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ICANN Needs a Good Root

It’s not been the best of years for ICANN. Leaving aside for a few seconds the controversy about xxx, and the allegations of improper behavior about the .Net assignment, ICANN has had a lot to deal with.

The troubles began with the UN Working Group on Internet Governance hell bent on fixing ICANN, even though ICANN says nothing is broke. That trouble remains and isn’t likely to go away for some time.

And then, just when it seemed that the UN and ITU was the cause of all ICANN’s problems, the old ally, US Government’s DOC, decided that it was going to be in charge of ICANN. Not only was it not going to release ICANN from its leash in 2006, as had been previously anticipated, but it was going to continue indefinitely its role as regards control of the root zone of the Internet - the sacred zone where countries exist or do not exist, and .mobi gets to be or not to be.

Well, you might say, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know! But the only trouble about a continued relationship with “the devil ICANN knows” is that no-one else wants to play if that’s the case. There is widespread international opposition to continuance of this arrangement.

In a shock announcement that ups the ante considerably CENTR (as reported here) has decided that it doesn’t need the ICANN root anyway, and can just as easily set up its own self-governing root structure.

Now this is not the first of the ICANN faithful to go looking for another root. Alternative roots have been in the ICANN corridors for a long time, and doing quite nicely out of it.

Some of the old pioneers, such as Louis Pouzin, say that having another root (or as many roots as you like) is OK. But not so the likes of Vint Cerf, ICANN Chairman, or Paul Vixie, root-op and ISC head. Definite monogamists this pair - (although Paul, unlike Vint, seems to contemplate whether a different root is OK under some circumstances: he just doesn’t want two or more at the same time).

Meanwhile, a Turkish alternative root is purported to be on the cards to deal more easily with multilingual domain names. Potential puns about cunning linguists aside, we find the alternative root argument being advanced in several quarters where easier ways to deal with multilingual domain names will occur if different roots exist.

The trouble is, this could spread more quickly than peer to peer if the idea catches on. In an article in CircleID, Joi Ito warns of the dangers of ‘the internets” if more than one root exists.

This could be the beginnings of a distinct change where the centralized DNS as we know it gradually gives way to some next generation structure which is far more decentralized. The coming 12 months may see some significant changes in this area.

But one thing is certain - ICANN needs a good root that everyone is happy with if it is to survive. Technical considerations aside, the financial model of ICANN and the existing domain name system is entirely dependent on centralized control. If that goes, and anyone can buy and sell domain names in any unique identifier, then the model collapses. ICANN’s finances are gone, so are those of any registry not nimble enough to create a business based on market opportunity rather than franchised operation.

It’s too early to say whether ICANN will survive or not. Interestingly, it’s not the UN which may bring about its downfall, but the actions of the US Government. But a good root is essential to ICANN’s survival in anything like its current form.

And that pesky UN committee has now released its report [PDF]. Unable to decide what to do about ICANN and its root, it presented four options; not the best starting situation for any attempt by the UN to rescue ICANN from its dilemma.

In the midst of all this, ICANN’s leadership has been polite and silent, as if nothing was happening. Images of the passengers on the Titanic come to mind as the ICANN faithful retreat from the relative safety of their Luxembourg dance floor to their respective quarters….

From www.internetmark2.org July newsletter

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Paul Vixie  –  Jul 17, 2005 7:10 PM

I never said I didn’t want two or more roots at the same time, I just said that DNS isn’t designed for that and that it won’t work. What I want, or what anybody wants, doesn’t enter into it, unless what somebody wants is to design a new DNS-like system that somehow has support for multiple roots. That might even be fun to work on. If you’re interested in funding such work, please get in touch. But beware!! The resulting system will likely NOT be backward compatible with existing DNS data, so before you wire money to such a project, be prepared to build a new Internet naming system from scratch that starts out empty of content.

John Palmer  –  Aug 1, 2005 8:56 PM

It seems that Tiscali, a major ISP, will be using Public-Root on Sep 1, or so it seems:


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