A Interview with Doug Humphrey
A pioneer of the Internet
by Paul DeRienzo

Doug Humphrey is the Chief Technical Officer and founder of Digital Express, now called Digex Inc., a nationwide tier one Internet service provider and Internet carrier. He spoke with Paul DeRienzo in February of 1997.


PD: There's a proposal to increase the number of top level domain names on the Internet and I was wondering if you felt that was something that was necessary or is it hype?

DH: Its a good thing that's happening, because most of the good names or words have been taken in the current .com domain. Top level domains are an artifice, they are not truly something that's necessary. You can have a top level domain of .1 or a top level domain of .aa1133, you can have as many top level domains as you want. The idea is that top level domains impart a little bit of order, but domain names such as .edu for education, .gov for government or .com for commercial were chosen a long time ago back when there were orders of magnitude less domain names registered.

It turns out that certain names like .gov domain, just having one domain for all the government stuff, probably works pretty well because there's not that much government stuff on he Internet. Having .edu also seems to work out pretty well, but .com does not seem to be large enough to hold all the people who want to be registered on the Internet, because that's every single commercial entity in the world that wants to get on the net. As a consequence you could have something like .com1, .com2, .com3, but not knowing whether to send to Joe@Apple.com1 or Apple.com2 might become a real problem. What you really need if your going to put in extra top level domains are fairly descriptive top level domain names like .web or .biz or whatever. So that people will remember the difference and not get confused.

PD: There maybe a whole bunch of new companies trying to be Internet name registrants and there maybe a whole new pricing structure and new structure for dealing with copyright problems when people have a difference over what is a trademark and what isn't. Network Solutions is the most important domain name registrant. They say it costs $40 million a year to administer the system and they fear these proposals might add to confusion on the net, what do you think about that?

DH: Certainly you're not going to be able to ask the Network Solutions people for an unbiased opinion, by definition their not going to be able to give you one. I like those guys so don't think for a moment I'm bashing them. But as you said it's a $40 million dollar a year pie and now people are suggesting that others get a piece of the pie. Needless to say Network Solutions is not going to like it.

Will it cause extra confusion? These days end users don't really register domain names much anyway. End users pretty much are going through their Internet Service Providers to get their names registered. Now what you've got is a slightly more professional level of people in the middle, the ISP's. Certainly having multiple registries for domain names is not going to confuse the ISP's. Instead of getting it from one place you might be able to get it from ten, it's not going to confuse the ISP's.

You're going to see a trend of end users going to Internet Service Provider and saying "I wanna get hooked-up, oh, and I need this name registered." The ISP will know how to make it happen. I disagree with Network Solutions because I don't think it will be a lot of confusion.

There is a certain elegance to having a huge organization solely manage a given domain, and the current proposal does not have that happening, making it little more confusing. Under the current proposal Network Solutions and maybe three or five other groups are allowed to register .com, but when a new domain like .biz is established, several different companies could then register that name. The bad points might be that it will become more difficult if you have a problem with a .com address, because right now you know where to go and in the future you might have to hunt around a little to figure out whose managing that given .com.

These are really not technical issues. The technology can handle all of this, they are really issues of politics. A lot of people are very, very upset that Network Solutions is a government mandated monopoly and the prices they are charging are literally prices pulled out of a hat. Anybody can dispute those charges and say "look, what in the world gives these people the right". They are a government mandated monopoly and under normal circumstances, like with the phone companies, government mandated monopolies are under a lot of scrutiny, with Network Solutions that doesn't seem to be the case.

PD: So you think this proposal is going to be a big change? In the sense that the monopoly maybe broken up?

DH: It is! I think there's going to be some sort of lottery and that's going to mean multiple choices and hopefully it's not going to be some government mandated pricing. If you want a .biz domain and you can get a .biz domain cheaper then you can get a .com domain, the standard free market will apply and you may go to .biz rather then .com to save some money. On the other hand, it's also possible that whoever implements the top level domain name service for .biz, let's say they may do a shoddy job of it because their only collecting two dollars rather then $50 and it may turn out to be unreliable. The consumer would have the ability to shift over to another domain name or shift to another provider who might charge more money but give a different level of service.

PD: There are a handful of computers where these top level domains are actually kept in memory, a couple of government and military computers and it's up to them what they'll accept or not, is that true?

DH: Its' much, much more complex then that. Top level domain name servers are located in various parts of the network where they have good access, where having millions of people using them won't cause difficulty. They are not strictly under the control of the organizations hosting them. Whoever is hosting top level domains will load up whatever they want on those machines. On the other hand, the people who have machines, or who are hosting the machines (technically they probably don't own them, they were provided by Network Solutions), could say I don't want .biz on this computer. But that is no impediment, because they'll just find another place to put it. None of these organizations have any lock on some resource that is necessary.

If the top level domain server being run by some organization out in California says "no, I don't want the .biz name", then whoever is running .biz will simply put a computer somewhere else and they might pay someone to take the domain and there would be no objections at all.

PD: Anything you'd like to add?

DH: This is not a technical issue and it doesn't represent any technical problems. It is more a political issue and you are seeing a power struggle here. The Internet means big money now and you're going to see organizations get into some fights over their piece of the pie.

Contact: Paul DeRienzo

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