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The CA Domain Name

February 15, 2013

For several years, I was the CA domain name registrar for Manitoba.  This was before Internet access was widely available through ISPs.  At the time, only universities and some businesses were on the Internet.  The original five three-letter domains (COM ORG NET EDU MIL) were available.  The two-letter country domains had been defined, but only a few of them were in use.  John Demco at UBC applied to IANA to manage the CA domain for Canada.  They delegated the CA domain to John’s nameserver.

John designed the structure of the CA domain, originated the rules, delegated registration to others by province, and operated DNS servers for the domain.  He followed the geo-political model that various European countries had used for their two-letter domains.  He established subdomains for provinces and municipalities.  Each province got a two-letter subdomain taken from their postal abbreviations.  With this scheme, organizations could be attached at any level, depending on their scope of influence.

Originally, registering a CA domain name was a free service, requiring only an application.  However, John made the final decision to accept an application.  Domain names were available only to organizations of various sorts.  The local registrar collected applications from organizations and did most of the negotiation with them before submitting the final applications to John.  This system had no provision for assigning domain names to individuals.  This was impossible at the time, based on the nameserver facilities available.

The name requested by an organization was supposed to be meaningful to the public, but many of them insisted on a short name, often their three-letter acronym.  This is one place where careful negotiation was required.  Each organization was permitted only one domain name, with the assumption that they would further subdivide it themselves for various purposes.  The result was that the name of a web site, for example, would consist of a whole series of elements separated by dots.

The position of an organization within the domain name hierarchy was even more contentious.  It was supposed to be done according to their scope, but this was often difficult to determine.  Most of them wanted to be at the CA level and claimed to be nationally-known.  The type of their official registration helped a bit, but it was not sufficient.  One result was a set of arbitrary rules that evolved over time.  For example, universities were registered at the national level, colleges were registered at the provincial level, and schools at the municipal level.

As the registrar for Manitoba, representatives of organizations in this province would send their applications for CA domain names to me.  Most of them wanted to set up a web site or an e-mail server.  I contacted them, usually by telephone, to clarify the information they provided or to negotiate on their domain name and placement.  Once the application was satisfactory, I submitted it to John by e-mail.  He added their domain name to the CA nameserver and delegated the name to the organization’s own nameserver.

Eventually, this system became too large for volunteer effort.  As the reach of the Internet grew, it also moved outside of the scope of the universities involved.  Authority for the CA domain was transferred to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.  They in turn delegated the registation process to many commercial registrars, giving us the system that we have today.

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