By 1996, the belief by some (e.g., Jon Postel) that additional TLDs were needed led to the establishment of the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) to develop a framework for the administration of domain names, which became known as the Generic Top Level Domain Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU). The IAHC’s proposal for an institutional framework prompted a strong reaction from a few key constituencies and “sent ripples through the international system,” as characterized by Milton Mueller.105 Although the gTLD-MoU was not implemented, its creation did motivate the discussions leading to the development of the Green and White Papers (see Box 2.3) and the eventual creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in late 1998.

NSI exclusively operated the .com, .net, and .org TLDs through 1998. The registry operations (associated with the management of the TLD databases themselves) and registrar operations (associated with the retail functions of dealing with customers) were integrated. NTIA’s agreement with NSI in late 1998 required NSI to separate its registry and registrar functions so that other registrars could enter the market. To facilitate the entry of other firms, NSI also agreed to establish a shared registration system to enable all registrars (including NSI’s registrar unit) to interact with the registry database. The vibrant market for domain name registration services in the .com TLD that developed in the late 1990s also spurred interest in the creation of new TLDs.

Thus, the DNS has experienced an extraordinary evolution since its birth in the early 1980s. Initially intended to address specific technical and operational problems of concern to a small, relatively homogeneous group of computer scientists and engineers, the DNS came to involve individuals from many different sectors such as law, business, government, and the public interest. The issues surrounding the DNS became increasingly non-technical in nature and increasingly complex and controversial, and so the founding of ICANN did not end the conflict among constituents, but rather provided the forum for their often intense discussion. Chapters 3 and 5 further explore these conflicts and the alternatives for their possible resolution.


From Milton Mueller, “Internet Domain Names: Property Rights and Institutional Innovation,” in Gary Libecap, editor, Entrepreneurship and Growth in the American Economy 12:93-131, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2000, p. 111.

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