’Net pioneer isn’t giving up on .nyc or on 481 others

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  The Internet is getting crowded. It’s something that East Village tech entrepreneur Paul Garrin has been saying for years.

“The Internet is like the phone system — they needed more area codes,” Garrin explained.

Now, ICANN, the nebulous organization that oversees the ’Net, is poised to approve possibly hundreds of new so-called generic top-level domain names, making them available for the global marketplace by this time next year. This would explode the Internet, adding an avalanche of address suffixes beyond the current scant offerings of .com, .org or .net.

A three-month application period for new “T.L.D.s” will close this Thurs., April 12.

“This is the land rush,” said Garrin, founder of name.space.

“You’re going to start seeing useful domain names,” said Al Vazquez, name.space’s chief technology officer.

It’s expected that many brand owners will go for their own T.L.D.s, such as .nike and .coke.

Only a few new T.L.D.’s have been added since the Internet first took off. In 2000, seven were added, including .info and .biz, as well as .museum and .aero — but the latter two suffixes are only for use by museums or airports. In 2004, .jobs and .mobi (for mobile phones) were approved.

However, name.space, the East Village-based start-up Garrin founded in 1996, already operates nearly 500 top-level domain names — but it does so outside of the “main root,” which is controlled by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Yet, all it takes to use Garrin’s system is a mere control-panel switch on one’s computer, as simple as changing a screen-saver image.

In 2000, seeking to gain access to the main root, name.space paid ICANN a $50,000 application fee for approval of 118 of its T.L.D.s. — ones that would be expected to be top performers, according to Garrin. These included the likes of .art, .cafe, .cam, .free, .gay, .hotel, .jobs, .news, .politics, .sex, .shop, .sucks and .weather, among others.

Referring to ICANN’s opening up .jobs for use in 2004, Garrin said it been “stolen” from name.space.

“We want it back,” he declared.

Also in this group of 118 T.L.D.s that name.space applied for in 2000 was the potentially lucrative .nyc, which Garrin still lays claim to as the Bloomberg administration is even now negotiating with a Virginia-based company to acquire and operate this address. Garrin calls this rival company “Virginia carpetbaggers,” and, by contrast, stresses that name.space is dedicated to a social mission that would use a portion of its profits to make a real difference in New York City.

The New York Times reported last month that New York City is seeking a five-year contract with the Virginia company to run and market .nyc, under which the city would be guaranteed at least $3.6 million.

Other top-level domain extensions that name.space still lays claim to — but that weren’t included in its application list of 118 prime names — include .blog, .chat, .food, .green, .law and .text.

Critically important, Garrin said, all these address suffixes, including .nyc — 482, in total, coined by name.space — have been in continuous operation by his company since 1996. He even kept his T.L.D.s up and running when in 2003 he almost died from a burst appendix — using a laptop computer in his hospital bed.

Last month, name.space’s counsel wrote ICANN, restating the company’s claim to its 482 T.L.D.s.

Garrin tends not to disclose the numbers of users name.space has. But, Domain Incite, a Web publication, in an article last month, dubbed it “a lightly used alternate D.N.S. root system.”

But the profits that stand to be made with T.L.D.s are huge. For example, VeriSign, which runs the registration for .com and .net, is valued at $5.5 billion.

To this day, ICANN has yet to resolve Garrin’s 2000 application, and this is intentional, he accused, because they don’t want to acknowledge it.

Meanwhile, under the new process now starting, ICANN is charging a steep fee of $185,000 for each application for a new T.L.D. If name.space were to reapply under these new rules, it would have to pay a whopping $21.8 million.

“They’re trying to price us out of our own business,” Garrin said.

Plus, name.space won’t reapply because that would mean relinquishing its claims under its previous application, he pointed out — adding that’s exactly what ICANN would want them to do.

“We’re asking people to opt into our D.N.S.,” Garrin said of his domain name system. “They don’t have to wait for ICANN — they can start today.”

To buy a domain name, such as soho.politics, westvillage.food or eastvillage.sex, from name.space would typically cost $30.

Reverend Billy, for one, has already registered an address with name.space — starbucks.sucks.

Garrin strongly opposes speculative “squatters” who swoop in and buy T.L.D.s, then hold them hostage until they can make a killing. However, he said, his company might auction off more valuable names.

Although name.space is continuing to operate in its alternate root, Garrin said, “Our goal is to get into the main root. We don’t want to split the root.”

Garrin said they don’t want to have to sue ICANN for trademark infringement.

If accepted into the main root, name.space’s business would, no doubt, go through the roof.

“If we launch with 100 domain names, the return in five years would be $1.1 billion,” Garrin said.

Under name.space’s mission, part of that money would be channeled back into New York neighborhoods through “community reinvestment, affordable broadband, digital literacy and adoption, and bridging the digital divide.”

The Internet pioneer has written to local politicians, asking for their help in his fight to retain his top-level domain names — which, he notes, he created two years before ICANN itself was even created.

Mayor Bloomberg wants New York City to become “Silicon Valley East.” As Garrin pointed out in his letter to Congressmember Carolyn Maloney on April 5, name.space is already well positioned to be a leader in that technological revolution.

As Garrin wrote to Maloney, “A favorable outcome is meaningful, especially in this time of economic crisis as name.space will create jobs and opportunities, and bring cash and data economy to New York City that would otherwise go to Australia, the U.K., Virginia, California or elsewhere.”

A graduate of The Cooper Union, Garrin was recently included in the prestigious East Village school’s Hall of Fame. Yet he ultimately turned his back on the art world because he found it too ego-ridden and wanted to give something back to society.

He’s also known for having made one of the two main videotapes of the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riot.

With the growth of the Web, he found a place to both fight the power and fulfill his calling for a higher purpose.

“There’s no public good coming out of ICANN,” Garrin said. “It’s a small clique of people that are colluding to corner the market.” name.space itself, he said, is “a kind of declaration of freedom in cyberspace and it’s a way around big media control. We can break it. We can claim our space in the realm of media. This is one more way people can control the future direction of the Internet.”

As part of the “opt-in” campaign for its domain name system, name.space is currently opening up registrations on its new Web site, at https://namespace.us .