December 23, 2004

Response to Susan Crawford's Note "Why Internet Governance Is (or Isn't) Like Climate Change"

Recently Susan Crawford in her blog wrote a note entitled "Why Internet Governance Is (or Isn't) Like Climate Change".

That note indirectly suggests the question - "What exactly about the internet is in need of governance?"  (Or, to put it the other way around, "What parts of the internet are those that can't be handled by private enterprise left to operate in a competitive system under the typical legal constraints applicable to businesses in general?")

There is no doubt that ICANN represents an extension of governmental types of powers on a far more broad scope than is justified - ICANN is a poster child of the kind of excessively intrusive, overly expensive, and innovation crushing bureaucracy that has evolved in the half century since the end of WW-II.

And there is justifiable fear that the current WGIG efforts under the auspices of the UN will expand and replicate than kind of regulatory system rather than restrain it.

So Susan's question is well posed.

And I believe the answer to her question is this:  Yes, there are aspects of the internet that require and are amenable to limited forms of governance.

In a note, 'Governing the Internet, A Functional Approach', that I submitted to a meeting at the ITU in early 2004 I advocated the idea of finding specific, concrete, and well defined aspects of the internet that are in need of oversight.

In that paper I discussed the following areas as those that are in need of governance:  (For more detail please see the original paper.)

1.  A system of IP address allocation that meshes well with the IP packet routing systems. (Note: in this paper, I am referring only to unicast IP addresses. There are other forms of IP addresses, such as multicast IP addresses, that are outside the scope of this paper.)

2.  A system of inter-carrier/inter-ISP traffic exchange in which end users can obtain usable assurances that designated traffic flows will achieve specified levels of service. (Note that I am using the word "assurance". I use this word to mean something less than a hard "guarantee.")

3.  A system of allocation of protocol numbers and other similar identifiers.

4.  The responsible and accountable oversight of a suite of Domain Name System (DNS) root servers.

5.  The management of the DNS root zone file, including the clerical task of preparing the root zone file for distribution to the root servers and the task of developing and applying policies to determine which new top-level domains will be allowed entry into the root zone.

Areas 1, 2, and 4 are not are being actively overseen by ICANN.  Item 3 is largely an administrative task performed by ICANN on behalf of the IETF.   And it is debatable whether ICANN is adequately dealing with area 5.

For quite some time it has been my opinion that the way we should approach internet governance is to build small and limited bodies of governance.  Each body would have one, and only one, area of responsibility.  And each would have authority and responsibilities that are shrink-wrapped to precisely what is needed to do the needed task and no more.  In addition, each such body would have a finite lifespan of only a few years; each body would cease to exist unless the community of internet users or community of nations found that body to be useful and appropriate to its designated purpose.

This is an approach that is nearly the opposite of  ICANN's ever changing amoeba-like structures and its amorphous and rapidly ramifying scope of power and authority.  What I am suggesting are several surgically shaped bodies, of fixed scope and authority, subject to taught reins of accountability, that are each imbued with a the minimum degree of discretionary powers needed to accomplish a specific task.

I first published my list of topics that ought to be the initial areas of internet oversight in June of 2002.  Except for the addition of matters concerning the ability of users to obtain cross-ISP service's that list has not grown.  This fact gives me confidence that my list is an appropriate and viable answer to Susan Crawford's question.

Posted by karl at December 23, 2004 12:48 AM