US to ICANN and UN: UCANT
7/1/2005 1:59:38 PM, by Charles Jade
On Thursday, Michael Gallagher, an Assistant Secretary of Commerce announced a stunning change in US policy regarding the Internet.
In four short paragraphs, the US has declared it will retain "its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file." The "root zone file," or Domain Name System (DNS), is composed of 13 computers containing the master lists of net suffixes, and is currently managed by private companies under the supervision of the US government. At the same time, the new policy also makes it clear that US will not interfere with country suffixes (ccTLD), as "governments have legitimate public policy and sovereignty concerns with respect to the management of their ccTLD." Finally, the principles state that while the US will maintain ultimate DNS control, the technical, or day to day, operations can continue to be run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Of course until yesterday, it had been assumed that ICANN would eventually take over ultimate control of the DNS.
ICANN was created in 1998, largely at the behest of the US government. The idea then was to foster competition in the domain registration business under ICANN guidance, resulting in a flowering of personal and commercial expression. It worked big time, as there are now more inane and useless websites than anyone back in the 20th century could have dreamed possible. ICANN also began with high hopes (or naive fantasies) regarding a democratization of the web. The board of directors was to include actual Internet users voted on by people who never leave their computers, as well as representatives from countries where most people had never even seen a computer. This failed big time, as ICANN quickly transformed itself into a self-perpetuating bureaucracy with an exploding budget and seeming disdain for the people actually using the Internet. Since then there has been talk of the United Nations becoming involved in some capacity, most likely through the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In fact, world leaders will be gathering in Tunisia shortly to complain bitterly about the recent US decision and attend expensive banquets.
While many will see this decision as another example of appalling US hegemony, the "principles" pretty much spell out what the real deal is.
Given the Internet's importance to the world's economy, it is essential that the underlying DNS of the Internet remain stable and secure.
As far as the US government is concerned, the Internet has become too important to the US economy to give up control. While this may be an unprincipled decision, does anyone really think that the Chinese, or the French, were the positions reversed, would act differently? As to whether countries like China or France will decide to create their own DNS, and thus fracture the Internet in to multiple competing networks, the costs and effort make it seem unlikely.
In short, all your DNS are belong to US.