Could NTIA Please Put ICANN Out of Its Misery Before It Embarasses Itself Further.

I mostly follow the ICANN follies from sentimental reasons. Can it really be more than ten years ago when naive Clintonistas conspired with engineers trying to insulate themselves from politics and a slew of bullies from the intellectual property mafia to create what has become a runaway warning to the world about what happens when you have the power to tax and absolutely no oversight? Why, I can remember when ICANN was a modest little operation with a handful of employees and a budget of under $5 million — and we wondered then what they needed all that money for. What is it now? Oh yes, the FY 2009 Budget was $60.7M. Schweet!

ICANN generally trundles along by being insanely technical, insanely boring, insanely complicated, and never doing anything so outrageous that people get rid of it — primarily because no one can agree on what would replace it. Not that ICANN hasn’t had a few close calls, especially back at the World Summit on Information Society. But, just when ICANN appears about to win itself the global governance equivalent of a Darwin Award, hijinks ensue, ICANN eats a little crow, we All Learn A Valuable Lesson In Life, and we start all over again back where we were next season.

In other words, ICANN is kinda like cross between a bad TV sitcom and a reality show. But like so many TV shows with a small-but-devoted fan base, ICANN now finds itself on the bubble waiting to find out if it will be renewed. Sadly, there are signs that ICANN has definitely jumped the shark. And no, I don’t mean the “new kid on the block” addition Rod Beckstrom to boost ratings. I mean recycling the same tired plot line of ICANN staff and Business & IP constituencies trying to limit the ability of the Non-commercial User Constituency (NCUC) to “cause trouble” — especially those meddling civil society do-gooders Milton Mueller and Robin Gross. Season after season, we get to see the same accusations that NCUC is “divisive,” or “not representative” or other code words for “Goddam it! Get those $#@! civil society groups out of our club house!!!!”

More on why NTIA ought to consider canceling this circus once and for all below . . . .

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Obama Moving Appointments Along in Telecom — Strickling Named, Genachowski & Adelstein Likely to Go Late April/Early May.

The Obama Administration has nominated Larry Strickling for the post of Administrator of the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA). While long anticipated, the nomination was delayed until Commerce actually had a Secretary — it being polite to give the person running the Department at least the opportunity for input into who his assistant secretaries will be. It also looks like, contrary to my analysis last week, that Genachowski may come on board as soon as late April/Early May when Congress comes back from recess rather than after the DTV transition in June, and that Adelstein will simultaneously move to RUS. This would mean that the Obama administration would have their primary media/telecom team on board within the first 100 days, with the balance of the FCC waiting for the Republicans to come to some sort of consensus on whom to recommend for the second Republican slot.

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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Will The FCC Create An ICANN for White Spaces?

Mind you, I am generally pleased with the announcement by FCC Chair Kevin Martin that the exhaustive study of possible white spaces devices by the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) proves that the FCC can go to the next step and authorize both fixed and mobile unlicensed devices. I shall, God and the Jewish holiday schedule permitting, eventually have more to say on the subject. But I can’t help but focus on one aspect of Martin’s generally outlined proposed rules that raises questions for me.

See, I spent a lot of time back in the day working on domain name policy with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN derives its authority through control of the authoritative list of top-level domain servers (“the root zone file”). Or, put another way, the entire structure of ICANN, which now has a budget in the tens of millions and an entire cottage industry that surrounds it, is based on the fact that ICANN controls access to a list that you must have in order to get internet access.

So I’m very curious about who will control the database that will work to supplement sensing as a way to protect over-the-air broadcasting and operation of (legal?) wireless microphones. If the FCC administers this database, and makes it freely available online, then things will work fine. The FCC is already supposed to maintain such a database, because it supposedly keeps track of every license and licensees have a responsibility to keep their license information current. In practical terms, it would cost some money and effort to upgrade the existing database to something easily accessed and updated on a dynamic basis, because the FCC has let this lapse rather badly. (Not their fault, really. No one likes to pay for “back office” or “infrastructure” and it has never really risen to anyone’s priority level.) OTOH, it means that actually upgrading the FCC’s existing database, and giving broadcasters and wireless microphone licensees incentive to keep their information current, will yield benefits beyond making geo-location possible.

OTOH, if the FCC outsources this function, it will be an invitation to disaster. A database manager –particularly an unregulated one — will have every incentive to charge for access to the database. While I don’t expect anything on the scale of ICANN, the possibility for real bad results goes up exponentially if no one pays attention to this kind of detail. Will the database manager get exclusive control? Will the database manager be able to set its own fees for access to the database? How will the database manager be held accountable to the broader community? These are questions that need to be answered — either in the Report and Order or in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

My great fear is that the FCC will treat this as the equivalent of a frequency coordination committee. But it isn’t anything like a frequency coordination committee, since the whole point (from my perspective) is to open up access for everyone and not just for a handful of industry folks who can work the process and pay the fees. Worse, if the FCC delegates this to the broadcasters themselves, it will create an incredible opportunity to hamstring the process at the critical access point.

On the plus side, perhaps we can get Susan Crawford to go from an ICANN Director to an FCC Commissioner.

Stay tuned . . . . .

And People Ask Me Why I Don't “Trust the Market . . . .”

From recent headlines:
Now that the FCC hearing in Standford is over, Comcast had dumped the idea of a consumer “bill of rights” for consumers. Instead, apparently picking up on Commissioner McDowell’s confusion over ICANN and how it works, Comcast has announced it is joing the Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA). While purportedly eager to include us regular folks in the dialog, consumer interests will not be represented in the initial discussions.

Comcast also is looking at bandiwdth caps, but that’s in addition to “managing” p2p, not instead of managing p2p.

Meanwhile, Earthlink is apparently walking away from Wireless Philly, and may simply shut the system off unless the city buys it out.

And folks ask me why I don’t “trust the market” when I am skeptical that big companies will stick by their commitments….

Stay tuned . . . .

AT&T Net Neutrality Condition: Win, Lose or Draw?

Unsurprisingly, in an area as complex as this, opinion has split on what the merger conditions mean. Some, like Tim Karr and Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu, and Matt Stoller hail the conditions as an important victory. Others, such as Cardozo Law Professor and ICANN Director Susan Crawford, Jeff Pulver, and Dave Burstein think AT&T has cleverly played us for dupes by giving us conditions with loopholes that render the conditions meaningless. While others, like Dave Isenberg, strike a middle ground. Others, pointing out that the conditions only last two years,

What do I think? As I observed in July, when we got got some conditions out of the Adelphia transaction, evaluating wether you won or not in opposing a merger is a tricky business. But I reject the idea we got taken for a ride. To the contrary, anybody who thought this merger was going to provide the answer to the net neutrality issue, or eliminate the need for national legislation, does ot understand what was going on or what we were trying to accomplish.

And no, this doesn’t make a bad merger good. I certainly would have preferred seeing the FCC reject the merger. But given broad hints from Dingell that he never wanted the Ds to go that far, and given the fact that McDowell could have decided to come off the bench in June if the merger was still pending (since the Ds could not get a majority to vote to refer the matter to an Admin Law Judge), I don’t think a rejection was realistic to expect.

More detailed analysis below.

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Blog Tagged by Susan Crawford

On Live Journal, we’d call this a meme. I usually don’t play, but how can I resist an invitation from Susan Crawford? In addition to running a fantastic and informative blog of her own, Susan is a member of the Board of Directors at ICANN and on the faculty of Cardozo Law School (Official motto: “With This Many Jews, How Did We Rank So Low In U.S. News & World Report? Goyishe Kop!”)

In any event, Susan has tagged me with the following meme:

“Post five things most people don’t know about you, and then tag five more people.”

I tag Sascha Meinrath, Esme Vos, David Isenberg, Tim Karr and Art Brodsky. My answers below.

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I'm Speaking Tomorrow (9/13/06) On the Hill

We’ve been down a few days for technical problems. Sorry and welcome back.

Tomorrow (9/13/06), I’ll be speaking at an event sponsored by Americans for a Secure Internet on what to do about ICANN, the Internet Governance Forum and upcomming meeting in Athens, and what’s wrong with making the rest of the world dance “the macarena” or lose their ccTLD. (Although you can get more recent information from the Internet Governance Project, or ICANNWATCH, or Susan Crawford’s bog but none of them reference the macarena!)

The event is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the House Rayburn Building B-340. I append the information from the flyer below. Here are a few links to my other ICANN blog entries:
Tiering, It’s Not Just for Telcos Anymore
My Take on WSIS and DNS
The Verisign Lawsuit: More Than Just Sitefinder
If ICANN Regulated Cars (real old)

Buffet Lunch and Panel Discussion

Does the U.N. Want to Govern the Internet?

Hosted by Americans for a Secure Internet

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

12:30-2 PM

Rayburn B-340

Last November, the Congress passed a Joint Resolution affirming that the current structure of Internet management—with U.S. oversight—was working well and should be maintained without interference from the United Nations.

But the UN is not so easily dissuaded. They’re meeting in Athens at the end of October to plan an array of new initiatives that could clash with ICANN’s management of the Internet.

Join Americans for a Secure Internet for a lunch buffet and panel discussion on Wednesday, September 13, to learn how changes to current Internet governance could compromise the integrity of its infrastructure, and the continued growth of eCommerce.

Topics include:

* The U.N.’s IGF and its plan for a prolonged campaign to gain control of the Internet and remove America from its dominant position
* How the IGF’s proposals create real barriers to eCommerce by turning the Internet over to a collection of foreign governments, including those that practice massive censorship like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia
* How the Internet needs a “manager” and not a “governor”—and the difference between the two
* The current ICANN arrangement and how it allows for distributed control of the Internet
* The threat to technical development and improvement of the Internet by trapping its management inside a multitude of new agencies and programs

Get to know these issues that will be discussed at the IGF meeting and the potential effects. All Congressional staff involved in technology and eCommerce issues should attend.

Panelists include:

Ambassador David Gross
Ambassador, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Harold Feld
Senior Vice President
Media Access Project

Brian Cute
Vice President, Government Relations

Steve DelBianco (moderator)
Executive Director

If you plan to attend, please RSVP to Melissa Moskal at or 202.420.7484.

About ASI
Americans for a Secure Internet is a coalition of trade associations, public policy think tanks, businesses and individuals who share a deep concern about the future of Internet security. Visit for more information.

Susan Crawford's Five Good Question

Susan Crawford, a law Professor at Cardozo and a Board Member of ICANN supportive of Net Neutrality, asks and answers five good questions about Network Neutrality. Chris Yoo, a law professor at Vanderbilt and opposed to Net Neutrality, gives his answers (along with Susan’s) here. Harold Feld, not a law professor anywhere, gives his answers below.

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