With the 2013 arrival of new TLDs organizations and speculators are preparing for the domain name land rush. While there will be a lot of money made, there are two issues that need to be addressed, the rental of domains and the power of IANA / ICANN. Both of these issues are based on policy and FUD. Neither is based on technological necessity. ShofarDomain is a company attempting to bring the technology to the table to allow true domain ownership and TLD autonomy.
IANA controlled domains are rented and not owned
A domain name holder is not a domain name owner, but a domain name renter. The holder must pay an annual fee or lose the domain. A registrar collects the fee that can range from a few dollars to hundreds. In some cases that fee is embedded in a package offering, such as with website hosting. The registrar then pays a wholesale price to the TLD operator. In the case of “.com” the annual fee is about $6. Additionally a fee of about $.18 goes to ICANN the parent of IANA.
Even at these apparently low prices, when you multiply that by a nine digit number you have millions for ICANN and billions for TLD operators and registrars. Obviously they have an interest in protecting that cash flow. So IANA and the registrars have developed an aura around them as the only option for TLDs. In March of 2006 ICANN produced a report titled “Alternative TLD Name Systems and Roots: Conflict, Control and Consequences” that portrays a smug “we are credible and no one else is” attitude. It seeds in the mind that there is no other rational option. But is that true?
Registrars clearly have the most at stake since typically they get the lion’s share of the yearly rental fee. They can point out that there is competition between them, but it is completion for a business that bleeds rather than serves customers.
A brief simplified history
In the 1970s all domains and their IP addresses could comfortably fit in a single hosts file and was distributed to everyone. Over time that got too big for the memory of the day and the Domain Name System (DNS) was developed to distribute that work and the authority of domains. In the 1990s the US government’s control of the internet was loosened and commercial players develop a significant business around the DNS model of the 1970s.
While there was an explosion of domain names in the 1990s there has been a larger growth in the memory capacity of computers. A modest home computer in 2012 can hold all the details and all the history of every domain name ever issued and the IP addresses to which they point. While every computer doesn’t need this, the distributed model is a rational alternative since the memory restraints of the 1970s.
Changing from rental to ownership
Also during the 1970s the concepts behind public key cryptography and digital signatures made their appearance. This opened the door for someone to publish digital information and the reader able to verify the veracity of the claims in the data.
Instead of a TLD operator renting a domain and keeping final authority, the TLD operator could sell a domain with a digital signature that would allow the owner to prove he is the sole authority and cannot be overridden by the TLD operator. The owner could use or sell his domain, but it cannot be seized from him by corporate or government agencies. Domain ownership would drastically disrupt the current market.
Central versus distribute authority
Central authority is a real power in the hands of the holder and in the case of domains a lucrative arrangement. Distributed authority means you don’t have to be Amazon or Google to own and operate a TLD.
The current central authority, IANA, operates root servers giving them their authority. However multiple independent organizations could operate root servers without authority over each other. Anyone who desires to operate a TLD would simply provide a digitally signed pointer for the root servers to distribute.
So if Bob wants to operate “TLDA” and Jane wants to operate “TLDB” each would send their information to the root servers. No $185,000 application fee would be required so it would be a bit cheaper than ICANN.
The obvious question is what happens when both Bob and Jane want to operate “TLDC”? IANA’s solution is to have a meeting, spend some time and money and decide later. Especially for smaller operators this can be fatal. For the free market thinker, the solution is simply that, let the market decide.
The DNS software can use multiple techniques to decide on whether to return Bob’s or Jane’s domain information. It is easy to decide on a second or third level domain that only appears in one of the TLDs. When there is a conflict, you could use the earlier entry or allow the DNS operator or the end user to decide. Over time these decisions can be refined, but at the outset simple rational options exist.
So where is the alternative?
The alternative must work well with the existing. When you type “Google.com” you should end up at Google’s website. When you type “Bob.TLDC” you should end up at Bob’s site. For Bob to be reachable either the ISP must use the alternative roots or the user’s computer must have the software to do so. In the short run this is a difficult process. However, by developing additional services that are dependent on the alternative TLDs it can become compelling for an ISP to jump on board. Local ISPs could even offer a local TLD to distinguish themselves in their market. The history of the internet shows that once you obtain a bit of acceptance, you spread everywhere.
ShofarDomain is documenting the designs, developing the tools and giving it all away. This is a difficult business model. So ShofarDomain will operate the “.OWN” TLD with its rather obvious implication, and seek partners domain operators to support its development efforts. Their goal is to be fully operational before the end of the year. It could lead to and exciting 2013 for the domain name world.