April 2000

Welcome to As the CaveBear Growls.

This publication is an occasional newsletter covering topics of interest to the author, generally related to the Internet to a greater or lesser degree.

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My Comments at the Tenth Conference On Computers, Freedom & Privacy
CFP 2000


Hello, I am Karl Auerbach.

I have been involved in the Internet since 1974 and in the issues of Internet Governance for several years.  I have been a founder, principal, or first employee in several Internet related start-up companies.  I have been active in the IETF and was the co-chair of the IETF working group on policies and procedures.

I've been involved with Internet governance since well before there was an ICANN.  I am a co-founder of the Boston Working Group.

I presently do technical research in the Advanced Internet Architectures Group in the Office of the CTO at Cisco Systems.

I am also an attorney licensed to practice in the State of California and before the United States Federal courts.

My opinions are my own; I do not speak for Cisco Systems.  My opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Cisco Systems.

The Talk:

Around the turn of the 20th century, Captain Alfred Mahan of the United States Navy wrote several works on Naval strategy.  He recognized the concept that the world's oceans, although they are huge and spread across the globe, have chokepoints of many kinds through which the controlling nation may exert its will over other nations.  The Internet of today is like Mahan's seas - the Internet has chokepoints where control may be exerted.  ICANN stands astride several of these Internet chokepoints.  But rather than striding across the Internet like a colossus, ICANN slithers like Jabba the Hutt.

I am afraid that we are rushing too quickly to place the Internet under regulation.

From my perspective as a techie, I see the Internet of today as a still primitive system that will undergo considerable future evolution - that is, unless that prospect is foreclosed by premature regulation.

When I recently saw ICANN use an obsolete provision of an Internet standard - a provision about what host names could look like in the teletype and ASCII world of 1970 - to prevent evolution of the net, I realized that the regulatory concrete truck has not only arrived but has begun pouring a thick layer around the Internet.

Unless we realize this and react, I'm afraid that this concrete will soon become as impenetrable as stone.

I have three main fears:

1.     That ICANN will impose misguided, needless, and ill-conceived regulation on the Internet, stifling technical innovation and stagnating economic growth.

2.     That the utter lack of a source of authority for ICANN will be overlooked.

3.     That people will mistake ICANN's faux-democracy for the real thing and copy the ICANN model into future regulatory bodies.

ICANN is a three-legged stool in which two of the legs are imaginary and the third is broken.

ICANN has three areas of authority:

In the 30 years of Internet history there has never been a dispute over a protocol parameter.

A wise king of Spain once said that one should not make laws for things that rarely happen.

There is no need for an ICANN-like body to regulate something that has never happened and is unlikely ever to happen.

ICANN's protocol parameter leg is at best an imaginary appendage; at worst it is a sinecure for technical bodies.

As for DNS:

ICANN is building an immensely complex, expensive, fortress-like gate in the middle of an empty field.

ICANN expects us to pay its tolls and follow its rules as the price of passing through its DNS gate.

The fact of the matter is this - The Domain Name System is merely an elective service.  DNS can be offered by any number of providers and users can pick and chose among those providers.

ICANN fails to realize that any one can, without asking any permission, create a new DNS root free of the burdens, costs, and limitations imposed by ICANN.

Indeed, there are many strong reasons, both economic and otherwise, why people and providers would decide to simply walk around ICANN's big, expensive, and ultimately powerless gate.

A provider that bypasses the ICANN root gains a powerful tool to offer tailored content and to manage expensive traffic flows.

By bypassing the ICANN root, users can gain control of their view of the Internet landscape.  Parents can make entire undesirable parts of the net simply disappear by making them difficult to name.

These factors have created numerous business opportunities for those who realize that they do not have to walk through ICANN's gate to DNS.

Because ICANN's regulation of DNS only extends to those who are blind to the alternatives this leg of ICANN's three legged stool shares much with the cartoon character Wylie Coyote - when he runs off a cliff he hangs there in mid-air until he eventually looks down and realizes his lack of support.

As for the last leg of ICANN's now one-legged stool:

IP addresses do indeed need to be allocated in a rational manner.

However, that is a job that has been done, and continues to be done rather well by the 3 regional address registries.  They were doing it before ICANN was conceived; they could continue to do it if ICANN were to disappear.

Historically, coordination among the regional registries has been performed by the part-time efforts of one person.

There is really no need for a body as heavy and of such Byzantine structure as ICANN to fill a part-time job.

Have you seen ICANN's organizational chart?  I commend it to you as it bears an amazing resemblance to the most egregious of governmental bloated bureaucracies.

I might add that the three regional registries have made it clear that they are uncomfortable with ICANN and that they are ready to bolt and act independently.

So we find ICANN really has no leg at all to support it.

Nor does ICANN have any clear legal foundation for the power it purports to wield - It is my position that ICANN has utterly no legal basis for its power because NTIA, its guardian angel in the United States government, has no such power.   There is no statute of limitations on lack of authority - if in five years there is a judicial declaration of that fact, then ICANN and all acts performed under its hand will come crashing down.

Where would be Internet stability in that case?

It is my belief that ICANN has shown us the road that ought to be avoided.

ICANN's mis-construction of the Internet is, to my mind, a clear danger to the future economic growth and technical innovation of the Internet.

These dangers, when coupled with ICANN's utter and repeated failings to meet even the most rudimentary democratic standards of openness, transparency, and accountability; when coupled with ICANN's clear capture by commercial interests, particularly DNS registrars and trademark interests; when coupled with ICANN's repudiation of the rights of individuals to meaningfully participate in the creation of policies that affect those individuals - all this tells me that ICANN is a body much in need of complete and total reformation and reconstruction.

In the parlance of California real estate, ICANN is "a scraper".

Updated June 20, 2001 12:30:22 AM -0700