internet meltdown not imminent (1999)

You can’t avoid stories about imminent Internet meltdowns and last year had its share. There was the one about Kenneth Starr’s Clinton-Lewinsky case where publication of his report on the Internet threatened to bring the whole system to a standstill. In a clicking frenzy an estimated 6 million viewers accessed the 400-page report. With it came a failure rate of 9 hits out of 10 as the US House of Representatives web site was brought to its knees.

Many news websites around the world copied the report, sharing the pressure and sparing the official site from going down. Had I been an advertising salesperson for a news site, I don’t know whom I would have called first to sell space on my pages to.

Incidentally with the US House of Representatives seen as a protector of public morals, it is ironic that they should contribute more lascivious material to the net. Indeed the publication of the report raised parental concern that their children might read it. Many parents asked if the software used to check material against a list of suggestive keywords would block children’s access to the report. The advice received was that they should add ‘Lewinsky’ to the software’s battery of proscribed words.

While meltdown story number two was much less graphic, for the Internet it was more important. As the year ended, Network Solutions, the US agency responsible for registering Internet domain names came to the end of its contract. There was no one to replace it and no one agreeing on the way forward. As the threat of chaos loomed, dates slipped and Network Solutions had its contract extended – pending resolution this March. For the last five-years the agency has been responsible for registering the popular Internet names, such as those that end in .com, .net and .org. When you type say, www.company.com into a browser, it’s the registration detail that takes you to the site so if the process breaks down, so does the net.

Mind you, as happened recently, things do not need to go that far wrong. A hacker posing as an employee of the AOL Internet service managed to get AOL email routed to a bogus computer. He did this simply by conning Network Solutions into changing a registration detail. Frankly, I reckon he’d have done better going for a bank. Howlers aside, Network Solutions has held a privileged position in the domain naming business – its monopoly over important addresses has led others in the business to express concern. For example, the UK equivalent of Network Solutions called Nominet runs as a charity and it is managed by elected members.

Comparing prices should be enough, Nominet currently charges £20 per annum for registering .co.uk while Network Solutions charges around £45 for .com But Ivan Pope who runs a domain agency based in London adds that the US Network Solutions has kept the system as it ever was, acted as a brake on progress and been content collecting a million or so subscription fees annually. The end of the monopoly has focussed the debate about who has the right to make changes to the naming system and lead to innovation, new domains and fair competition. As he says “The Internet is driven by a fast turnover of ideas. It is a business tool the foundation stones of which have never been allowed to evolve”.

Pope’s Netnames agency offers a range of dot suffices including .com and .co.uk charging £99 per name. This one time fee also buys a forwarding service, pioneered by Netnames, where email sent to say, sales@company.com could be directed to an existing e-mail account. It also sets up the web address so that calls to www.company.com are directed to the actual location of a company’s web site. Match this with what you get for the forever fee paid to the registry service.

And so finally to some creative anarchy as some enterprising types get to work round the naming system. Those running a website on a budget can get closer to an exclusive name by using one of the Internet redirection services, registered in Tonga, an island in the South Pacific. The suffix code for Tonga, is .to and you can replace a long and messy Internet address with www.come.to/company or window.to/company – which is perhaps more memorable. Just visit the sites below, to register for free. Another, registered in Armenia is i.am/company while Tuvalu – the world’s smallest country, a mere dot in the South Pacific with a population of 4000 owns the .tv domain. Aimed at the television trade, this is far from free with an annual renewal fee of $500. (Roger Frost 1999)

Contacts:

Netnames domain name registry www.netnames.co.uk

180-182 Tottenham Court Road London UK

Internet redirection services:

www.come.to

www.window.to

www.i.am

www.click-on.to

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