Obtaining a locality domain

August 2013 (updated June 2021)

In the late ’90s, a Cincinnatian’s main on-ramp to the Information Superhighway was through Cincinnati Bell’s Fuse service. (We got countless AOL diskettes, too, but their hotlines were always tied up.) A Fuse subscription came with both local and toll-free dial-in numbers, Netscape Navigator 3.01 Gold, as well as a textbook covering the rules of the road: netiquette on mailing lists and IRC, the basic USENET structure, setting the appropriate cache size in Navigator.

Like every country, the U.S. has its own top-level domain: .us. For the most part, it hasn’t changed at all since the days of screeching modem tones. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the Commerce Department, contracts with GoDaddy to manage the overall .us top-level domain. They make it easy to get a domain directly under .us – for a fee. But if you really want, you can still get a domain with as many periods as an IPv4 address, free of charge. A locality domain, which includes a city and state, has a quaint charm to it. I got one to represent my hometown, Cincinnati:


Catchy, isn’t it?

Wikipedia has a good rundown of the complex structure of .us’s locality namespace, but the gist is that you can own a piece of it. The process is a bit more involved than filling out an online form, but for most localities, it’s completely free of charge:

  1. First, you need a Web host (costs money) or you need to host the site on your own computer (a hassle). Locality domains are just domains, not hosting packages.

  2. Find out whether you can register under your locality, and if so, who manages domains for the locality. This old list of delegated subdomains gives you an idea of what’s available. For up-to-date contact information, perform a WHOIS query for the delegated subdomain belonging to the locality you want. For example, if you’re interested in a cincinnati.oh.us domain and your computer runs Linux or macOS, you’d run the following command:

    whois cincinnati.oh.us

    There are plenty of Web-based WHOIS lookup tools, but only a few offer support for the .us locality namespace. Your best bet is the WHOIS tool run by GoDaddy itself. Note the “Delegated Manager Contact Email” or “Domain Manager Email”: this is where you’ll send the application. (Or if they’re really stuck in the past, note their fax number.)

    If the locality you’re interested in has no WHOIS entry, it may just be that GoDaddy has been unable to contact its delegated manager. However, if the delegated manager is listed as GoDaddy or Neustar (the former .us registrar), you’re definitely out of luck: under an “Interim Undelegated Name Policy” approved by the Commerce Department, you have to be an official representative of that locality in order to register a domain. You could wait for this eternal interim period to conclude, or you could choose a different locality.

    Delegated managers are free to establish their own eligibility criteria. The vast majority of them offer free registrations. A few require you to have a local address.

  3. Complete the Interim .US Domain Template v2.0 and e-mail it to the delegated manager in step 1.

    • Real contact information is required. GoDaddy conducts spot checks to verify that the contact information is correct and up-to-date. If you’re worried about privacy, note that WHOIS records don’t necessarily exist for locality domains. If it matters to you, try looking up a domain managed by the same delegated manager in WHOIS.
    • Your Web host can provide you with hostnames (8j) and IP addresses (8k). For example, DreamHost customers can consult the DreamHost Wiki.
  4. Set up your hosting account to handle requests at the new domain. You don’t need to wait for the delegated manager to take action before telling your host about the domain. You may also want to set up e-mail accounts at the domain in similar fashion. (If you’re hosting the website on your own, you probably don’t need me to walk you through the steps.)

In addition to nguyen.cincinnati.oh.us, I also snagged xn--nguyn-s71b.cincinnati.oh.us, which enables me to use an e-mail address @nguyễn.cincinnati.oh.us. Some applications, like Firefox and Thunderbird, don’t realize that locality domains aren’t supposed to have exotic characters, so they display “nguyễn” instead of “xn--nguyn-s71b”. My hope is that spammers won’t know what to make of an internationalized domain name that technically shouldn’t exist. Time will tell.