City Domain Names

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Managing City TLD's as Neighborhood Commons

David Bollier:

"There is a little-known struggle going on right now over how a new series of “top level domains” on the Internet shall be used by cities of the world. Top level domains, or TLDs, are the suffixes at the end of Web addresses, such as .com, .org and .net. The international body that oversees TLDs is expected to announce a new series of TLDs in 2012 that would give cities their own TLDs. So, for example, New York City would have a .nyc top level domain and Paris would have .paris. The new TLDs could make it easier for people in the same metropolitan areas to find each other and interconnect on the Internet and in physical spaces.

While the TLDs may be “just code” – a set of Internet protocols authorized by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for the Assigning of Names and Numbers – they will function much as parks, roadways and public squares in cities, that is, as spaces for getting around, meeting people, communicating things, and enjoying oneself. The significant question is, Who shall have the authority to manage the city-based TLDs, and under what terms? Very few people understand that the anticipated city-TLDs represent a world-changing urban infrastructure that could well be squandered through short-sighted privatization.

At this point, we don’t know exactly when ICANN will authorize the use of city-TLDs. But we do know that city governments are showing little inclination to treat the TLDs as a critical piece of common infrastructure that should be managed for the greatest public good. It seems likely, at this point, that city governments will blindly delegate this authority to domain-registry companies, who will proceed to make a fortune selling prime domain names such as and

This would be a colossal tragedy. The ways that TLDs are structured and managed could profoundly shape the social, economic and civic life of cities around the world. Amazingly, most city governments and architecture and urban design schools are oblivious to the potential opportunities and impact of a well-managed TLD system.

I was alerted to these issues last weekend when I met Thomas Lowenhaupt, director of Connecting.NYC Inc. at a conference, Beyond Books, in Cambridge. Connecting.NYC Inc. is a project dedicated to “Imagining New York’s Home on the Internet.” Lowenhaupt and his band of partners are trying to persuade ICANN and New York City’s government to establish a commons-based governance regime for the .nyc TLD, and to treat its as an invaluable asset that should belong to the people, and not screwed up through government ignorance or privatization.

Lowenhaupt is urging that the city’s TLD be structured to enhance people’s ability to locate businesses and civic resources. They should be managed by neighborhoods as stewards of an invaluable public resource – the ability to communicate, organize and govern ourselves at the local level." (

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