Studies & Opinions
the Root Unlikely
November 15, 2005
Discussions about the possibility of splitting the Domain Name System
root have lately gained momentum, as the date for the Tunis summit
- 16 to 18 November – is fast approaching. I use some insight from
economic theory on platform competition to shed some light on the
The DNS is a platform that facilitates
the demand coordination between Internet users and ISPs who host
the websites. Thus, the issue of splitting the DNS is tantamount
to examining platform competition between the existing DNS and a
The current DNS platform has been
correctly characterized as a monopoly. Although the supply side
has been restricted to the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names
and Numbers (ICANN), forces on the
demand side can lead to a monopoly. Thus, an interesting question
is whether a free market for DNS, given current technology, would
support multiple competing platforms?
For competing platforms to exist,
the platform has to regenerate economic profits to its managers.
In the case at hand, one might argue that there are strong political
interests that might out weigh rational economic considerations.
Yet, if splitting the root results in major economic losses to the
new entrants - due to the interruption of Internet commerce – the
split is unlikely. Nevertheless, an entrant can generate revenue
from launching new top-level-domains (TLDs) or devising a mechanism
to extract fees from either or both sides of platform users.
Recent research on increasing returns
– the phenomenon is also referred to as increasing returns and network
externalities – suggests that the demand for product variety is
a factor that may tip a market into a single platform. However,
for TLDs there is no evidence that such a factor is strong or a
new platform owner might be able to extract enormous economic profits.
First, the demand for the recently
launched TLDs has fallen below expected projections and the number
of registrations constitutes a small fraction of the dot-com. (It
should be noted that the dot-info has shown greater interest outside
the U.S., but is still within the current DNS platform.)
Second, there has been no lack of
entrepreneurs creating competing platforms. The most successful,
albeit with limited success, is New.net.
However, none has gained enough momentum to make it a viable competitor.
Thus, product differentiation between DNS competing platforms is
not strong, while differentiation within the DNS exists and can
increase with the introduction of .eu early next year.
Thus, from the demand side, it is
unlikely that the DNS will split any time soon.