NEW YORK, NY – What if you had to have a legitimate use for each and every domain name you have registered in your domain account? What if every single domain name you owned had to be associated with a business website which served its own purpose? It’s not happening yet, but it could happen.
Every once in a while people ask me what I think are coming challenges for domain owners and I always have the same answer; regulation.
If you follow what happened in the 1-800 Toll Free Numbers business, new regulation could present significant challenges for domainers. I bring up the 1-800 model a lot these days because its scenarios typically represent how I like to predict the likelihood or un-likelihood of GTLDs becoming the “premium” of website addresses, which I do not feel will happen until some day when (877) and (866) are considered premium phone numbers – which again, will likely be never.
The toll free calling process began in the 1950’s but it was not highly used until 1966 when the area code (800) was created. Originally a human operator had to connect the number for callers but AT&T effectively improved the system, automating it in 1982, where callers would immediately and automatically be redirected to a business which had registered to use the (800) number through what is called a Resporg (responsible organization – sort of like a domain registrar).
It took thirty years for (800) numbers to run out and in 1996 new three digit area codes were created (sort of like what is happening now with gTLDs). However, (800) is still the “premium” number everyone wants although there are plenty of alternatives available (again, much like gTLDs).
The following alternative toll free area codes where created to ease the (800) shortage:
- Area code 888 (in 1996)
- Area code 877 (in 1998)
- Area code 866 (in 2000)
- Area code 855 (in 2010)
- Area code 844 (in 2013)
Area codes 833, 822, 880 through 887, and 889 are also currently reserved for future toll free use.
Vanity Phone Numbers (originally “Phone Words”)
Back in the 1980s and 1990s vanity phone number popularity exploded when businesses realized that “Phone Words” could be used to help consumers remember their phone numbers in marketing campaigns such as radio ads where replacing the digits of a telephone number with the numbers’ corresponding letters were much better and represented special meanings such as 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-800-MATTRESS and 1-800-GOT-JUNK for example.
By 1996 there were no more (800) numbers available and new toll free area codes were created.
So what does this have to do with domain names?
Today, the hoarding of toll-free telephone numbers is prohibited by CFR 2010 Title 47 section § 52.105 Warehousing (guidelines for the registry) and § 52.107 Hoarding (guidelines for the consumer) which states, in part:
- Toll free subscribers shall not hoard toll free numbers.
- No person or entity shall acquire a toll free number for the purpose of selling the toll free number to another entity or to a person for a fee.
- Routing multiple toll free numbers to a single toll free subscriber will create a rebuttable presumption that the toll free subscriber is hoarding or brokering toll free numbers.
Could this happen to domain names?
The first provision above 1) would mean that you could not own multiple domain names if you were not using them, 2) would mean that you could not purchase domain names with the sole purpose of selling the domain name to someone else and 3) would mean you could not purchase alternative domain names and redirect them to a website.
I’m not going to get into the “Warehousing” provisions as they represent similar provisions and rules, but for the Resporgs themselves. These are also designed to eliminate hoarding or holding too, but at the “registry” level. However, warehousing is already forbidden on the registry-end according to the Registrars Accreditation Agreement (RAA) (3.7.9).
Provision 52.107 was implanted by the Federal Communications Commission in and around the year 2002 from what I can find online, roughly six years after the 1800 numbers began to run out. There are currently over 125 million .com domain names registered according to Verisign (325 million total), with every dictionary word and near every short meaningful combination taken. With that said, it seems “the writing is on the wall” for some sort of regulation to deter the holding or “Hoarding” of domain names at some point.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has concluded that hoarding, defined as the acquisition of more toll free numbers than one in-tends to use for the provision of toll free service, as well as the sale of a toll free number by a private entity for a fee, is contrary to the public interest in the conservation of the scarce toll free number resource and contrary to the FCC’s responsibility to promote the orderly use and allocation of toll free numbers.
Since this regulation was created by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), not by ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers) – the body that typically makes the “rules or the road” for domains – this brings up the whole “Net Neutrality” debate. Reclassifying high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service makes something like this very plausible to consider, if not in the past, with the Internet being strictly an Information Service, but in coming years – now that it is a telecom service.
- Could the FCC adopt some form of restriction or regulation on Internet domain names now that the Internet is a telecommunication service?
- If not the FCC having authority, could the FCC pressure ICANN to implement some sort of regulation on domain names?
Either way, whether created and implemented by the FCC or by ICANN, or both, that wouldn’t make much difference; it’s the rule itself – if it were ever to be created.
Now I am not saying that this is going to happen, but I am bringing up the possibility that it certainly could happen. Sometimes trying to forecast what could happen in the future can be done by simply examining what has happened in the past. If it were deemed necessary for regulating the holding or hoarding of toll-free numbers, why not eventually the holding or hoarding of domain names? It’s certainly worth at least thinking about it because it is better to have a plan of action rather than to be caught totally off guard.
The internet was created in 1983 with the very first domain name being Symbolics.com, registered on March 15, 1985, just about thirty years ago. If history were to repeat itself, it would be right around now where a significant concern would form for the control on registration and use of web site addresses (of course for the good of the consumer).