Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


The International Politics of Domain Name Governance, Part One: The Czar

Posted on | October 1, 2020 | No Comments

An ongoing global concern deals with the control and management of the World Wide Web’s Domain Name System (DNS). The basic issue is whether the address you put into your browser connects to the right computer and retrieves the right information. When you type in, for example, how does it get to my blog, and how can you be sure you are getting the right site? What if you typed in, and it was directed to (just an example) Or if you typed in and it was directed to a site for Barnes and Noble or some other bookseller? These scenarios are possible if the domain name system is not managed correctly.

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a server service that matches website addresses to the right computer. As the Internet has grown exponentially and globally, governance and management issues continue to be complicated and contentious. What is at stake? In this post I look at the beginning of the DNS and the influence of Jon Postel.

It was recognized early on that managing Internet addresses would be a global concern. Internet traffic was increasing domestically and across borders. Decentralization provided the technical and operational strategy to globalize the Internet and its World Wide Web (WWW). It would provide quicker responses and decrease network traffic congestion. Maintenance issues, including redundancy and backing up systems, were easier to manage. Globalization of the Internet, however, raised other issues.

Daniel Drezner identified three reasons to be concerned about the governance of the Internet. The first was that an “actor” such as a government, corporation, or NGO could take over the Internet. Any actor that could benefit from controlling the connections between users and the sites they want to visit should would certainly undergo scrutiny on the matter. Second, it was important for a legal system to be created to ensure that trademarked names were not captured and monopolized by “cybersquatters,” who could withhold or use important trademarked names such as “” or “” Also, a lot of money was at stake in the creation of domain names. Little cost is involved in the production of domain names. Providing domain names is like printing money in some respects.[1]

So when you type in the address of the website you want to access, DNS makes sure you make the connection and find the right file. ARPANET, the original Internet that came to life in September 1969, first addressed the issue in the early 1970s. Jon Postel of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles took up the challenge and was eventually given the nickname “God” because of his power over the early Internet’s addressing system. Postel started with writing addresses on scraps of paper and would continue until a global network was established.

Postel’s influence ranged from its inception to his death in 1998. On March 26, 1972, Postel started collating a catalog of numerical addresses like He asked network administrators to submit information on socket numbers and network service activities at each host computer. He worked with the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) to develop a simple text file called HOSTS.txt that tracked hostnames and their numerical addresses. Published as RFC 433 in December 1972, it proposed a registry of port number assignments to network services. He also called himself the “czar” of socket numbers as he pledged to keep a list of all addresses. SRI would distribute the list to all Internet hosts.

The Domain Name System (DNS) was primarily designed by Paul Mockapetris of the Information Sciences Institute at the USC. It was adopted by ARPANET in 1984. The ARPA DNS originally consisted of six different Top Level Domain (TLDs) types: .com (commercial), .edu (education), .gov (government), .mil (military), .net (network provider), and .org (organization). The designation of domain names below them, like or, were left to the discretion of the administrators of the various networks. As the Internet expanded globally, a two-letter suffix such as .nl for the Netherlands, or .nz for New Zealand and .kr for South Korea was allowed individual countries. The first domain name was reportedly, registered through the DNS on March 15, 1985.

In 1988, the U.S. gave the DNS contract to USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). This gave Mockapetris and Postel the opportunity to continue to work together and with SRI International. They continued the functions of address management in what became known as The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) that continues to this day. IANA was funded by the U.S. government under a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). At this time, the Internet started to expand rapidly in the U.S., and abroad.


[1] Drezner, D. (2004). The Global Governance of the Internet: Bringing the State Back In. Political Science Quarterly, 119(3), 477-498. doi:10.2307/20202392



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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