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17 Jun 2011
In most parts of the world, people tend to use domain names in their country's top level domain. In the UK, it's whatever.co.uk, in Canada, it's whatever.ca, in Japan it's whatever.co.jp, and so forth. But in the US, most people use .COM rather than .US. Why?
Back in 1992 and 1993, the then-powers that be in the Internet (mostly Jon Postel) decided to arrange the .US domain in a tidy geographic way. As laid out in RFC 1386 and RFC 1480, all registrations had to be of the form <name>.<place>.st.us, such as IBM.ARMONK.NY.US (an example they used.) Government agencies had their own pseudo-places, e.g., WWW.STATE.NY.US. The place names were cities, towns, counties, and such, with reasonable abbreviations allowed such as NYC.NY.US.
The geographic names were never particularly successful, but there were enough that it was more work than Postel et al, who had no budget to run the .US domain, wanted to do. So they foisted off the work, by giving sub-trees of .US to other people to handle. There was a brief goldrush when word got around that registrars were allowed to charge money, so a fair number of people, including me, signed up as registrars for available local names, mostly to keep them away from profiteers.
IBM and nearly everyone else of any size declined the offer to put their address in their domain name, since back in 1993 they could get much shorter and snappier names in .COM or .ORG, like IBM's IBM.COM. These days, though, all the good names are gone, and JOESPIZZASUMMIT.COM tells you less than JOESPIZZA.SUMMIT.NJ.US would. What happened to the community registrars?
In 2001, Neustar took over management of the .US domain, and started allowing people to register <name>.US on more or less the same terms as .COM or .BIZ, so long as you had some connection to the United States. They grandfathered all the existing geographic domains and community registrars. After a couple of years of dithering, they then tried to clean up the mess, since the documentation for most of them was pretty poor. For domains, they had a long legal agreement you were supposed to print, sign, and send in, which had an unfortunate clause that required you to pay all of Neustar's legal expenses if anyone sued about your domain. That was finally finessed by crossing out the clause, and both parties signing it anyway, so my church is still UNITARIAN.ITHACA.NY.US, and we have a signed agreement that it's ours forever, free.
For community registrars, along with the agreement, you had to show that you were authorized by the place you were the registrar for, Fortunately, at the time, I was a village trustee and sewer commissioner of my village, so I authorized myself to continue to be the registrar. After a rather amusing discussion in which they were dismayed to learn that at least one of the places, Mecklenburg NY, is a hamlet with no government of any form, and straddles two towns in two counties, they gave me all the other places I was registrar for, too. Some other community registrars are still around, others disappeared. Neustar still handles the grandfathered domains, free, so my 20 year old IECC.CAMBRIDGE.MA.US still works, and still gets a fair amount of spam.
Anyway, if you're in any of these places in upstate New York, and you'd like a geographic domain name, I'm still providing them for free, and intend to as long as I can. What a deal.
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