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Why We Need to Find Solutions on Internet Governance As Soon As Possible

Internet Governance is the buzzword, especially over the past couple of years, with debates and negotiations taking place almost with the same intensity and pathos of delicate issues, such as terrorism. But Internet Governance is a delicate issue.

At the beginning, there was the web that made everything better. Suddenly, we could connect as often as we liked, with anyone and everything. Data became a commodity. Life was good and exciting. That was Internet 1.0. But consider Internet 2.0, currently in development. No longer an egalitarian utopia, it has become much like the rest of our society—divided by class, geography, culture, religion and politics. And its growing fragmentation threatens us all—because we will be asked to take sides.

Over the past couple of years, governments around the world gathered twice to discuss the issue of how and in what shape we should govern the chaotic sphere of the Internet. What became obvious in those meetings was that before deciding on the rules and principles that should shape the future of the Internet, there is another hurdle that we need to resolve: how to convince the Americas to give up control of this information highway.

And, suddenly, it seemed like our problems were solved when we read on the news that the “United States cedes control of the Internet”. In a meeting the US Government conceded that it can no longer expect to maintain its position as the ultimate authority over the Internet. So far so good. However, a statement from assistance commerce secretary, John Kneuer, came to complicate things once again. He made clear that the US was still determined to keep control of the Internet’s root zone file (“A” Root)—at least in the medium term. Therefore, literally, we can not actually be talking for a real transition. And with ICANN’s contract renewed until 2011, it is rather debatable whether the Americas will really give up the control that they currently possess.

But apart from any short-term implications that such confusion might create, the long-term effects seem to be even more disturbing. If Internet 2.0 is just around the corner, then we are facing the likelihood that the rationale behind the Internet will collapse. As Governments around the world will be fighting over political and economical issues, users will be the ones to be heavily influenced by such a scenario. We have learned all these years that the Internet is easy, simple, fast, and therefore the appropriate medium of this century. However, this will change. With 2 different versions of the same thing, users will be asked to make a choice as to who they want to follow. We will be asked to take sides. Because the creation of Internet 2.0 will be a reaction to the currently US-dominated Internet 1.0. But, I don’t want to choose. Why should I have to choose? To me, the Internet is not property of anyone. To me, the Internet does not have a political agenda. To me, the Internet is not based on religious premises. To me, the Internet is an encyclopaedia, a radio, an mp3 player, a television set, a playground, my travel’s agent, my eyes and ears around the world. Internet 2.0 might provide all that and perhaps even more. Maybe not though. Who knows? No one. But the question is who is willing to take the chances…certainly not me.

By Konstantinos Komaitis, Senior Director, Policy Development and Implementation, Internet Society

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ISOC or its position.

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John Berryhill  –  Aug 29, 2006 3:35 PM

After we tackle the problem of how to govern “the internet”, we really should decide whom we should put in control of the weather.

Ram Mohan  –  Aug 29, 2006 4:33 PM

Funny how the “US controlled Internet” is also simulataneously “global”, “democratic”, “chaotic”, “uncontrolled” and has helped spawn thousands of jobs, billions of new revenues, and thousands of new businesses.

94% of people I speak with talk about the “Internet” and really mean the “Web”.  (5% have no clue what they are talking about).

You would think, listening to the debates, that the Internet is “possessed” by the US government.

But—really, we’re talking about control of the root zone.

Or should I go to the newly demoted Pluto and look for signs of intelligent life there?

The Famous Brett Watson  –  Aug 29, 2006 10:56 PM

Konstantinos, I am going to criticise your article here, hopefully in a way that you will find constructive.

On a first reading, there are two obvious problems with this article. One is that it’s overburdened with unnecessary buzzwords. In particular, the use of “Internet 2.0” isn’t going to fly with a technical audience: it’s pseudo-jargon, devoid of meaning. The second is that the article fails to deliver what its title promises: a reason why we need to find solutions to the problem of Internet governance as soon as possible.

On a more careful reading, your article seems to make some valid points. There is a clear tension between the US government ceding “control of the Internet” while maintaining unilateral control of the DNS root zone, which is basically the bone of contention. It’s not entirely clear where you are going with this train of thought, however.

My best guess is that your “Internet 2.0” theme refers to a scenario in which DNS fragmentation has reached a point where naming inconsistency is commonplace. That’s what I glean from the following extract, in any case.

With 2 different versions of the same thing, users will be asked to make a choice as to who they want to follow. We will be asked to take sides. Because the creation of Internet 2.0 will be a reaction to the currently US-dominated Internet 1.0.

What I really don’t understand about this is the nature of the choice you think users will have to make. I can understand that the tight US grip on the DNS root will foster dissent, and potentially invite local authorities to break from it to one degree or another (as has already happened, variously), but the rank and file users of the Internet won’t make any choices at all. The vast majority don’t even know what the DNS is, let alone the politics or technology behind it.

The article’s conclusion is vague: what message did you want to leave with me? Some of what you say suggests that it would be nice if the Internet just worked, apolitically, like an appliance. I agree with the sentiment, but those aren’t the working parameters we have, and you don’t suggest any course of action which can make it so.

I come away from the article without a clear idea of its point. If I were to summarise it, I’d say, “this article expresses angst over the probable fragmentation of the DNS root that will result if the US continues to disenfranchise the rest of the world in relation to it, but does not clarify the issues or contribute novel thoughts.”

Ram Mohan  –  Aug 29, 2006 11:40 PM

Patient and on-the-money criticism.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Aug 30, 2006 12:55 AM

What you said was correct too, Ram .. [and well said, Brett]

A lot of the criticism that is floating around the wgig is due to a complete misunderstanding of the way the root servers work and are run. 

Some valid concerns do exist that make countries run an alternate root for a limited number of cases (IDN’d domains in their local languages, etc) but the vast majority of concerns are over control of the root servers - and these concerns are heavily overstated.

Konstantinos Komaitis  –  Aug 30, 2006 12:36 PM

To the defense of this article, I have to clarify that its main thesis has been that if we are already facing problems with no solutions with Internet 1.0, with Internet 2.0 (I am not technical but I can understand that basically it refers to a supposed second-generation of Internet-based services that let people collaborate and share information online in perceived new ways ) these problems and questions will only multiply.
For example, who will pay? How will pay? Who gets to govern and who decides what information can be suppressed? Even if the US House Energy and Commerce Committee defeated a proposal to maintain Net neutrality in late April, the EU has send warning signals to telecoms letting them know that it won’t stand for any moves that create an unequal playing field for new digital players. As countries push for more local-language domain names, tricky political questions are emerging. Who has rights to the Chinese-language version of .cn - China or Taiwan. Who gets first dibs on names in Farsi characthers - the Iranians or the Afghans? Mainly, who gets to decide about these issues?
Currently, it is ICANN and the US Government. If we have two version of the Internet can anyone guarantee consistency?
The Balkanization of the Internet could well undermine all our livelihoods. The unprecedented global wealth creation of the past 15 years has happened in large part because the Internet has helped us reach across borders.

Ram Mohan  –  Aug 30, 2006 10:00 PM

So net neutrality will get better if some noble non-US Govt entity controls the root?

Content censorship is the fault of US Govt control of the root?

Serious confusion of cause and effect, and conflation of unrelated issues.

The article, now that it is defended by comment #6 above, has lost the last faint hope of lucidity and credibiility.

Ram Mohan  –  Aug 30, 2006 10:02 PM

and, as far as I know, neither Internet 1.0 nor Internet 2.0 ever got released or ever existed.

at best, we’re at Internet beta.

The Famous Brett Watson  –  Aug 31, 2006 2:25 AM

Konstantinos, it’s now clear that what you mean by “Internet 2.0” is “Web 2.0”. I had an inkling that you meant this, but steered away from that interpretation earlier on the grounds that I couldn’t fathom what possible relevance it had. I still can’t, unless you buy into the hype associated with it: namely, that Web 2.0 is the new Internet Money Tree that will sprout a fresh crop of dot-com millionaires, and that the Internet governance brouhaha is liable to kill it before it bears fruit. I gladly defer to Tim Berners Lee on this issue: he claims that “Web 2.0” is useless jargon nobody can explain.

Also, if (in this forum, at least) you are going to make the-sky-is-falling claims like, “the Balkanization of the Internet could well undermine all our livelihoods,” you really need to back it up with an argument, not a swarm of buzzwords and an alarmist tone.

Konstantinos Komaitis  –  Aug 31, 2006 10:24 AM

With all do respect to Mr. Ram Mohan, if the article has lost any of its credibility, similarly your comments certaintly do not help…and I am seeing it from a legal point of view unlike you that you only see it from a business point of view. However, your criticism is definitely not contstractive. There is an issue with who is controlling the Root and subsequently its content - even if you think that things right now are just fine.

Ram Mohan  –  Aug 31, 2006 1:42 PM

Mr. Komaitis,

“...your criticism is definitely not contstractive”(sic)

I’m sorry you take offense to the criticism (which is aimed at the article and definitely not at you).  The article conflates unrelated topics such as Net Neutrality and Content Censorship with root zone control.

..“and I am seeing it from a legal point of view”

Could you provide background on the legal point of view for how “Internet 2.0” is now divided, for example, by religion (as stated in your article).

“...we are facing the likelihood that the rationale behind the Internet will collapse”

This seems like an alarm without adequate support. As a reader, it would have been interesting to understand your perspective on the “rationale behind the Internet”. If you make bald statements like these (or several others peppered through the article and comments), you should expect sharper criticism rather than soft advice.

“There is an issue with who is controlling the Root and subsequently its content - even if you think that things right now are just fine.”

This is not about whether I think things are fine now or not. My comments are reserved exclusively for the points made in your article. Yes, there is an issue about control of the root, and it has side effects (such as on IDNs, etc). But, sadly, most of the issues your article and your subsequent comments raise will remain regardless of who controls the root zone.

The article appears to mix issues that are quite distinct, regardless of the legal, business, technical or other point of view.

Dhaval Doshi  –  Sep 1, 2006 9:31 AM

The intention to read this post @ CircleID was to get an insight into the industry and especially it’s governance. The very purpose of CircleID is not what I can read here…

Intellectuals? You guys? Really?

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