NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Standardization And The Internet

July 5, 2001

An important debate taking place over the Internet involves the creation of top-level domain names(TLDs). These are the suffixes like ".com," ".org" and ".net." They are like area codes in telephone numbers that route our phone calls to one unique telephone.

New area codes are doled out by the North American Numbering Council. The Internet equivalent is a non-profit group called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

Critics complain that ICANN has been too slow in creating new TLDs, although it has just recently established two new TLDs, ".biz" and ".info." Some entrepreneurs are trying to create their own TLDs, including ".arts," ".law," and ".church," among others.

But if someone buys a domain name with one of these renegade TLDs, there is no assurance anyone will be able to find it. It would be like making up a new area code for yourself.

This problem is really just the latest step in the evolution of standards.

We take standardization for granted, from common shoe and dress sizes to the voltages of electrical equipment. But historically, almost everything people bought was made to order. Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, was first to produce machines with interchangeable parts, which greatly lowered costs by facilitating manufacture and repair.

  • Around the turn of the century, a number of private organizations were founded to promote engineering and other standards throughout industry.
  • There are now about 400 such organizations in the U.S. alone, and another 600 worldwide.
  • Thousands of people participate in technical committees that have led to improved safety, convenience and lower costs for just about every product.

Now the Internet is going through its own standardization process. It may seem slow, but the current domain name system was only created by Jon Postel in 1984.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, July 4, 2001.


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