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Re: NSF and the Birth of the Internet
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2008 07:01:42 -0400
Begin forwarded message:
From: Jim Thompson <jim () netgate com>
Date: August 18, 2008 11:04:26 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Cc: dewayne () warpspeed com (Dewayne Hendricks), Steve Goldstein <steve.goldstein () cox net
Subject: Re: [IP] Re: NSF and the Birth of the Internet
And, the domain name registration was originally run under DARPA (or
was it ARPA then?) supervision (contracting?) and not by NSF.
DDN-NIC @ SRI at first (HOSTS.TXT) under ARPA, then later SRI managed
the first root servers, after ISI @ USC developed the early protocols
of DNS. (Dr. Jon Postel had moved to ISI, and taken the
responsibility for maintaining "Assigned numbers" with him.) Paul
Mockapetris @ ISI developed first implementation of the Domain Name
System, called JEEVES. A later implementation named BIND, which was
written for Berkeley's 4.3 BSD Unix operating system under a DARPA
grant by Kevin Dunlap rose to prominence. BIND was subsequently
maintained by Paul Vixie and others at DEC. BIND is now maintained
by Paul Vixie (and others) via the Internet Software Consortium.
NSF took it over after DARPA decided that the Internet had grown to
the point that it was beyond their remit to handle. And, then we
handed it over to the Department of Commerce, which led, eventually,
to the formation of ICANN to coordinate globally (disclosure: I am
now about halfway through my three-year term on the ICANN Board).
I think thats a bit revisionist. DSA/DISA let the original contract
that was the "beginning of the end" for the DNS.
The Defense Communications Agency (DCA), now called the Defense
Information Systems Agency (DISA) let the contracts for SRI, ISI, DEC
above. DCA became DISA on June 25, 1991.
In 1991, DISA awarded a small contract that specified the terms under
which a new third party to take over the administration and
maintenance of DDN-NIC, which had, until this point, been under the
management of SRI. A defense contractor, Government Systems, Inc. was
awarded the bid in May. By late September, GSI had assumed operational
responsibility for DDN-NIC. The actual transition occurred October
1, 1991 (rfc1261) GSI/NSI would carry out this function until Jan. 1,
Although the official record indicates that the contract was fulfilled
by GSI internally, GSI actually outsourced it to a small private-
sector contractor, Network Solutions Inc.
In 1992, NSF solicited competitive proposals to provide a variety of
infrastructure services (under the name "InterNIC"), including domain
name registration services.
In 1993, NSF entered into a cooperative agreement with three companies
to provides services:
• Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) which would provide domain name
• General Atomics for Information Services.
• AT&T for directory and database services.
NSF acted pursuant to the High Performance Computing Act of 1991
(Thank you Al Gore...) and the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act
Later, General Atomics was dropped after a contract review found their
services not being up to the standards of its contract. General
Atomics InterNIC functions were assumed by AT&T. AT&T discontinued
their InterNIC services after their contract ran out.
This left NSI as "last man standing".
In 1995, NSF gave Network Solutions authority to charge for domain
name registrations; Network Solutions announced that domain name
registrations would cost $50 per year. This resulted in considerable
backlash, which eventually opened the DNS, but you cold only buy a two
year period. Under this relationship, 30% of revenue would go to NSF.
The 1993 contract called for NSI to operate on a "cost-plus-fee"basis,
meaning that NSI received reimbursement for its costs, plus a fixed
fee that ensured the company's profit. Under the original contract,
the costs and fees were paid by NSF out of its operating budget; users
did not have to pay fees to register or to maintain domain names. The
contract estimated that, over the five year life of the agreement, NSI
would receive $4,854,061 in cost reimbursement and $365,278 in fixed
The situation with NSI might be contrasted with the relationship NSF
had with ANS for NSFNET services. NSF used its cooperative agreements
with MERIT/ANS in order to contract out the function of administering
the NSFNET. Like the arrangement with NSI, NSF was using government
funds to set up one private company to offer Internet services,
without having significant contractual control over how those services
were administered. Unlike an actual government contract, the assets
created pursuant to a cooperative agreement were the property of the
private company with no further government recourse. This put NSF in
the position of funding one company's R&D and hand picking the first
mover in a market.
While the situation with ANS was surpassed by CIX and private
commercial networks; the situation with NSI and DNS however took a
great deal more effort to unwinding, causing a lot more consternation
and aggressive behavior.
By May of 1996, Dr. Postel had proposed the creation of multiple,
exclusive, competing top-level domain name registries. This proposal
called for the introduction of up to 50 new competing domain name
registries, each with the exclusive right to register names in up to
three new top-level domains, for a total of 150 new TLDs. While some
supported the proposal, the also plan drew a lot criticism from the
Internet technical community. The paper was revised and reissued.
The Internet Society's (ISOC) board of trustees endorsed, in
principle, the slightly revised but substantively similar version of
the draft in June of 1996.
After considerable debate and redrafting failed to produce a consensus
on DNS change - and in response to multiple pressures including the
high registration fees NetSol was charging, the desire to open the
business up to competition, and the concern over both trademarks and
free speech - IANA and the Internet Society (ISOC) organized the
International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC or the Ad Hoc Committee) in
September 1996, to resolve DNS management issues. The World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the International
Telecommunications Union (ITU) participated in the IAHC. The Federal
Networking Council (FNC) participated in the early deliberations of
the Ad Hoc Committee.
The IAHC issued a draft plan in December 1996 The final report
proposed MOU that would have established, initially, seven new gTLDs
to be operated on a nonexclusive basis by a consortium of new private
domain name registrars called the Council of Registrars (CORE).
Policy oversight would have been undertaken in a separate council
called the Policy Oversight Committee (POC) with seats allocated to
specified stakeholder groups. Further, the plan formally introduced
mechanisms for resolving trademark/domain name disputes. Under the
MOU, registrants for second-level domains would have been required to
submit to mediation and arbitration, facilitated by WIPO, in the event
of conflict with trademark holders.
NSI was acquired by SAIC in 1997.
In November 1997, the DDN NIC took over the responsibility of
assigning IP Numbers and names from ISI and Jon Postel.
In December of 1997 ARIN was established.
On January 28, 1998 Jon Postel redirected the DNS Root from NetSol to
IANA, but was later told by Ira Magaziner to cease.
On June 5, 1998, NTIA released a white paper stating DNS policy.
On June 30, 1998, NTIA released the "green paper" proposing
On Oct 2, 1998, ICAN filed a proposal with NTIA to take over
management of assigned names.
On October 16, 1998, Jon Postel passed away.
On November 25, 1998 NTIA entered into a MOU with ICANN, and before
the end of 1998, ICANN had contracted with ISI/IANA.
And then there was the small matter of Thomas' lawsuit. Thomas
decided that the fees that NSI (and NSF) were charging for domain
names just wasn't right - so he sued. In 1998, the Court concluded
that the 30% NSI was collecting and pocketing into the "Intellectual
Infrastructure Fund" was an unconstitutional tax. Domain name
registration fees were dropped to $70/year.
The rest is fairly recent history.
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