"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Well, There Goes the Internet...Maybe

Breaking America's Grip on the Net

After troubled negotiations in Geneva, the US may be forced to relinquish control of the internet to a coalition of governments

You would expect an announcement that would forever change the face of the internet to be a grand affair - a big stage, spotlights, media scrums and a charismatic frontman working the crowd.
But unless you knew where he was sitting, all you got was David Hendon's slightly apprehensive voice through a beige plastic earbox. The words were calm, measured and unexciting, but their implications will be felt for generations to come....

Welcome News to Some

Most of us only care about whether or not we can get on. Does it really matter who controls the" 'root servers,' which act as the basic directory for the whole internet?"

In early days, an enlightened Department of Commerce (DoC) pushed and funded expansion of the internet. When it became global, it created a private company, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) to run it.

But the DoC retained overall control, and in June stated what many had always feared: that it would retain indefinite control of the internet's foundation - it's "root servers."

ICANN Strategic Planning Issues Paper - September 2005

Internationalization is an important apsect of ICANN's strategic planning for two major reasons: First the continued rise of the Internet as a truly global means of communication will place demands on ICANN to encourage all relevant parties to take part in the ICANN process and also to accommodate all Internet users as members of the ICANN community. Second, as the broad group of international entities involved in Internet co-ordination evolves, ICANN will need to demonstrate its truly global nature in order to maintain its legitimacy.

Hmmm. Sounds like the U.N., don't you think?

Although the proposal was sponsored by the E.U, the threat is actually made by the U.N. that has been drooling over revenue that is and could be produced through the internet.

What can the U.S. do? According to blogger Brett Fausett, the U.S. can do "a lot," and does the U.S. have to "acquiesce?"

The only leverage wielded by the other governments of the world is the threat to start their own root zone, which would speak volumes about whether their concerns are really about stability and security.

According to Carl over on CaveBearBlog, most commentators are "mixing two separate issues: that of multiple roots and that of singularity of content of the various top level domains (TLDs.)

It is quite possible to have multiple root systems that are entirely consistent with one another. The key is that the TLDs have the same content no matter which root system is used to find them...

Carl stated in 1999

It wasn't that many years ago in the United States when there was one big, monolithic telephone company.
It was taken as gospel by many that the stability of the telephone network depended on there being one unified, monolithic telephone company.
We've seen through that.  Today we have a flourishing competitive telephone system filled with all kinds of commercial and technical offerings that were inconceivable during the days of "Ma Bell".

We routinely use directory services in a multiplicity of forms -- telephone books published by local telephone companies or entrepreneurs, 411 services in various shapes and forms,  web pages, or even on CD-ROMs (indeed a well known Supreme Court case involved a telephone directory published on CD-ROM).

These telephone directories are not published by any unified authority, there is no regulatory body sitting over them.  And we as consumers are not damaged or harmed by this.  And the telephone system continues to work just fine.
Yet, on the Internet there are those who wail and gnash their teeth at the thought that the Domain Name System, the Internet's "white pages" might have multiple points of entry.

Indeed, the whole series of documents from NTIA -- including the Green and White Papers -- and the existence of ICANN is founded on the notion that there is but one root system for the Domain Name System.
I assert that those nay-sayers are wrong.

I assert that just like the telephone system can have multiple publishers of telephone directory services, the Internet can have multiple roots to the Domain Name System.

There is no doubt that as a purely technical matter, the Internet can have multiple root systems for the DNS.  It has had these for years.
The question is whether to recognize the value and use of multiple root systems and not foreclose them.
Let's get a bit more specific.

When I say "multiple root systems", I mean a regime in which you, or I, or anybody can set up a set of computers to serve as a suite of root servers for the DNS.

In other words, you, or I, or anybody could establish a group of computers to operate in parallel with, and not necessarily in administrative coordination with, the legacy computers now operated by NSI, IANA, ICANN and others.
From a technical point of view all that a root server group does is to give its users a way to find the DNS servers that handle the various Top Level Domains (TLDs).  The root servers do not themselves answer queries about what names are inside the various TLDs.  Those questions are passed on to the TLD servers themselves.

That is a subtle point and a point that is often lost when discussing the DNS.

It bears repeating -- all that a root server does is to answer queries about how to find a server handling a TLD named in the query.  In other words, a root server only answers queries such as "Where do I find a server that contains the list of names in .com?".

Do we really need yet another governmental-style bureaucracy? If it ain't broke...well, you know the rest. The proposed "fix" will be be no improvement.


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