A Brief Response To Richard Bennett's New Paper

I salute Richard Bennett’s new paper Designed for Change, in which he traces the engineering history of the end-to-end principle. It is a serious paper and deserving of serious response. Unfortunately, it being right before Yom Kippur and various deadlines, that more serious response will need to come from elsewhere. I can give only a brief, surface response — reality is messy.

OK, too brief. A bit more elaboration. Richard Bennett is eminently qualified to write the technical history and draw engineering conclusions. As are a large number of other folks who take very different views on the issue of net neutrality and the virtues of end-to-end (Vint Cerf, David Reed and kc claffy to name a few folk of my acquaintance). The history described by Richard is layered onto an equally rich history of political and economic events which all interweave, and continue to interweave, to create a complex and messy reality in which public policy tries (in my opinion) to set rules to create the strongest likelihood of the best possible outcome.

More below . . . .

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RIPE Makes Me Vaguely Uneasy By Creating Legal Market For IP Addresses.

Talk to anyone who was involved back in ye olde days of the development of the Internet address system and underlying protocols and they will tell you that most of the major stuff — like the division of the domain name system into generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and country code top level domains (ccTLDs) just evolved on their own. Sometimes this worked out real well. Sometimes, not so much. But for better or for worse, these decisions set the pattern for how the internet evolved and created huge policy issues as the internet scaled up from a universe in which everyone knew everyone else to a system of global communications that always seems to be lurching toward — but never quite reaching — total collapse.

I’m not saying I could do better, or that anyone could. Indeed, I can argue that a lot of good stuff happened when people handled problems in an ad hoc manner and that the major effort to put a little forethought and adult supervision over the whole process, the Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN), turned into a total mess.

Nevertheless, it gave me a bad turn to read that RIPE-NCC, which allocates the IP addresses for the European Union, will now allow holders of IPv4 addresses to openly buy and sell these address allocations (you can read the policies around the address allocation here).

Why does this make me uneasy, especially when a gray market in IPv4 addresses already exists? Because it makes fundamental changes in an underlying piece of critical infrastructure. That always makes me queasy, especially when I know that those making the changes have not adequately considered the very many ways this can go badly, as well as the ways in which it can go well. OTOH, I also recognize that, as Ecclesiastes warns, “to the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of flesh.” (Eccl: 12:12) Somebody needs to act sometime. Nor do I have a very clear idea what I would do instead to solve the IPv4 address exhaustion issue. But I really worry about creating a class of powerful incumbents invested in preserving the value of their IPv4 real estate and opposing transition to IPv6.

For more detail on this than any sane person would otherwise want, see below . . . .

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Note to Obama Administration: Please Reform the NTIA-ICANN Relationship.

One of the sad legacies of the Clinton Administration is the never ending circus of internet governance known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. The idea, in those optimistic “anything not government is good” days, was to insulate management of the domain name system (DNS) from politics by setting up a structure outside government to handle the name and number system of the internet. The notion was that you could take a critical foundation of the internet’s architecture, on which a company called “Network Solutions” had built a huge business on maintaining a friggin’ database, and prevent people from trying to control it by moving it out of big bad government and into a noble non-profit corporation. As a double protection, they expressly limited ICANN’s mission to “technical coordination” via “private contracts” and absolutely not, not, NOT governance. Oh, and fixing trademark and cyberquatting issues. And having governments involved via the “Government Accountability Committee” (GAC). And creating competition in the domain name registration biz. And DNS security. But other than that, no governance.

Some of us at the time warned (a) that there was nothing magic about government v. non-government, control over a critical resource just about ensured that government-like stuff would happen, (b) you can’t be “no governance, just technical coordination, except whatever” anymore than you can be “absolutely all abstinence except for the no sex part,” and (c) Anyone who thought governments — including the U.S. government — would just let DNS go its merry way and limit input to an “advisory committee” for a “technical coordination body.”

Guess what? Turns out we were right. So now the Obama Administration gets to inherit the perennial problem of how to deal with all the conflicting interests around ICANN and management of the DNS system — a most unrewarding job given the number of conflicting interests and the fact that while the issue is potentially of significant importance to the smooth management of the internet, the actual pay off for any specific decision is pathetically puny compared to the massive headache caused by making a final decision. Which is why this has festered for ten years.

A bit more, and an outrageously simple suggestion, below . . .

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My Day With the Reps, or Today I Am A Wonk.

Every profession has its little milestones. As a confirmed Washington policy wonk, I’ve always wanted to testify before Congress (in a situation where I did not have to take the Fifth). Well, TODAY I AM A WONK. (Actually, it was Thursday, September 21.) I testified at the House hearing on ICANN. You can read some of the (very light) news coverage here, and my official testimony here (executive summary here), and you can listen to an audio of the hearing by going here and clicking on the relevant link.

For my personal observations and comments, see below….

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Tiering, It's Not Just For Telcos Anymore

Years ago, I used to spend a lot of time in ICANN-land. Happily, my contacts these days are pretty much limited to the occassional post-cards from friends.

But a recent contretemps caught my eye. Apparently new registry contracts will now allow price-tiering for names. As Milton Mueller at ICANNWatch observes, this raises similar worries as tiered internet access.

This is why Sascha Meinrath’s & Victor Pickard’s new paper on redefining net neutrality is important. Meinrath and Pickard make the very good point that the openess of the Internet rests on more than just residential access providers. Those concerned with the current fight to maintain net neutrality — as narrowly defined as preventing the last-mile access provider from defining the internet experience — should be aware of the need to protect other potential bottlenecks from emerging.

And, for us old timers, there is a certainly irony. Back in ye ancient days, when the “destroy the evil tld monopolist Network Solutions” [now Verisign the registry, not NetSol the registrar] crowd were backing ICANN, one of their great boogeyman arguments for ICANN regulation of registries was it would prevent tiered pricing of names. Some of us tried to explain how things like “agency capture” work, and that therefore such policies could change unless we inserted suitable checks and balances in ICANN to maintain accountability, but we were just lawyers and other useless policy types and they were the engineers who built the domain name system, so what did we know? (Bitter? Me? Why do you think I no longer spend time in ICANN-land?)

What I love most about reality, is how it will always turn around and bite you in the rear end if you decide to ignore it. Reality soooo does not care that you chose to be ignorant of things like economics and political science, any more than it cares when idiots in poli-sci decide they can dictate technology and try to make idiotic rules about blocking net gambling or blocking indecency or outlawing peer-2-peer. Reality doesn’t care. It just is.

Gotta love something that democratic.

Stay tuned . . . .

The last wireless believer has left the Federal Building

Michael Gallagher, the Assistant Secretary in charge of the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) is leaving. It looks like a bleak year for those who believe that more spectrum made available to the public will bring greater economic propserity and freedom of speech for all.

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My Take on WSIS and DNS

I will be the first to acknowledge that some good came out of World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) last week in bringing together a lot of people to talk about important issues. On the key item in the news, what would happen to ICANN and management of the domain name system, the U.S. won hands down. And while I have no desire whatsoever to see the DNS run by some UN-type organization, I understand why the U.S. is not exactly popular in other countries.

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