November 17, 2004

Further follow-up on ICANN's so-called Strategic Plan

I have had time to dig deeper into ICANN's so-called Strategic Plan.  (See First thoughts on ICANN's so-called "Plan" and Vodoo Economics a la ICANN)

Like ICANN's former CRADA Report this "Strategic Plan" is buzzword-full but content-empty.

If we look into section 1 we find the following:

Section 1a.i: We see that ICANN is doing nothing more than planning to adopt better paper-pushing procedures to better serve the IETF when the IETF needs a number allocated.

Section 1a.ii: It is good that ICANN is thinking about cooperating in the construction of a DNS test bed.  Some of us have been doing this kind of testing for years on our own dime and have been suggesting to ICANN that this would be a good thing to have.  It is only this week that on the NANOG mailing list there has been a discussion of measurements being made privately about the question of routing jitter with regard to anycast roots.  Unfortunately ICANN intends merely to "cooperate" - ICANN is not actually stating an intention to do anything more.  ICANN is not committing to provide staffing, space, or funding for this.  As usual, ICANN is making a promise to do nothing.

Also in Section 1a.ii we see that ICANN is planning on moving the L root server - again.  The first move was described in the CRADA report nearly two years ago and, from my conversations with ICANN, was an expensive move that was fully intended to resolve all the issues that are apparently going to be re-solved.  The term "Brownian motion" - motion for motion's sake - seems appropriate.

In Section 1a.iii ICANN promises to do more reporting.  Given that ICANN has virtually no existing history of doing reporting - Where, for example, is the report on this summer's outage of .org? - any reporting would be an improvement over the status quo.  However, the reporting that is enumerated by this section is nothing more than reports about business related activities rather than the kind of operational information that we need to evaluate how well the internet DNS and IP address systems allocation systems are running and how well ICANN is protecting us against technical instability in those systems.

In section 1a.iv ICANN promises to work harder to maintain the root zone file.  That's nice.  That file has a rate of change on the order of one item changed per day, and that is mainly changes in the NS records for ccTLD name servers.  Verisign has been doing this job for years with only a few (and now quite ancient) problems - ICANN is making a big deal about an issue that has already been solved.

Section 1a.v contains a bold bit of claim jumping.  In that section ICANN asserts that the L root server was "entrusted to ICANN".  That is not true.  The internet community has never "entrusted ICANN" with the operation of the L root server.  The truth is that the L root server was entrusted to IANA, not to ICANN.  ICANN operates the L root server only through ICANN's undertaking of the IANA function under a purchase order from the US National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.  Should ICANN relinquish or lose the IANA function (for example if the IETF transfers that function as part of the IETF's presently ongoing re-organization, then ICANN would have to say "bye bye" to the L root server.

Section 1a.v makes no service level commitments - so just like every other root server operator, ICANN (channeling for IANA) is unwilling to make any concrete service level promises to the internet community.  The most that ICANN-as-IANA promises is to build what amounts to a routinely hardened facility and to chat it up with people in ICANN sponsored committees.  ICANN needs to give enforceable, specific, and verifiable promises about server availability, responsively, and accuracy.  In addition, ICANN/IANA needs to demonstrate a viable, and practiced, suite of disaster contingency plans and demonstrate that it has the human and fiscal resources to draw upon should the need arise.

Section 1b, beginning on page 32, is similarly full of sound and fury that, in the end, signifies nothing.

Section 1b.i is a laugh.  ICANN has from the beginning promised to do these things yet it has never done so except twice.  The first was with regard to internationalized domain names.  The second was in response to Versign's "Sitefinder".  In every other instance, ICANN has passively watched as other actors make decisions.  For example, ICANN allowed the removal of IPv4 information from the root zone, an action that weakens the resilience of DNS during times of stress, without as much as a chirp of concern or even the ability to articulate reasons for its non-concern.

Section 1b.ii is simply a claim to a more expansive role for ICANN.  We have plenty of groups already working on internet security.  Even if ICANN could be a contender in this area it would be simply one more Johhny Come Lately.  But ICANN has demonstrated an amazing incompetence in this area.  For example ICANN has long known that data escrow would help DNS registrars recover from disasters.  Yet ICANN has never bothered to require that registrars engage in good information protection practices.  Given ICANN's general technical incapacities it would not be wise to allow ICANN to expand into yet another realm.  In addition, one has to ask where is the community concensus that drove ICANN to put this idea into its "Strategic Plan"?

Section 1b.iii is a subtle misrepresentation - ICANN counts even vacuous "understandings" to be counted as firm "agreements".  If one actually examines ICANN's existing or proposed "understandings" with root server operators and address registries one sees that they are documents that contain no binding obligations on either side.  These understandings are more akin to papers describing a divorce than ones describing a partnership.  The community of internet users is looking to ICANN for protection against network instability; yet ICANN has, through these understandings, abandoned any role of oversight.

Section 1b.iii also overstates the rate in which even these empty understandings are being entered into.  One would think from the language of ICANN's plan that ccTLDs are anxiously queuing up in long lines to sign ICANN's "pay and obey" ccTLD agreements.  In truth they are not - the rate of ccTLD agreements has been very slow and there is no sign that ICANN has done more than sign up the easy ccTLD pickings.  Not even ICANN's home country, and the country of its founding governmental agency, has bothered to sign ICANN's ccTLD agreement.

As for the Strategic Plan's section 2 - "Competition and Choice" - all I can say is this: Why should ICANN even be engaged in what amounts to legislative activities that regulate business practices, determine property rights, impose judicial mechanisms, and select who among competitors can enter a marketplace?

There are two kinds of words - there are words that simply consume ink and occupy space.  And there are words that communicate concrete ideas, intentions, and promises.  With regard to ICANN's principal role as protector of internet stability ICANN has filled its so-called "Strategic Plan" with the first kind of words.  There is nothing in this plan that says anything that goes beyond vague promises and platitudes.  And to make it more unappetizing, the words that are used are the same tired words and empty phrases that ICANN has been pawning off ever since its inception.

There is one thing that can be said on a positive note: ICANN certainly put a lot of work into creating a pretty document.

Posted by karl at November 17, 2004 11:55 PM