Connecting.nyc: Managing a top-level domain as a commons

Here's the problem: The internet was initially built as a peer-to-peer network, but commercial interests changed it into a highly market-driven system over time. Domains are one reason for this change. Top-level domains such as .com and .net became resources that were used to make a profit. In the past couple of years, this phenomenon has extended to other domains like .nyc and .paris. Are there ways to secure these digital resources so that they serve local communities?

 Activating the Urban Commons

Here's how one organization is working on the problem: Back in 2000, Thomas Lowenhaupt, founding director of Connecting.nyc, imagined that a ".nyc" domain could be used to support local online communications across New York City's neighborhoods. The challenge was to ensure the attribution of the .nyc URLs would be done to benefit residents of New York City and not be taken by commercially-driven interests.

On April 19, 2001, Lowenhaupt convinced the Queens Community Board to pass an Internet Empowerment Resolution. The resolution called for the acquisition of the .nyc Top Level Domain, or TLD, and for its development as a public-interest resource to serve the residents and organizations of New York City.

Receiving no further institutional support, Lowenhaupt then started Connecting.nyc Inc. as a not-for-profit to advance the application and acquisition of the .nyc domain. Eventually, in 2008, a resolution was passed by the New York City Council to support the city's application for the .nyc domain.

In 2014, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (the global institution governing the attribution of TLDs) delegated .nyc to Neustar, which manages the requests for attributions on behalf of the city administration, under a public-private partnership. Following connecting.nyc's recommendation, only New York City-based individuals and organizations can register a .nyc domain name and many second-level domain names have been set aside —for example, harlem.nyc. In 2016, the city administration initiated a program to license operators of 385 neighborhood domain names.

Results:

  • 385 neighborhood names have been set aside to be licensed to public-interest organizations. Four hundred other names (beyond neighborhoods) have been reserved for public use.
  • The Queens Community Board's Internet Empowerment Resolution was the first instance of a local government calling for the development of a TLD as a public-interest resource. Since then, cities have increasingly begun to look upon TLDs as a new urban space that provides opportunities and requires governance.

Learn more from:

This case study is adapted from our latest book, "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons." Get a copy today.

Header image provided by ICANN.

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