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[comments-gtlds] RECLAIM THE DNS


Movement for the defence and enhancement of the Internet

Document also at http://autonomous.org/dns/


1. What is DNS?
1.1. Short answer
1.2. Long answer
1.3. Early name system organisation
1.4. Historical accident of '.com'

2. The 'Top Level Domains' and 'global Top Level Domains'
2.1. 'Governmental' domains currently exclusive property of the US
2.2. Democratic principles foundation of correct namespace governance
2.3. Approaches used

3. Why start with classification systems?
3.1. Domains not intended as brands
3.2. ICANN's role in reforms
3.3. Dot-com space almost full
3.4. Alternate bases of reform
3.5. Technical and social

4. What is being proposed here?
4.1. Reform name space domain selection
4.2. Sample software implementations for extended capabilities
4.3. Democratic reform of control

5. Existing proposals
5.1. Consumer choice market forces not the only principle at stake
5.2. Registries' monopoly right over domains

6. Proposal for extended DNS functionality
6.1. Extend DNS 'records' to enable integration
6.2. Single example of new record 'CLASS'
6.3. Implement interfaces to data to provide basic access for user programs
6.4. Benefits

7. Areas of further concern
7.1. Structure of movement for the defence and enhancement for DNS
7.2. Desired political structure of regulatory environment
(representational paradigms).
7.3. Scope of enchancement program
7.4. Technical standards
7.5. Public comment and input required


1.1. Short answer

DNS = Domain Name Service

1.2. Long answer

Computers on the Internet don't use, or need, names to talk to each other
over the networks. At a low level, Internet computers talk to each other
with 'packets' of information which are stamped with *numbers*, not names.
This number or numbers that a computer possesses is called an 'IP address'.
IP stands for Internet Protocol. TCP is a common type of IP packet, UDP and
ICMP being other less common types. In the debate of DNS it's also
frequently found that 'IP' stands for "intellectual property", meaning
copyrights and trademarks etc.

These IP numbers are expressed in the 'dotted quad' format; e.g.
''. This number corresponds to a single computer and packets
sent to this number anywhere in the world are sent to the correct one (in
correct, normal operation that is!). At its most fundamental basic level,
that is.

Humans, unlike computers, however, have a better time at remembering names,
not numbers. Therefore a system was devised whereby computers would be
given names that humans could use, with a lookup table using software so
that commands humans made using the names would be translated to the actual
IP number for use by the computer program being commanded. This tells you
the difference between 'etoy.com' and 'etoys.com' and directs your computer
to the relevant website, for example.

1.3. Early name system organisation

Initially in the early Internet computers only had one name, without any
'.com' or other appendages. The 'name service' was a text file called the
'/etc/hosts file'. Later it was recognised that organisational heirarchies
should be reflected in order to group related computers into logical units.
The '.edu', '.com' '.org' '.net' '.gov' and '.mil' domains were created,
with organisations in each, and computers, now called 'hosts', inside the
organisational units (e.g. ddn.mil, being a military (.mil)organisation,
nic.ddn.mil being a host in that organisation). The host was the most
important information, because, for network services to work, every domain
had to correspond to a host (hosts could be multiple domains, and could
even exist [rudimentarily] without one, but a domain cannot be without a
host, even if its just a host in another domain).

1.4. Historical accident of '.com'

The organisation of this addressing system reflects the involvement of the
time; it was a US defence and educational system. Dot-com was only a small
fraction. To be a .edu, or .mil, or .gov, you had to have qualifications of
some sort to hold that address; initially to be a .com you had to have
permission of some sort; the permission of the clan of gatekeepers who ran
the system in trust for all the other users of the network, for a while,
until this changed to your cold hard cash, managed initially by a monopoly,
and now by ICANN.


In the heirarchy of names that were developed, the last portion of the name
is logically the first type of categorisation. These domains are called
'Top Level Domains' or TLDs, and include the country-code domains like .au,
.de, .us and .gr. The top level organisational domains, i.e. .com .org .net
.edu .gov .mil are sometimes called 'global TLDs' with the country code
ones referred to as 'national TLDs'. There is also a dot-int ('.int') TLD
e.g. www.UN.int.

2.1. 'Governmental' domains currently exclusive property of the US

The 'governmental' domains, i.e. .edu, .gov and .mil are all under the
control of the US Government or its agencies. The US could show its
goodwill to the world and release these namespaces to the rest of the
world's governments, militaries and educational establishments, perhaps by
moving its systems to e.g. us.mil, or moving these into the .us domain.

2.2. Democratic principles foundation of correct namespace governance

A much greater reform is to actually make the name space a democratic
organisation of cooperative TLDs organised into a  [even somewhat] logical
system of classification which helps enable a free and fair governance  of
a valuable public resource - the world's organisational and persons
directory service. The name service is a global phonebook not a billboard
and its time that we show that democratic principles can also uphold
scientific ones. The age of E-commerce must be tempered with rational
principles of organisation or else people of the world will simply be
alienated from the structures that will one day control many aspects of
their daily lives, reduced to the inevitable lowest common denominator;

2.3. Approaches used

Strategically it's a question of whether we approach the problem either
chaotically [eg destructive tactics based on complete dissolution of
existing structures] or with a measure of organisation in mind. The use and
engagement of organisational paradigms shouldn't be viewed with cyncism,
despite the 20th century nihilism that is frequently expressed upon them.

I propose here a system that is built on top of what is implemented
currently, it incorporates and superceeds existing structures.


With the corporatisation->privatisation of the 'registry' functions the
system inherited the ad-hoc organisation of the Dot-com and the rest of the
top level name-space. No attempt was successful to make a taxonomical
system of anything but the barest kind. Anyone could buy themselves in to
'look' like a corporation, even if they were not, by pure financial
exchange. Similarly national domains where organised to the convienience of
whatever corporation or individual or national agency happened to run that
country's namespace. Thus, .co.uk; .com.au; desk.nl, and the entire
commercial sale of domains like '.to' (tonga), as well at least one
non-existant country [I am not talking about national independence movement
type non-existance either].

3.1. Domains not intended as brands

It was never intended that the domains were a 'brand'. Domains were to find
hosts (IP addresses), not to fulfill trademark applications. Therefore this
property "right" doesn't really exist, as it can be changed at any moment
because its a technical problem in ultimate reality, despite the
sociopseudolegal impediments to making that change.

3.2. ICANN's role in reforms

Currently the system is managed by ICANN, the "Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers", set up by the US government to take over the
regulatory functions of the corporation that formerly monopolised the
creation and registration of domain names in .com .net and .org. This
registry function has now been opened to competition. ICANN is now calling
its constituant groups (eg DNSO - DNS Organisation) to submit proposals for
further reform, most debate features whether 'new top level domains' are
possible or desirable.

3.3. Dot-com space almost full

The 'battle' for the .com space is largely over, with squabbles getting
more ridiculous (etoys vs etoy for example) and trademark/patent/copyright
law being internationalised and bum-rushed over the domain organisation
system. ICANN is in danger of being hijacked by WIPO (World Intellectual
Property Organisation), with corporations thinking they have unlimited
rights to pursue others who are perceived to even remotely tresspass on or
near their properties.

3.4. Alternate bases of reform

In the system proposed, these existing spaces are level as-is, without much
further reform. Commercial interests shall indeed be left to rule the
'.commerical' domain. We are proposing to build on top, bypass around,
these base commercial instincts and create a domain system created with
ease-of-use for information navigators foremost in mind.

On the other hand, there exist demands for the complete destruction of any
possibility of an organising heuristic, the complete blowing apart of the
name space. That ICANN surely ill-concieved and flawed in execution,
beseiged at every turn, should be abolished -- frequently without any real
ideas on its replacement being floated. In turn, anyone would be free to
buy any top level domain from any specially licensed hawker. The key; cash
... a libertarian economics zone for a thousand goldrush miners to hack and
chew whatever they can out of it. Or of the conservative economical kind:
the partitioning being frozen or extended in ad-hoc ways only, to restrict
the competition to the upscale market only, usually with the addition of
some small additional number of new domains, half of which are completely
redundant categorizations. Nonetheless, each proposal creates a stupid
unsustainable chaos in what is *conceptually designed* from the outset to
be taxonomic principle!

3.5. Technical and social

The problem of the DNS really requires a certain type of technical
solution; the incorporation of new protocols which incorporate and
supercede the old protocols as well as reform of the process that leads to
the creation of new top level domains.

This technical solution, providing added benefit, is only possible with
strong social support from a democratic environment committed to successful


The first phase of this prosal is to create a coalition of users, admins,
coders, content providers, and others to establish an effective lobby for
people-focussed reforms to the DNS system of management. Primarily at this
stage the organisation which will be lobbied consist of ICANN, DNSO,
national DNS administration authorities, governments, technical bodies and
other institutions and power bodies. Mobilisation of people is required to
produce an effective voice for reform free of external agendas with regard
to the purpose of that reform beyond the commitment to producing an outcome
of sensible democratic self-organisation.

4.1. Reform name space domain selection

Initial items on our agenda will be to work out and submit to ICANN a
proposal (http://www.icann.org/) that ICANN reform the name-space to a
somehwat logically consistent structure organised on extending the
principle of explicit (ie obvious) classification of network names. It is
at least initially proposed that domains be 'chartered' or 'sponsored' in
line with existing proposals of DNSO WG-C Position Paper D by Kent Crispin.
(http://www.dnso.org/dnso/notes/19991023.NCwgc-report.html #Position Paper
D )

4.2. Sample software implementations for extended capabilities

Another item for the agenda will be to develop a sample classificatory
schemata, integrated with existing DNS by extension, design and
implementations of software to provide navigational access to the name data
(and sample integrations of this with pre-existing systems eg mail and

4.3. Democratic reform of control

Strive for democratic reform political operation of the overall management
of the name system (i.e ICANN). This would be the most contentious part of
the reform process, especially with many commercial and political
interests, so it is left at the end of this programme of implementation for
several reasons. First because at least proposals for the other reforms
(e.g name space taxonomy) are critically needed before various interest
groups attempt to hijack the process or set a far from perfect schemata in
place. Second because in the process of developing the first, we can
organically grow a democratic organisation that will exhibit better
robustness than an artifically imposed top-down way of 'democratising'
access and governance.


Many proposals in the DNS Organisation's (http://www.dnso.org) working
group on the new gTLD's centre around the implementation and timing of the
'opening up' of the TLDs
(http://www.dnso.org/dnso/notes/19991023.NCwgc-report.html) . The model for
the opening is typically that of the laissez-faire competition model
whereby 'consumers' are given 'options' as to the registry they choose to
provide them 'service' by being able to have a choice of top level domain
to register their internet site in.

5.1. Consumer choice market forces not the only principle at stake

While this is a commendable principle, but hardly an overriding one from a
larger-scale picture of the DNS operation, which as international public
infrastructure supercedes all notions of mere 'consumer choice'.

5.2. Registries' monopoly right over domains

Systems where registries themselves propose domains will not result in
ideal worlds where 'consumer choice' dictates survival of the fittest. In
some proposals, explicit is given to the role of any general-purpose
principle of organisation beyond the market itself. Which is to say, 'give
it up to Capital!'. Systemic use of the DNS as a repository of directory
information is not aided by domains being controlled purely with Capital.
Important DNS functions will be made proprietry. Capital is an important
organising principle, which must be accomodated, but it is not the sole
principle and as many will argue, not always (or ever) a good one either.
Accepting its role as somewhat inevitable, doesn't require to accept its
market force's total domination.

Additionally if registries are monopolies over domains, technical
considerations (e.g. single point of failure) also arise which are
important considerations in the architectural robustness of the registry
system design.


A proposal could be made to for example add a new 'field' to the DNS. The
DNS does not contain just information for name-to-number and number-to-name
translation. Technically these are managed by different types of 'record';
e.g 'A' records for ip numbers, 'MX' for mail delivery, 'NS' for location
of the name servers, 'HINFO' for host information, and so on.

6.1. Extend DNS 'records' to enable integration

Just not one field could be added, it is possible to propose any number of
new fields. Obviously a selection mechanism would be required. For example
national indentifiers, industry codes, inclusion of 'whois' data, security
certificate and public key location information might be proposed. This
enables DNS to begin its integration with Certificate Authorities and
advanced directory systems (A CA issues signed digital certificates for
encryption and identification) for fully integrated internet information
systems. However this integration with the CAs requires attention to
further issues for the protection of individual's rights to privacy and
security and so is not within this document's envisaged scope at this time.

6.2. Single example of new record 'CLASS'

For an example, it is proposed that this field only deal with
classification, so it might be example, 'CLASS'. The "unique Internet
identifiers" of the name space can be extended with a classificatory
schemata that also helps to resolve some trademark issues and provide clear
and useful navigational guidance to users. For the former reason it might
be made compulsory [which is a political issue in itself, as the only other
'compulsory' record is the NS record as well as the SOA (the 'Start of
Authority' record)].

6.3. Implement interfaces to data to provide basic access for user programs

For this example's sake, an implementation would be made for a simple
interface that allows a DNS system to search this field if given incomplete
information, or a way to display and refine search characteristics in the
DNS. User programs then have the option of implementing this interface and
allowing users to not only use the DNS just to 'look up' a single name, but
to navigate the actual name space sensibly until the correct or desired
location is found. The failure of web interfaces to do this basic function
based on web page indexing is clearly established already in many people's

Of extreme importance is the open source community and the technical
audiences because a specialised venture to extend the DNS in this way is
the availability of client software which exploits the features provided.

6.4. Benefits

This introduction of classificatory  records in DNS reduces the stress on
'Top Level Domains' to perform this function; relegating the TLDs to
descriptive fields, i.e. names, and also potentially reduces the scope of
trademark disputes by allowing a clear statement of purpose record which
protects small domain owners from large rapacious ones and vice-versa.

These example extensions would need to be introduced with a phase-in period
of some length however the benefits are clear in providing both protection
of important public property, ease-of-use which promotes information
creation as well as consumption, vital infrastructure for future expansion
needs, and even new business opportunities for Registries and Cert
Authorities in value-added information navigation services.


The pressure of change is building on all sides. The question remains
whether internet names will continue as a public resource or as an entirely
private domain. An amalgam of these two approaches is most likely the only
outcome, but only if the public sphere is vigourously defended before it is
defeated by sectional interests. A global civil society requires a global
civil public sector whose interests are defended by its democratic members.

The following areas are noted for further discussion:

7.1. Structure of movement for the defence and enhancement for DNS

7.2. Desired political structure of regulatory environment
(representational paradigms).

7.3. Scope of enchancement program

7.4. Technical standards

7.5. Public comment and input required

Awareness programs  and tactical media are required. Commentaries to
nettime and other forums from non-technical and technical perspectives
alike are necessary. Dialogue with registries and other commercial and
technical entities and public interest groups. Formation of infrastructure
(web, mail, test beds) to enable project.

Further programs related to developing implementations are necessary.
Individual efforts need to be backed up with group-wide co-ordination and

Please feel free to annotate, commentate, and circulate this document [as
long as document URL remains intact - http://autonomous.org/dns/ ]

30 Jan 2000,

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