demand for generic domain names. Applications for new top-level domains have included ".kids," ".biz" and ".xxx." How this will affect the value of .com and, in particular, the demand for .us generic names has yet to be determined.

Just as the trademark issue needs to be taken into consideration for any new design of .us, so must the legacy structure, i.e. the use of the current .us space by about 1.9 million host computers of state and local public agencies. While the number of registered domains is low compared to other country codes, nevertheless many institutions use these names and a new structure has to recognize the needs and limited resources of many of these public institutions to invest in new domain names. At the very least, the transition has to be made easy and a resulting new structure has to be much more attractive and user friendly than the current system.

Perhaps most importantly, the management of .us must take into consideration that these cyber-addresses are a public resource that should be administered to the benefit of all Americans. It is in the tradition of U.S. communications policy to make use of public resources, such as the broadcast airwaves, to ensure that all Americans can benefit from them. Unfortunately, this historical national commitment was not reflected in NTIA's request for comments on how to move forward with the management of the .us space in the future.

Principles for the Management of the .us Space

In response to NTIA's call for ideas on the proper utilization of an important public resource, more than 20 public interest organizations filed comments asking the agency to manage the .us domain under the guiding principles that management of a public resource must serve the public interest. In other words, in addition to promoting valuable commercial development, the .us ccTLD should promote non-commercial public benefits. In particular, the groups argue that the .us domain should be utilized to address the growing digital divide, to create opportunities for use by non-profits, and to foster valuable noncommercial speech.

In brief, the principles argue the following (see

1. The .US namespace is a national public resource, and must be managed in the public interest of all United States citizens.

The U.S. government has already embraced this principle when signing the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for the management and delegation of country code top-level domains.

2. In managing .US domain, the government should apply its traditional principles of administering a public resource to the management of the .US namespace.

The public interest has been the cornerstone of United States communications policy in the 'old economy' and into the 'Internet age' as demonstrated by Congress' passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that fosters the deployment of advanced telecommunications services to all Americans and provides for means to ensure that every school and library in America can access the Internet. Benton, MAP and other public interest advocates to the filing are asking NTIA to ensure that the management of the .us space should also aim to serve the public interest.

3. The management of .US should serve the vital First Amendment purpose of fostering an informed, digitally connected citizenry.

The First Amendment impels government to facilitate a well-informed electorate by fostering a marketplace of ideas rich in civic discourse and to ensure that citizens have access to that marketplace and to participate meaningfully in it. Advancing the First Amendment should also be the goal in the administration of the .us namespace.

4. The management of .US should address the growing digital divide, which is separating the United States into information 'haves' and 'have nots.'

Contrary to common notions about the digital divide, the gap will not be narrowed by simply providing access to a computer and the Internet in every school and home, i.e. by building out the hardware infrastructure. To truly close the gap a concerted effort must be made to develop what some refer to as the 'social infrastructure:' literacy and research skills and motivation among users, content for and by all users, systems and organizational structures that encourage knowledge sharing and building communities of users, learners and mentors, with access to tools and know-how as needed. The .us domain is a valuable public resource that should not be squandered but used to narrow the digital divide.

5. Management of .US in the public interest can address the digital divide and embrace First Amendment principles, without heavy-handed regulation and while encouraging commercial development.

Management of the .US space in the public interest does not imply top-down centralized government regulation. The United States has long recognized the important role of commercial development and free market competition in serving the public interest. United States policy, however, historically has required the management of public resources to be balanced with the use of these resources to the benefit of all citizens. As with spectrum auctions whose revenues have been returned to the U.S. Treasury or as with public interest obligations imposed on commercial broadcasters, the .us space should be administered to promote commercial development while at the same time serving the interests of all U.S. citizens.

A variety of other parties, including also the American Library Association, the Copyright Coalition on Domain Names, Verizon Communications, and NeuStar Inc. filed comments in the NTIA proceedings (these comments are available online at It is likely that after review of these filings, NTIA will move forward with a more detailed request for proposals on the management of .us.

In the next couple of weeks, the Benton Foundation and the Media Access Project hope to engage other organizations in developing a concrete plan for the administration and management of the .us domain space. We welcome ideas, comments, criticism and will provide information on further developments on our Web site ( In the meantime, if organizations are in support of the above principles, they can contact the NTIA and still file comments (for details on how to file see

--- 1) The article is based to some extent on a paper written by Brian Kahin (c)Benton Foundation 2000. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally -- is encouraged if it includes this message. Past issues of Digital Beat are available online at ( The Digital Beat is a free online news service of the Benton Foundation's Communications Policy Program ( See this document online at (

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