October 2, 1998Karen Rose
Comments on the Enhancement of the .us Domain Space,
in response to the Request for Public Comment
(Docket No. 980212036-8172-03).
Dear Ms. Rose,
The .us top level domain (TLD) provides the United States with a golden opportunity to alleviate overcrowding in the .com and .org domains, to experiment with new forms of Internet governance, and to present an example to the world of how the American values of free speech and open communication go hand-in-hand with the Internet. NTIA has taken the first crucial step by recognizing the value of the .us domain in promoting these goals. However, we feel that certain issues involving policy guidance of this domain, and the potential conflict of commercial speech versus other types of speech, need to be addressed more strongly by NTIA.
In response to question (5) of NTIA's ".us Request for Comments," we believe that the policy issues surrounding the .us domain should be handled by a council of U.S. Internet interests, a forum where the U.S. Internet community can negotiate policy for the .us domain under the jurisdiction of U.S. law. The existence of such a body would not conflict with the current trend of internationalizing Internet governance. On the contrary, it would ensure that the U.S.-specific TLD, .us, is maintained according to U.S. law and U.S. values of free speech, without the need for accountability to foreign governments. This domain could then serve as an example to the world of fair, democratic Internet governance.
The existence of such a council would facilitate the separation of policy and technical administration of domain names. This is clearly a necessity, since the policy-making body must be held open to participation by and be accountable to the U.S. Internet user community and the U.S. legal system, while the technical overseers of the domain name system should be free of these responsibilities. The newly restructured Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which will be given control of the generic top-level domains .com and .org under the Department of Commerce's current plan, should not be the body which sets policy for the .us domain. The IANA is a technical oversight organization, made up of people with a technical background. They should not be burdened with issues of public policy such as is required of a council for the .us domain, nor are they necessarily qualified to do so. For the .us domain to be a successful experiment in free and open communication, it should be governed independently from the generic top-level domains, and by a new organization without the bias of having operated under an older form of organization for many years.
We believe that the .us domain should be organized initially into a small number of second-level domains (SLD's) based on the type of content to be organized under each. (Question 3) SLD's can be created for commercial content, personal content such as individual home pages, and for political speech. Third-level domains, such as mycompany.com.us or mywebsite.org.us, should be the main vehicle for registration of individual domains. Such an organization would leave room for expansion by the addition of second-level domains. The current geographical system under .us, which assigns SLD's to states and localities, does not make sense to a modern, mobile Internet company or organization, and it violates the Internet's "location-independent" philosophy. Mapping addresses in .us to postal addresses or phone numbers does not make sense for the same reasons -- there is no value to associating an Internet address with a specific locality.
Finally, we believe that noncommercial and commercial speech should be given equal protection in the .us domain, as addressed in question (6), and that trademark owners not be given any special precedence in obtaining a domain name. Law and court cases have established that simply registering a domain name does not constitute use of a trademark. Thus, companies should not be able to pre-empt the registration of a domain name similar to their corporate trademarks, especially not in the personal and political SLD's we propose. Since the Internet was first created as a tool for communication and collaboration, not for buying and selling, any policy which protects the right of commerce over freedom of expression violates the spirit under which the Internet has achieved its phenomenal success. The first-come, first-served system of assigning domain names which exists currently has been an important factor in this success by allowing a very fast turnaround for domain name registrations. To replace this system with something resembling the lengthy registration, review, public notice, and opposition process which registered trademarks require would be unmeasurably damaging to the Internet's viability as a medium of speech. Trademark dispute resolution should not be the responsiblitiy of the .us policy-setting body; these issues should be left to the courts and other bodies which have traditionally handled them in other media.
In order to maintain the values which are key to the Internet's growth, and to set an example to the world Internet community, we ask that NTIA make a high priority of the following policy recommendations put forth by the Domain Name Rights Coalition:
The proposed expansion of domain names under the .us TLD cannot help but alleviate overcrowding on the generic TLD's like .com and .org. However, we have an opportunity to achieve other goals with this transformation: a strengthened protection of the rights of free speech and entrepreneurship which our country stands for.