BLUFF CITY, TENNESSEE – Brian McCrary found the perfect venue to gripe about a $90 speeding ticket when he went to the Bluff City Police Department’s website, saw that its domain name was about to expire, and bought it right out from under the city’s nose.
Now that McCrary is the proud owner of the site, http://www.bluffcitypd.com, the Gray, Tenn., computer network designer has been using it to post links about speed cameras – like the one on U.S. Highway 11E that caught him – and how people don’t like them.
“It’s kind of surprising that they’d just let it lapse like that,” McCrary said, adding that the new site has logged 1,200 unique visitors since he took it over May 22. “I figured they would be aware [it was about to expire] and renew it on their own.”
Domain names – such as the one for the Bristol Herald Courier’s website, http://www.tricities.com – serve as an easy-to-remember substitute for the numerical Internet Protocol addresses that direct people to specific locations (or websites) on the infinite landscape of cyberspace.
Domain names are bought and sold on a subscription basis through hundreds of website hosting companies, such as Go Daddy, which according to a company spokesperson currently manages more than 41 million domains including “www.bluffcitypd.com.”
When someone buys a domain name they can do whatever they want with it for the year that it’s registered to them. They can sell it, use it to keep someone from making a website, or use it to host a site that makes fun of or attacks a company with that name.
But at the end of that year-long registration period, the web hosting company regains control over the domain name and has the option of cancelling it and effectively taking down the customer’s website or selling the domain to someone else.
Go Daddy Domain Services Director Camille Ede said her company tries to avoid either option by sending its customers an e-mail letting them know about the domain’s status 90 days before its expiration date, 60 days before the expiration, 30 days before, 15 days and again five days before the expiration date.
Once the expiration date arrives, Ede said in an e-mail she sent the Herald Courier on Friday, the company replaces the website’s content with a special warning notice letting the site’s visitors know the domain has expired and will be deleted or sold in 42 days.
McCrary saw this notice when he had some questions about a letter he received in the mail letting him know he had to pay $90 because he was caught driving 56 mph through the 45 mph zone that Bluff City’s speed camera has actively patrolled since Jan. 1.
The camera issued 1,662 citations for speeding during its first six weeks on the job, according to an investigation conducted by Herald Courier staff. It issued another 541 citations from March 19-22 when fans for the Food City 500 were in town.
Each one of the citations comes with a $90 speeding ticket that Bluff City splits with American Traffic Solutions, the Scottsdale, Ariz., company that operates the speed camera and dozens of others like it across the country.
“I was going to give [the police department] a call and noticed their domain was about to expire,” said McCrary, who sat back and waited until the 42-day window was over. “As soon as it expired I went ahead and bought it.”
While McCrary was pondering his purchase – something that cost $80 because he signed up for a few services Go Daddy offers along with its domain registration service – the web hosting company made two final attempts to reach the police department.
In accordance with its policy, Ede said, Go Daddy sends its customers an e-mail five days after a domain name expires and 12 days after a domain name expires, bringing the total number of e-mails a customer receives to seven – five before the expiration and two after.
“With more than 8 million customers worldwide,” Ede said in her e-mail, “Go Daddy must rely on its customers to take an active role in monitoring their account information.”
During a Friday interview, Bluff City Police Chief David Nelson admitted that he did not play the “active role” that Ede recommends her customers take when it comes to monitoring their websites.
“It just slipped my mind,” Nelson said, adding that he knows little about computers and the more technical aspects of running a website. “If you open up a website and let it go down, somebody can buy it – I did not know that.”
Because he’s not that familiar with computers, Nelson said, he let one of his officers manage the site and handle its domain registration. That officer, he said, has been out on medical leave, after he came down with a bad illness a few months ago.
“It’s just one of those things that happen,” Nelson said, adding that he turned the matter over to the town’s manager and attorney to see if there was anything they could do with it.
So far, McCrary said, he hasn’t heard anything from either town official about taking over the website. However, he has heard from a lot of people who have run across his new site and have e-mailed him their thoughts about it or the stories he links to.
“Most of the people think it’s a speed trap,” McCary said of the feed back he’s received from the website, something he admitted took him only 15 minutes to put together on a Saturday afternoon. “In my opinion, it looks like this camera thing will come to an end.”
As for Nelson, the police chief is now at the point, two weeks after losing his website, where he can laugh about the situation. He said he has learned his lesson.
The police department is now working with different company to host its website, Nelson said, adding that this company won’t sell the new domain name to someone else.
“We’ll have more control over [our new website] than we did with Go Daddy,” he said. “And this one will be a lot better,” than the one the police department had before.