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Monday, October 24, 2005

Can Coleman ICAAN?

Posted by: Hammer / 2:57 PM

Lordy. KARE 11 gets it almost entirely wrong:

Senator Norm Coleman is trying to prevent the United Nations from taking control of the Internet.

Coleman is pushing a Senate resolution that calls on the Bush administration to oppose transfer of Internet control to the U.N. or any international body.

...The United States historically has been the main overseer of the Internet. The Internet was created as a Pentagon project and the United States funded much of its early development.

The big so what

The United States funded the early development of the Internet. So what? The Chinese invented paper. Do we let them control all the Kinkos in the world? Moreover, the Internet wouldn't be particularly useful without those fancy links and pictures.

The technology that powers the World Wide Web comes from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN is a lab on the border between France and Switzerland. Mostly they bang subatomic particles together at near-light speed. It's a joint venture including 20 European states. Back in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea of linking data through hypertext. The rest, as they say, is history. Do we want the Europeans to have absolute control over HTML? Probably not.

What did Sen. Smilin' Norm Coleman (R-MN) actually do?

Not much. He's introduced a non-binding resolution to oppose U.N. supervision of DNS. Domain Name Servers are the computers that translate "" into IP addresses ( Smilin' Norm says:

"We cannot stand idly by as some governments seek to make the internet an instrument of censorship and political suppression. We must stand fast against all attempts to alter the internet's nature as a free and open global system," he added.

But what's that really mean? Few, if any, people, actually connect to the authoritative root server to translate domain names. Most internet service providers have one or more local domain name servers to do the translation. Those servers have to syncup with the authoritative root server in order for "" to mean the same thing in Peoria, Pittsburgh, and Peking.

If China wants to block, then, it could reroute traffic to any IP it wants. This would only stop domain name translation. Users could still type in to get to (Except, of course, your local ISP could block that traffic, too.)

Are we alone in the world on this?

More or less. The EU no longer supports us. Nominet, the British company in charge of the .uk domain still supports ICAAN. Much of the world is agnostic on the issue.

What kinds of decisions are at stake?

The U.S. Commerce Department controls the authoritative root server. ICANN, a private company, does what the Commerce Department tells it to. So, for example, we have the ".ps" top level domain for the Palestinian authority. On the other hand, while the U.S. was embargoing Iraq, we refused to register any .iq domains on behalf of Iraqi parties.


When Smilin' Norm talks about democratization, he doesn't mean much. If Smilin' Norm really believed in democracy, he'd want a transparent, accountable body in charge of the root server. Instead, he wants a private company to have full authority.

Private companies are inherently undemocratic. Not opposed to democracy, by definition, but lacking the indicia of democracy. A private company is responsible for generating profits, not promoting democracy here and abroad. Private companies are simply not good at preserving the common good.

Here's one example that cuts a couple of ways, depending on your view of pornography. The Bush administration vetoed the creation of a .XXX top level domain for porn:

At the heart of this international political spat is the unique influence that the U.S. federal government enjoys over Internet addresses and the master database of top-level domain names--a legacy of the Internet's origins years ago. The Bush administration recently raised objections to the proposed addition of .xxx as a red-light district for pornographers, for instance, a veto power that no other government is able to wield.

Whether you view that decision as good or bad, ask yourself whether a private company would make the same decision? The evidence is clear, in the U.S. at least, that lots of companies are willing to take a bite out of the big (financial) porn pie.

Note: ICAAN is currently a non-profit California company, but I interpret Coleman's call for privatization as a call to profitization, as well. Markets exist to create profit.

What's it all mean?

Most importantly, the UN is not trying to take over the Internet. The Internet is a global asset that should be managed in an accountable, transparent way. We should have an international agreement on standards, then allow individual nations to choose whether to participate in those standards -- or not. Most will opt in, because of the value of the community.


I'm not entirely sure I agree with you on this. When I first read about this it struck me as more knee-jerk anti-Americanism than a serious attempt to reform how the net operates. While I'm not much of a hardware guy, from what I understand of it I think you're understating the importance of the root DNS backbone and the havoc it would cause if there was any disruption to that system.

I've had some experience dealing with various registries outside of the US and it seems like a lot of them are either totally incompetent or unabashedly corrupt. On the other hand, most of dealings I've had with ICANN have been fair and professional.

I'd have to see a little more detailed proposal as to how this was going to be set up before I'd support a major change to the current structure. Right now, it seems to me that this issue is mainly a solution in search of a problem. (For the record, I don't think Coleman is doing this for any reason except to try to keep his name in the paper. He's merely playing the role of the unthinking pro-American response that the original proposal was certain to conjure up.)

By Blogger Smartie, at 11:01 AM  

It doesn't help that some of the countries pushing reform are major human rights violators like Iran and China. But Brazil also is looking for reform because they are frustrated with ICAAN.

Fragmentation is a distinct possibility, but the consequences for the majority of Internet users will be limited. The real problem would come if we had two entities assigned the same IP ( address. I'm not a networking expert, but I suspect that would confuse all the routers in the world.

By Blogger Hammer, at 11:10 AM  

Hey, Al Gore invented it here so we should keep it here.

By Anonymous therealrepublican, at 12:36 PM  

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