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Date sent: Mon, 7 Sep 1998 15:07:23 -0400
Send reply to: Learning Internet <[log in to unmask]>
From: John Walker <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: The Internet an International Public Treasure
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CSS Internet News, Special Report
'Our Net', a disussion list for all Netizens
The Internet an International Public Treasure
by Ronda Hauben
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In testimony before the Subcommittee on Basic Research of
the Committee on Science of the U.S. Congress on March 31, 1998,
Robert Kahn, co-inventor of TCP/IP, indicated the great
responsibility that must be taken into account before the U.S.
Government changes the administrative oversight, ownership and
control of essential aspects of the Internet that are part of
what is known as the Domain Name System (DNS)*.
Kahn indicated that "the governance issue must take into account
the needs and desires of others outside the United States
to participate." His testimony also indicated a need to maintain
"integrity in the Internet architecture including the management of
IP addresses and the need for oversight of critical functions."
He described how the Internet grew and flourished under
U.S. Government stewardship (before the privatization - I wish to
add) because of 2 important components.
1) The U.S. Government funded the necessary research
2) It made sure the networking community had the responsibility
for its operation, and insulated it to a very great extent from
bureaucratic obstacles and commercial matters so it could
He also said that "The relevant US government agencies should
remain involved until a workable solution is found and, thereafter
retain oversight of the process until and unless an appropriate
international oversight mechanism can supplant it."
And Kahn recommended insulating the DNS functions which are critical
to the continued operation of the Internet so they could be
operated "in such a way as to insulate them as much as possible
from bureaucratic, commercial and political wrangling."
When I attended the meeting of the International Forum on
the White Paper (IFWP) in Geneva in July, which was a meeting
set up by the U.S. Government to create the private organization
to take over these essential DNS functions September 30, 1998, none
of the concerns that Kahn raised at this Congressional hearing
were indicated as concerns by those rushing to privatize
these critical functions of the global Internet. I wrote a report
which I circulated about the political and commercial pressures that
were operating in the meeting to create the Names Council that
I attended. (See "Report from the Front", Meeting in Geneva Rushes
to Privatize the Internet DNS and Root Server Systems". The URL
is http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/other/ )
But what is happening now with the privatization plan of the
U.S. Government involves privatization of the functions that
coordinate the International aspects of the Internet and thus
the U.S. Government has a very special obligation to the technical
and scientific community and to the the U.S. public and
the people of the world to be responsible in what it does.
I don't see that happening at present.
A few years ago I met one of the important pioneers of the
development of time-sharing, which set the basis for the research
creating the Internet. This pioneer, Fernando Corbato, suggested I
real a book "Management and the Future of the Computer" which
was edited by Martin Greenberger, another time-sharing pioneer.
The book was the proceedings of a conference about the Future of
the Computer held at MIT in 1961 to celebrate the centennial
anniversary of MIT. The British author, Charles Percy Snow made
the opening address at the meeting and he described the
importance of how government decisions would be made about the
future of the computer.
Snow cautioned that such decisions must involve people who
understood the problems and the technology. And he also
expressed the concern that if too small a number of people were
involved in making important government decisions, the more
likely it would be that serious errors of judgment would be made.
Too small a number of people are being involved in this important
decision regarding the future of these strategic aspects of the
Internet and too many of those who know what is happening and are
participating either have conflicts of interest or other reasons
why they are not able to consider the real problems and
technological issues involved. (About the 1961 conference, see
chapter 6 of Netizens at http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120)
What is happening with the process of the U.S. Government
privatization of the Domain Name System is exactly the kind
of danger that C.P. Snow warned against.
I have been in contact with Ira Magaziner, Senior advisor to
the U.S. President on policy with these concerns and he asked
me to write a proposal or way to put my concerns into some
"operational form." The following draft proposal for comment
is my beginning effort to respond to his request.
Toward an International Public Administration of Essential
Functions of the Internet - The Domain Name System
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Recently, there has been a rush to find a way to change
significant aspects of the Internet. The claim is that there
is a controversy that must be resolved about what should be the
future of the Domain Name System.
It is important to examine this claim and to try to figure out
if there is any real problem with regard to the Domain Name
System (DNS) that has to be solved.
The Internet is a scientific and technical achievement of great
magnitude. Fundamental to its development was the discovery of a
new way of looking at computer science.(1) The early developers
of the ARPANET, the progenitor of the Internet, viewed the
computer as a communication device rather than only as an
arithmetic engine. This new view, which came from research
conducted by those in academic computer science, made the
building of the ARPANET possible.(2) Any changes in the
administration of key aspects of the Internet need to be guided
by a scientific perspective and principles, not by political or
commercial pressures. It is most important to keep in mind that
scientific methods are open and cooperative.
Examining the development of the Internet, an essential problem
that becomes evident is that the Internet has become
international, but the systems that allow there to be an Internet
are under the administration and control of one nation. These
include control over the allocation of domain names, over the
allocation of IP addresses, over the assignment of protocol
numbers and services, as well as control over the root server
system and the protocols and standards development process
related to the Internet. These are currently under the control
and administration of the U.S. Government or contractors to it.
Instead of the U.S. Government offering a proposal to solve the
problem of how to share the administration of the DNS, which
includes central points of control of the Internet,
it is supporting and encouraging the creation of a new private
entity that will take over and control the Domain Name System.
This private entity will magnify many thousands fold the
commercial and political pressures and prevent solving the
genuine problem of having an internationally shared protection
and administration of the DNS, including the root server system,
IP number allocations, Internet protocols, etc.
Giving these functions over to a private entity will make it
possible for these functions to be changed and for the Internet
to be broken up into competing root servers, etc. It is the DNS
whose key characteristic is to make the network of networks one
Internet rather than competing networks with competing root
server systems, etc.
What is needed is a way to protect the technology of the Internet
from commercial and political pressures, so as to create a means
of sharing administration of the key DNS functions and the root
The private organization that the U.S. Government is asking to be
formed is the opposite of protecting the Internet. It is encouraging
the take over by a private, non accountable corporate entity of
the key Internet functions and of this International public
In light of this situation, it is important to draft a proposal
which will help to establish a set of principles and
recommendations on how to create an international cooperative
collaboration to administer and protect these key functions of
the Internet from commercial and political pressures. This draft
is offered as a beginning of this process.
The first essential requirement is that the U.S. Government stop
the process it is involved in, including the International Forum
on the White Paper (IFWP) whose objective is to create a private
organization to be given the key Domain Name System including
the root server system by September 30, 1998.
The second essential requirement is that the U.S. Government
create a research project or institute (which can be in
conjunction with universities, appropriate research institutes,
etc.) The goal of this project or institute is to sponsor and
have carried out the research to solve the problem of what should
be the future of the DNS and its component parts including the
root server system. The U.S. should invite the collaboration
(including funding, setting up similar research projects, etc.)
of any country interested in participating in this research. The
researchers from the different nations will work collaboratively.
A collaborative international research group will undertake the
1) To identify and describe the functions of the DNS system that need to
be maintained. (The RFC's or other documents that will help in this need
to be gathered and references to them made available to those interested.)
2) To look first at the Internet and then at how the DNS system and
root server system is serving the diverse communities and users
of the Internet, which include among others the scientific
community, the education community, the librarians, the technical
community, Governments (National as well as local), the
university community, the art and cultural communities, nonprofit
organizations, the medical community, the communications
functions of the business community, and most importantly the
users whoever they be, of the Internet.
3) To maintain an online means of input into their work and of
reporting on what they are doing.(This should include as many of
the open processes used in the development of Usenet and the
ARPANET as possible, including appropriate Usenet newsgroups,
mailing lists, RFC's etc.)
4) To produce a proposal at the end of a specified finite period
of time. The proposal should include:
a) an accurate history of how the Internet developed and how the
Domain Name System developed and why.
b) a discussion of the vision for the future of the Internet that
their proposal is part of. This should be based on input
gathered from the users of the Internet, and from research
of the history and development of the Internet.
c) a description of the role the Domain Name System plays in the
administration and control of the Internet, how it is functioning, what
problems have developed with it.
d) a proposal for its further administration, describing how the
proposal will provide for the continuation of the functions and
control hitherto provided by U.S. Government agencies like NSF
and DARPA. Also, problems for the further administrations
should be clearly identified and proposals made for how to
begin an open process for examining the problems and solving
e) a description of the problems and pressures that they see
that can be a danger for the DNS administration. Also
recommendations on how to protect the DNS administration
from succumbing to those pressures. (For example from
pressures that are political or commercial.) In the early
days of Internet development in the U.S. there was an
acceptable use policy (AUP) that protected the Internet and
the scientific and technical community from the pressures
from political and commercial entities. Also in the U.S.,
Government funding of a sizeable number of people who were the
computer science community also protected those people from
commercial and political pressures.
f) a way for the proposal to be distributed widely online, and the
public not online should also have a way to have access to it. It
should be made available to people around the world who are part of or
interested in the future development of the Internet. Perhaps help with
such distribution can come from international organizations like the
ITU, from the Internet Society, the IETF, etc.
g) comment on what has been learned from the process of doing
collaborative work to create the proposal. It should identify as
much as possible the problems that developed in their
collaborative efforts. Identifying the problems will help
clarify what work has to be done to solve them.
h) It will be necessary to agree to some way to keep this
group of researchers free from commercial and political
pressures -- government funding of the researchers is one
possible way and maybe they can be working under an agreed
upon Acceptable Use Policy for their work and funding.
Please let me know any thoughts or comments you have on this
draft proposal as it is a beginning effort to figure
out what is a real way to solve the problem that is the essential
problem in the future administration of the Internet, and
that if the principles can be found to solve this problem,
the same principles will help to solve other problems of Internet
administration and functioning as well.
(1) See Michael Hauben, "Behind the Net: The Untold Story of the
ARPANET and Computer Science", in "Netizens: On the History and
Impact of Usenet and the Internet", IEEE CS Press, 1997, p. 109.
See also "Internet, nouvelle utopie humaniste?" by Bernard Lang,
Pierre Weis and Veronique Viguie Donzeau-Gouge, "Le Monde",
September 26, 1997, as it describes how computer science is a new
kind of science and not well understood by many. The authors
write: "L'informatique est tout a la fois une science, une
technologie et un ensemble d'outils....Dans sa pratique
actuelle, l'introduction de l'informatique a l'ecole, et
malheureusement souvent a la'universite, est critiquable parce
qu'elle entretient la confusion entre ces trois composantes."
An updated copy of this proposal, as well as other related material
will be available at
I will also try to have copies available at
Netizens: On the History and Impact
of Usenet and the Internet
also in print edition ISBN 0-8186-7706-6
Last Updated: September 4, 1998
*I am requesting help circulating this proposal among the
Internet community and asking for comments and discussion both on
the proposal and on the issues involved with the U.S.
government plan to privatize these essential functions of
the Internet by September 30, 1998.
Also we will be starting a mailing list for those interested
in discussing this and it would be good if a newsgroup would be
created on Usenet about this issue as well. For too long these
issues have been carried out where most people online and off do not
know of what is happening or are being told it isn't
important, or where it is hard for interested people to find a
way to participate.
Please write me at
[log in to unmask] with any comments on the proposal.
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