It’s almost ironic to call it a “history” of domain registrars since it’s been such a relatively short period of time since the internet has been in existence.
Yet a large portion of the people actively using the internet were not born when it first came to be. So this is the dirty story of domain registrars from the beginning.
As you may know, the internet started out as a US military effort to create a network that would be able to survive large-scale outages due to bombings, war, terrorism, or whatever the military could think up at the time. Sounds like a good topic for another article!
Because the original ‘internet’ was essentially controlled by the US government, they also controlled the domain name system. In fact the concept of usable names to denote a network address predates the internet and goes back to it’s predecessor – ARPANET. (more on that in a future post)
So now we come all the way up to 1991. In 1991, Network Solutions (NSI) was granted the contract to maintain the Domain Name System from the US Department of Defense information systems agency. At the time, the only TLD’s (top level domains) that were available were .com, .net, .gov, .org, .mil and .edu . Both domain names and block of IP addresses were free.
In 1995 that all changed. The National Science Foundation (NSF) granted NSI the right to start charging for domain names. And charging they did. From free to $100 for a 2 year registration. Of that $100, $30 of it was given to the NSF but that fee was later ruled in court to be an illegal tax. Domain registrations were then dropped to $70 for 2 years.
Years of what many rightly considered a monopoly and unreasonably high prices led finally to the formation of ICANN and a partial opening up of the DNS system. In 1998, the market was opened up to partial competition but NSI still retained monopoly rights on .com, .org and .net sites. Since that comprised the vast majority of TLD’s being registered, it was a very tiny step. But a step in the right direction nonetheless.
Finally, the NSI monopoly had been lifted and domain prices had dropped from then a price of $34.95 down to $6 wholesale. Still expensive considering you can get a domain name for 99 cents at our site now! In the meantime, .com TLD registrations had skyrocketed from 15000 .com name registrations to 192 million in 2009.
Read more about the history of DNS and domain registrars in part two