Volume 78 - Number 48 / May 6 - 12 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Isaac Rosenthal

Paul Garrin at a March rally on E. 10th St. to save the old P.S. 64 (former CHARAS/El Bohio cultural and community center) from developers. Garrin says revenue from his top-level domain names would allow the community to buy the vacant building.

The battle of .nyc... and also.sucks, .chat, .weather, .art...

By Lincoln Anderson

When Council Speaker Christine Quinn gave her State of the City address in February, just a few months after the onset of the financial crisis, ways to boost business and raise revenues topped her list.

Among the ideas Quinn mentioned was the creation of .nyc as a dedicated Internet address.

“While we look to cut spending, we’ll keep our eyes open for any new sources of revenue,” she said then. “Here’s one that’s been right in front of us for years. 

“Web sites end with dot com, dot org, dot this and dot that. ... New York City will soon have its own place on the Web — with dot NYC.

“Mark Twain famously advised, ‘Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,’” the speaker continued. “Well now we can make more New York addresses — just on the Internet! 

“A local business won’t have to outbid a guy in Kansas to get Tony’s Pizza dot com. They’ll be able to get Tony’s Pizza dot NYC, a name associated with the greatest city — and home of the greatest pizza — in the world. 

“Most importantly, we expect to generate millions of dollars a year through the sale of Web addresses ending in dot NYC.”

That all sounded well and good to East Village Internet pioneer Paul Garrin, except for one thing — according to him, he already owns .nyc. And he also lays claim to scores of other so-called top-level domain names, or T.L.D.’s — from .art to .sucks — that he says would bring millions more dollars to New York City; that is, if he was only allowed to connect them into “the root” of the larger, mainstream Internet system.

“What Christine Quinn doesn’t know is .nyc is 13 years old,” Garrin, 51, said during a recent interview at Espresso cafe on E. Ninth St. off Avenue C. “It’s something I’ve been endeavoring to bring to market — and we’ve been deprived of that, and hundreds of other domain names.”

Garrin envisions a thriving Internet hub in New York City, with data-center managers operating everything from .nyc — which he calls “just the tip of the iceberg” — to .shop (which he assured would be a major money-maker) to, yes, .sucks. 

“.sucks is reserved for critique — that’s fair use,” he noted.

Among other T.L.D.’s Garrin claims ownership of are .food, .sex, .comics, .war, .peace, .tech, .fashion, .movies, .hotel, .weather, .chat and .gay.

Jobs, cash flow and tax revenues would all rise when — and if — these domain names are given the official O.K., he said; his company, NAME.SPACE would become a billion-dollar business pouring millions into New York’s economy.

The key to Garrin’s concept of the Internet is that there should be far greater freedom — basically almost infinite possibility — in how addresses are written. 

For example, he offered, “united.com” is ambiguous, whereas “united.plumbing” and “united.air” are much clearer.

“That’s much more granular. It’s self-sorting and self-ordering,” he noted. 

Garrin created more than 500 of these Internet address suffixes as early as 1996. 

Few new names

However, he charges that the U.S. government, corporate interests and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN — the body set up two years later in 1998 to regulate and assign these names — have basically conspired to keep the number of T.L.D.’s artificially low.

Garrin filed an antitrust lawsuit against Network Solutions in 1997, but it was tossed out of federal court in 2000, essentially, he said, because the government said “immunity” applied.

“The early nerds of the Internet wanted short acronyms — aesthetic,” Garrin explained. “We had started these [T.L.D.’s] before there was a process, and it was working. ... Every bacteria on Earth can get an I.P. [Internet protocol] address, where the address is on the Web. ... I didn’t care if they had a monopoly on .com — just don’t keep us out.

“They came up with everything to say it couldn’t be done — that it would break the Internet. And now they spent $10 million to study it, and come up and say it’s a good idea,” he said of the new push for .nyc.

As it does every few years, ICANN is expected to “open up” the system soon, reportedly this fall, to allow for new T.L.D.’s, to be assigned in early 2010; it’s believed .nyc is on the list. 

The city recently issued an R.F.I., or request for information, to solicit ideas on how .nyc would operate, who would operate it and so on. The responses are due at the end of this month; it’s possible an R.F.P., or request for proposals, would then be issued to seek applications from parties interested in running .nyc.

Garrin said Quinn is correct in saying .nyc could generate millions. VeriSign, which operates .com and .net, made a $100 million profit on these two T.L.D.’s in 2007, he noted. On its own, .nyc might bring in that much, he estimated — if 1 million addresses are sold for $100 each.

“What it means is money and jobs,” Garrin said.

Make ‘A living, not a killing’

Yet, Garrin described his personal philosophy as “I want to make a living — not a killing.” He said NAME.SPACE, of which he is the majority owner, has a strong social entrepreneurial core. For example, he said, he would — if he is allowed into the root — use some of the profits from .nyc and his other T.L.D.’s to buy the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth St. (the former CHARAS/El Bohio cultural and community center) so it could be restored to a community use. 

.media — another of Garrin’s T.L.D.’s — could offer grants to journalists as part of its social enterprise component, he said. Similarly, .women could offer “community micro-finance loans” benefiting women.

In 2000, he culled his domain names down from 540 to a total of 118 “top performers.” He sought to “activate” them through ICANN, but was rejected. Not all might prove equally popular, but that’s O.K., in Garrin’s view.

“.culture has a right to be — but it might not make it financially,” he explained. “If there are only 100 people in .culture, they have something to say.” He noted .shop, for instance, could help keep .culture afloat.

On a larger level, Garrin said he would use NAME.SPACE’s profits from its T.L.D.’s to install Wi-Fi in every New York City public school and provide each school kid a laptop; that would cost $500 million to $750 million, he said.

But that could all only happen if his 100-plus T.L.D.’s are no longer “blocked from coming to market,” as he put it. 

Riots to hall of fame

Garrin made news in August 1988, when, as one of the few people then toting around a camcorder, he captured one of the two main video recordings of the Tompkins Square Park riots. 

A Cooper Union graduate, Garrin was recently inducted into the school’s new 150-member hall of fame. 

As a video artist, he collaborated with the acclaimed Nam June Paik. But Garrin eventually became disillusioned with the art scene.

“I left the art world because it was too ego-ridden,” he said, “and, for me, political art had to have a real meaning.”

Garrin also runs a noncommercial, wireless Internet service, Wi-Fi NY.

Now, at this point in his life, he says, he really wants to make a difference. 

 “People say, ‘What are you, a socialist or a communist?’” he said. “I say, no I’m not: Social enterprise is the new post-capitalist paradigm.

“ICANN has no public-good agreement,” Garrin noted. “The money goes to California, into their pockets. ... I predate ICANN. ... Behind cyber space, there are humans.”

In Garrin’s case, he’s been operating his servers on an alternate system, not tapped into the main root. His T.L.D.’s function properly in this network — and, with a few minor adjustments, can work on anyone’s computer. He won’t say how many clients he has, but admits his business has fallen off sharply from its high point when its used to pull in $50,000 a month before ICANN came along. He’s consolidated operations, and his staff now consists of a handful of individuals who work for free.

“They figured I would go out of business by this time, but I didn’t,” Garrin said of the Internet powers that be. “I just kept it running — even when I had hardly any income.”

The Mail must go through

His low point came in 2003 when he landed in Bellevue hospital with a ruptured appendix and almost died. But while he lay hooked up to tubes and IV’s, his ever-present laptop was logged into his servers.

“Even close to death on a hospital bed, I kept up my business,” he said. “I made sure that everyone’s mail worked.”

Keeping his system running was also important to him as his company’s majority stockholder, he noted, “So I wouldn’t abandon my claim; I wasn’t about to abandon my assets.”

In short, NAME.SPACE isn’t abandoning its pursuit of recognition of all its T.L.D.’s “through the ICANN process and otherwise,” Garrin said, and “reserves all rights to its T.L.D.’s.”

dot challengers

However, others also have their eyes on .nyc, and hope to have a hand in owning it, operating it — or both.

Tom Lowenhaupt, director of the nonprofit Connecting.nycInc, for example, says his group has been pushing the city for years to start up .nyc, but that the city didn’t heed their call in 2002 and 2003 when there was a chance to do it.

A former Queens community board member, Lowenhaupt thinks New York City, despite being the world’s “communication capital,” has poor communication itself, and that .nyc could alleviate the problem. For instance, he envisions .nyc addresses being given to civic or community groups representing the city’s roughly 300 neighborhoods — astoria.nyc, jacksonheights.nyc and so forth — serving as local information and communication portals.

Other addresses could be very lucrative, in Lowenhaupt’s opinion.

“Who gets news.nyc? Who gets sports.nyc?” he asked. “Those are valuable resources. Do they buy them at auction?” 

Lowenhaupt confirmed that his Connecting.nycInc would seek to be what is known as the registry for .nyc — which is what Garrin says NAME.SPACE is already, as the entity that owns the rights to .nyc.

Of Garrin’s claims to .nyc and his dozens of other T.L.D.’s, however, Lowenhaupt said Garrin was turned down before, but could re-engage himself in the current process that is now starting.

“To my knowledge, in 2000, he applied for a large number of these — .nyc was one of them,” Lowenhaupt said. “You were supposed to pay $50,000 per name. [Garrin, though, paid $50,000 total for all 118 of them.] Paul Garrin’s application was turned down, and they kept the money. ... I don’t think you’ll find many people saying Paul Garrin owns .nyc,” Lowenhaupt stated. “I know he’s upset. He would like to have all those names, but I think they lost.”

The Villager put in calls to both Quinn and Gale Brewer, chairperson of the Council’s Technology in Government Committee, which has held public hearings on .nyc.

City is ‘getting all ideas’

Soon after, The Villager received a call from Nick Sbordone, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. Sbordone said the city is still basically figuring out how .nyc would work, which was the reason for issuing the R.F.I.

“It’s unclear if the city would make money on it, whether the city would have a partner,” Sbordone said. “After the R.F.I., we may issue an R.F.P.; we don’t know yet. We want to make sure we’re taking the most prudent way, make sure we’re getting any and all ideas.”

Asked if the city recognized Garrin’s ownership of .nyc, Sbordone said, “That’s a question for ICANN.”

The Villager called ICANN several times at its Marina Del Rey, Cal., office but could not get through to a live person.
Quinn eventually provided the following statement on the question of ownership of .nyc: “We obtained information from ICANN about acquiring a geographic domain such as dot nyc. We are not aware of anyone already owning the extension. We invite all New Yorkers interested in giving input on this…to respond to the R.F.I. or e-mail us on our Web site.”

As for his thoughts on Lowenhaupt’s bid for .nyc, Garrin said simply, “He’s trying to steal it from me. ... I own it, I created it. ... He has no business plan; and, again, I have a clear social-enterprise model.”

Lowenhaupt, for his part, said he foresees some of .nyc’s revenue — he anticipates it would be only around $6 million — being spent in public schools and local communities to foster computer literacy and better understanding of how to use the Internet.

He said he’s hearing .nyc might go for as much as $185,000, but would hope the price would be lowered to $25,000, which would help the city to buy it in tough fiscal times.

As simple as ‘SPAWN’

As far as Garrin is concerned, though, .nyc already is already firmly logged into his NAME.SPACE system — as it has been ever since 1996.

“This is my administrative template. I barely show this to anyone,” he said with a smile, swiveling his laptop to give a better view of the screen. Creating a new T.L.D. is as easy as Garrin’s typing it, then clicking on a button called “SPAWN.” To delete a T.L.D., he simply clicks a button called “TERMINATE.” It all takes mere seconds.

Garrin said he wants to work cooperatively with Quinn, DoITT and the Bloomberg administration, and to “educate them,” so that everyone will benefit from .nyc.

Video artist turned socially conscious Internet guru, Garrin is ready and more than willing to share his expertise and knowledge.

“It’s not adversarial,” he said. “I’m here. I’m a New Yorker. I care about my community.”

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