Public Internet Domain Privatized In Secret Deal
|November 13, 2005||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Common Assets Badly Mismanaged by Monopoly
Secret Deals Instead of Free Market
The “.us” Internet domain name, a public asset, has been given away to a private company under very suspicious circumstances. Now that company appears to be managing the domain name with monopoly interests taking higher priority than the public interest.
A free market would have been much fairer than a special privilege situation. Why did the government give away a valuable public asset? Here are a few quotes from a recent Washington Post article on this situation.
by David McGuire
NeuStar Inc., a Washington-based company that “won” the government contract to operate .us, threw the domain open last Wednesday to all customers. (Previously, the address had been available only to libraries, state governments and similar groups.) Within hours, individuals and companies had snapped up thousands of addresses, including many with public interest implications, said Rob Courtney, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Some names were offered on a first-come first-served basis, but others were specially set aside from the market.
The set-aside list, which can be downloaded from NeuStar’s Web site, has more than 50,000 names on it, including domains such as president.us, bytheswordweseekpeacebutpeaceonlyunderliberty.us (a domain containing the Massachusetts state motto), and both o.us and zz.us.
Several nonprofit groups accused NeuStar this week of making those decisions arbitrarily and not including consumers in those decisions. CDT, the Media Access Project and Common Cause yesterday sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urging the members to investigate NeuStar’s name-reservation policies. The committees have oversight authority for the Commerce Department and, by extension, many matters relating to U.S. domain-name policy.
The .us domain is one of the more than 200 two-letter top-level domains that are assigned to nations around the world. Those domains exist in the Internet’s addressing system alongside generic suffixes such as .com, .net and .org, and are operated by Internet authorities in their respective nations.
“This is a public resource,” said Courtney. “The public interest in this space has been completely whitewashed. There’s no hint of it.”
“As far as I can tell, there was no process,” said Harold Feld, associate director of the Media Access Project. “NeuStar simply decided based on its own commercial needs and its best guesses and maybe some informal conversations . . . with high-level stakeholders.”
NeuStar representatives said there was nothing arbitrary about their choice to sequester certain names. A source said that NeuStar worked closely with the Commerce Department to hone the final list of reserved names and had the agency’s agreement on the set-asides. But Commerce Department officials declined to comment.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” Courtney said. “Commerce should have known better.” Feld said that the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees the .us contract, is more to blame than NeuStar.
“NeuStar is a commercial company. One should expect them to take full advantage of the commercial opportunities they are given,” Feld said. Feld argued that as a result of NTIA’s oversight of .us, “the American people have a new .com clone, NeuStar has a new pot of gold and the American public doesn’t get any return.”
Claudette Tennant, an Internet policy specialist at the American Library Association who sits on NeuStar’s panel, did not criticize NeuStar’s choices of reserved names but did question the openness and transparency of the company’s process. “We have been a little bit concerned about whether the full spectrum of people who needed to be consulted were before that list was put together,” Tennant said. “You’re never going to get every possible interest, but I’m concerned as to whether there was enough outreach done.”
For our earlier report on this subject, click here.
More in-depth analysis at the
Common Assets Headquarters
The .us Internet domain is property of the US citizenry. But they had no real voice in handling this valuable property. Instead of a “free market,” we get a privileged monopoly run by a private company for its own profit. The government should gain lots of revenue from the .us domain, but this is not happening. Why are these processes secret? Is corruption involved? Tell your views to The Progress Report!