t byfield on Fri, 7 Mar 2003 03:57:56 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> ccTLDs, WSIS, ITU, ICANN, ETC

the ITU's 'world summit on the information society' (WSIS) prep-process 
is sparking lots of activity that's both very hard to decipher and VERY
important. one of the better statements i've seen is from GLOCOM's adam
peake, who notes, among other things, that:

     For those who don't know how how WSIS works -- everything happens at
     very short notice, situations have to be reacted to immediately, and
     it is very difficult for civil society to respond with the
     transparency and inclusiveness that we would hope. There simply is
     never time. [...]

     I have one major concern. We should be very careful about how we
     raise issues around Internet governance in the WSIS process.  We
     (civil society, private sector, Internet users) have a very weak
     voice in the process.  WSIS is run by the States. Our only
     opportunity to speak, with *no* guarantee of being listened to, is in
     1 or at best 2 10 minute sessions each day. ITU are the secretariat
     of the process and so have a very direct role in drafting text and
     framing arguments for the States to consider [...]

     For example.  I am now in the main plenary hall listening to
     governments discussing action items.  One government (I think it was
     one of the Arab states) just proposed creating a new international
     organization to coordinate ccTLD operations and management and the
     assignment of IP addresses. I have no idea how these issues got on
     their agenda. Anyway, we should be clear: any such organization
     coming out of WSIS would be run by member states. Another government
     seems to have supported this statement. This is not what we want.

     Brazil just used the words, [security comes from] intergovernmental
     governance of the Internet.

     We need to think more about the implications of some of the things
     being suggested.  Let's not be politically naive and understand that
     this is not ICANN, it's a UN process where we have very little power.

his message (here[1]) is part of a larger thread on a NCDNHC/NCUC (non-
commercial constituency of ICANN) mailing list, about the 'prepcom' meet-
ing in geneva. unfortunately, the NCDNHC site (www.ncdnhc.org) is down
or inaccessible, so i can't provide a specific pointer to the list ar-

 [1] http://lists.essential.org/pipermail/random-bits/2003-February/001038.html

as i've said before on this list, my own view is that the activists who 
think the ITU/WSIS process is just another three- or four-letter target 
for generic social-justice demands should be much more sensitive to the
context, for reasons adam outlined and more. the logic of 'multitudes'
may not be representative, but the logic of monolithic organizations (at
best) *is* representative, so it would be a mistake to assume that the
delirious logic of the movement of movements will somehow transform the
ITU into some groovy, polyvocal provisionalism. it won't. one of the most 
'progressive' things the WSIS process can accomplish is to minimize the 
scope of ITU activities. cookie-cutter activist demands will inevitably
put pressure on the ITU to expand its purview -- and provide a pseudo-
legitimating cover for such expansions. this would NOT be a good thing.

but back to specifics: some of the most important activity now relates to
whether ICANN is an acceptable candidate to perform the 'IANA function,'
which includes (among other things) maintaining the canonical list of
country-code TLD data, including nameserver information. ICANN currently
controls this 'function,' but its performance has been miserable; mainly,
it has tried to use the simple act of updating ccTLD records as a lever to
force ccTLDs to submit to a contract with ICANN. as a result, the name-
server records for certain countries have been inaccuarte for months or
even years, because a ccTLD refuses to be pushed around by ICANN. over
time, this has made the ccTLDs supremely mistrustful of ICANN. in light of
recent threats and actions on the part of the US government, the ccTLDs
have been seriously bucking ICANN. this is good, because it suggests that
the much-vaunted 'consensus' structures that have defined key aspects of
the net's development may yet survive efforts to centralize control of 
certain essential services, as it were, and provide a more neutral forum
more resistant to political pressures such as those imposed by proponents
of maximal intellectual property rights.

the US department of commerce (DoC), through the non-obvious agency 
of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is 
trying to 'single-source' the renewal of the contract to perform IANA 
functions, so that ICANN automatically gets it. this has made the 
ccTLDs *very* unhappy. background info and pointers here: 


but with other issues in the air -- for example, the US justice dep-
artment's recent manipulations of DNS records to 'redirect' traffic
on sites maintained by people *accused* of legal infractions, and
the pentagon's contemplation of re-degrading or even blacking out GPS
signals, based on 'wartime' needs -- it isn't hard to understand why
ccTLDs are so very reluctant to leave such a crucial operational role
in the hands of an american quango.

whether the WSIS process is the best context for trying to resolve
these issues is hard to tell. it seems as though the ccTLDS, knowing
that mutiny (say, in the form of a duplicate non-ICANN root) would
be politically dangerous, are using the ITU's WSIS process as a con-
venient cover for more aggressive critiques of ICANN. 

some very solid coverage of these events and issues follows, from _the 



     6 March 2003

   Internet battle lines drawn at extraordinary Geneva meeting

   By Kieren McCarthy

   Posted: 06/03/2003 at 10:20 GMT

   Internet battle lines were drawn at an extraordinary meeting in Geneva
   this week. The non-descript "ccTLD workshop" hosted by the
   International Telecommunication Union on 3-4 March attracted a stellar
   cast including ICANN president Stuart Lynn, ITU secretary general
   Yoshio Utsumi and leading representatives of just about every major
   organisation dealing with the Internet today.

   Why the huge fuss? Because the meeting threatened to turn into a
   caucus where rising resentment against ICANN and its attempt to stamp
   ultimate authority over the Internet could have escalated into
   international agreement and action.

   Many country domain managers are furious at ICANN's constant efforts
   to get them to sign up to a new set of ICANN terms and conditions -
   often under threat of withholding vital services - that would
   effectively hand over control of their domain to the organisation.

   Many do not trust ICANN to use such power correctly and have good
   reason to be concerned considering its previous behaviour with regard
   to the wider Internet community.

   An incredible 63 papers were introduced to the meeting, of which 17
   were either implicitly or openly hostile to ICANN. ICANN retaliated
   with nine papers, most of them written by members of its organisation,
   that supported its position. The remainder were either academic
   studies or simply papers that more accurately fitted the full title of
   the meeting "Workshop on Member States' Experiences with ccTLDs".

   In the end, however, hostilities were tempered by the absence of many
   authors of ICANN-critical papers and the clear lack of consensus among
   those representing country-code domains, often from developing
   countries, who admitted to not understanding the structure behind the
   Internet's overseeing organisation.

   As such, controversial subjects such as ICANN control of the IANA
   function and its assumed authority over domain redelegation
   (essentially its control of the Internet's switchboard) were given
   short shrift and effectively dampened by ICANN representatives. They
   are unlikely to go away and may yet come back to bite the

   Interestingly, for such a significant meeting, it appears there is to
   be no official record of discussions (we explain why at the end of
   this feature). However, all papers[1] contributed are available on the
   Web, as is (at the moment) full audio coverage[2] of the event.

     [1] http://www.itu.int/itudoc/itu-t/workshop/cctld/index.html
     [2] http://www.itu.int/ibs/ITU-T/SG2-ccTLD/index.html

   However, in order to plug this gap, we felt we would provide our own
   report of the event from the perspective of the criticism and defence
   of the current system, alongside an explanation of the history that
   led us to this point. It can all be found below:

   So what the hell was going on, and why?

   To understand the significance of the meeting, you need to understand
   some of the history behind it - which is, in itself, a history of the

   The ITU is the international body set up over 140 years ago by
   countries across the world in order to standardise telegram
   communication. The telegram was a great advance in communication but
   everyone soon realised its use was hugely curtailed if every country
   ran a different, incompatible system.

   The ITU successfully introduced common systems and approaches and
   fast, worldwide communication was born. It then did the same job with
   telephones. And in fact has done the same with just about every bit of
   modern telecommunication, with TV the exception that proves the rule.

   How then is ICANN and not ITU in charge of running the standardising
   side of the Internet? Well, ITU did attempt to set itself up as the
   main Internet body in the early days of the network. It offered a
   complex and fairly expensive solution that would be provided by
   telecoms companies.

   But at the same time, the US government was funding early Internet
   networks with simpler and cheaper equipment and, crucially, insisting
   that the networks were freely available to everyone. The early
   pioneers of the Internet - universities and research labs - seized on
   this simpler, no-strings-attached technology and soon they had easily
   outstripped ITU's plans.

   To this day then, the Internet community remains suspicious of ITU,
   even though it has since produced many of the subsequent standards
   that have contributed hugely to the Internet's success.

   It was this victory that left the US government in effective control
   of the early Internet. Recognising that it could not be expected to
   run a worldwide network, the Department of Commerce set up ICANN, an
   organisation initially tied to it but which it hoped would become an
   international entity to look after the unique needs of the Internet.

   ICANN has achieved the goal of expanding and encouraging the Internet
   but at huge cost to its reputation. Despite its stated aims of open,
   transparent and bottom-up consensus-making in all decisions, few
   independent observers would conclude that it has succeeded in
   fulfilling this brief.

   After huge criticism, ICANN's unsuitability was implicitly recognised
   by its new president, Dr Stuart Lynn, who set about restructuring the
   organisation to keep the ICANN dream alive. Dr Lynn will soon leave as
   head of ICANN and his restructure will come into effect shortly after.

   At the heart of ICANN's restructure however is an effort to extend its
   authority over the Internet in all countries of the world. Only in
   this way, it argues, can the Internet be held together and helped to
   prosper in the future. The problem is that a large segment of the
   Internet community does not trust ICANN or its staff, who have often
   been accused of bullying, obfuscation and obstruction in order to
   further their own aims.

   ICANN has proven itself unwilling to listen to opinions outside its
   own sphere and despite promises that this is all due to change, those
   running Internet domains currently outside ICANN's control are wary of
   giving it ultimate control before they see more open democracy in

   In fact, it is safe to say that ICANN is now viewed with the same
   suspicion that ITU was faced with when its attempts to gain worldwide
   control of the Internet faltered all those years ago.

   To make matters worse, ICANN continually says that creating "global
   policy" is a vital element of its work. This policy element concerns
   itself mostly with the social, economic and cultural aspects of the
   Internet. As such, many would prefer the controlling, technical
   aspects of the Internet be given to a less political body and one that
   has experience in developing international agreement.

   You won't be surprised to hear that the ITU sees itself filling this
   role very easily.

   Right. So what does this have to do with Geneva?

   So, back to this week's meeting, held at ITU headquarters in Geneva.

   The first speaker was the secretary general of the ITU, Mr Yoshio
   Utsumi. "Welcome to Geneva, welcome to the birthplace of the World
   Wide Web," he began. Mr Utsumi gave a brief history of the ITU. Ten
   years after the birth of the telegram, ITU stepped in and standardised
   it, made it work worldwide, he explained. And 10 years after the birth
   of the telephone, ITU stepped in and standardised it, made it work
   worldwide, he continued. "Now we have a so-called Internet, which has
   become, in my opinion, a public utility."

   You do not, by the way, get any points for realising that the Web is
   approximately 10 years old.

   Mr Utsumi complained about the lack of consensus regarding the
   Internet, that ITU was being asked to act but not told what they
   should do. He explained that much of what ITU does is now
   Internet-related. He then finished, got up and left but not before
   inviting everyone to cocktails that evening.

   Next up was the director of the Telecommunication Standardisation
   Bureau (TSB) - the part of ITU that could, for example, easily take
   over all the Internet's underlying architecture - Mr Houlin Zhao.

   Mr Zhao welcomed the president of ICANN and the chairman and
   secretariat of possibly the most important advisory body to ICANN, the
   Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). He said how much ITU supports
   ICANN and how he personally submitted his own paper on ICANN reform
   when it was under consideration two years ago.

   He then explained what appeared to be a misconception. "We have heard
   that people believe if ITU intervenes, it will be the same as
   governments stepping in. But this will not be." If you were to start a
   pitch to the owners of country domains, fearful that governmental
   control was behind your offer, it would probably start similarly to

   Mr Zhao also helped clear up another false belief: "ITU does not want
   to take over ICANN... we would like to assist ICANN." And then: "In my
   opinion, ICANN alone cannot solve all these problems. If it works with
   ITU we can find a new way to support each other."
   Next up was co-chairman of the meeting Dr Willie Black. Dr Black also
   happens to be the head of Nominet (the people behind the .uk register)
   the outgoing head of CENTR (a body of 27 ccTLDs) and a well-known
   critic of ICANN policies. He outlined how the two-day meeting would
   pan out. The second day would be dedicated to those papers with
   "problems", "criticisms" or "issues" with the current system.

   It is perhaps hardly surprising then that when president and CEO of
   ICANN Dr Stuart Lynn took the stage, he sounded nervous, lacking in
   his usual bluster and often stumbling over words. His performance was
   copied shortly after by the secretariat of GAC, Christopher Wilkinson,
   a man with endless experience of addressing crowds.

   The ICANN view

   Mr Lynn began by welcoming the "opportunity for frank and open
   dialogue". He stressed that the most important aspect for the Internet
   now was "stability and security". He then stuck a pin in ITU's claim
   to historical problem-solving. "Unlike the history of telegraphy, from
   the very beginning the Internet community has self-organised and
   self-standardised on its own fundamental protocol, TCP/IP that is used
   today. This defined and still defines the very meaning of the

   TCP/IP incidentally is the system that the US government built the
   Internet from. ITU tried to introduce the more complex OSI stack.

   He then introduced the arguments over why ccTLDs should sign up to
   ICANN's new ultimate control contracts. "No country is, or can be, an
   island of this globally interdependent [system]. A pre-requisite to
   global stability is interoperability, assured through the
   establishment of a framework of mutual accountability."

   My Lynn then outlined the ICANN mantra that it is "open, transparent
   and fully accountable". The enormous criticism that ICANN has come
   under (of which this author is proudly guilty) is dismissed: "Anyone
   can, and indeed does, use the press to amplify their views. That is
   the price we pay for furthering the reality and not just the illusion
   of openness, transparency and full accountability." ICANN acts as an 
   "informed and neutral gatekeeper", it "cannot and does not act 
   arbitrarily, although we are often accused of doing so".

   He then addresses the concerns that ccTLDs have traditionally being
   under-represented (often to the extent of being ignored entirely) in
   ICANN and that it would abuse it new-found power were it to be given
   it. "ICANN recognises the distinct differences between global policies
   and local policies. In my view, in the past ICANN lacked a sufficient
   mechanism for evolving global policy in as far as it affected ccTLDs."

   This will all be water under the bridge with the Lynn-designed
   reorganised ICANN.

   He finishes with a biting comment, and soppy analogy (for which he
   apologised) aimed at Willie Black. "The Internet is a very special
   flower in the garden of the world's communities. One that needs
   continuous and careful watering. ICANN and all of us only play a very
   small part but an important part. We can play our parts wisely in the
   better interests of the global community, handing on a trust to future
   generations. Or further, at the other extreme, we can just further our
   own self-interests, in which case the flower will wither and fade."

   And without the guff?

   Put simply, ICANN is appealing to people's better nature, saying it
   has changed and improved, and will point at criticism and any
   attempted intervention in its big plan as going against the deeply
   ingrained Internet culture of consensus. On the other hand, those who
   stand to lose their independence point out ICANN's appalling record
   and wish to pull in bodies that have a history of trustworthy
   behaviour before handing over control to ICANN. They do not wish (yet)
   to break up or remove ICANN because of the deeply ingrained Internet
   culture of consensus.

   So on with the show

   The rest of the day was interesting but uneventful with regard to this
   article. What was interesting was when the more controversial papers
   were released the next day.

   One of strongest and earliest was titled provocatively "Sovereign
   Domains - A Declaration of Independence of ccTLDs from Foreign
   Control", written by Kim G. von Arx of the Canadian Internet
   Registration Authority and Gregory R. Hagen of the University of

   The paper made extensive use of quotes from the past few years to
   argue its case that the US government exerts too much control over an
   international Internet and highlighted the subtle and not-so-subtle
   threats that ICANN has used to pressure countries to sign up to
   ICANN's authority. It concluded that countries should announce their
   principled opposition to ICANN control of any form and insist upon
   technical independence.

   The paper's forceful tone was lost however since the authors weren't
   there and so only a cursory, almost apologetic, summary was given by
   the meeting's chairmen (a trend that was to continue throughout the
   meeting and was hugely significant in ICANN's favour). A
   representative of the Canadian government stood up to say the paper
   did not represent his country's official views.

   The same situation was repeated when a paper from ICANN director Karl
   Auerbach stated quite clearly that he believed ICANN was acting
   improperly by using the IANA function (the top level of the technical
   side of the Internet) to induce ccTLDs to sign up to ICANN terms and
   conditions. By doing so, ICANN was creating "a direct and significant
   danger to the operational integrity of the Internet". Mr Auerbach, was
   not present, his statement was not read out and an ICANN representative 
   stood up to say that Mr Auerbach's viewed was not shared by the ICANN 

   Next up was Dr Willie Black, who took off his chairman's cap to don
   his Nominet cap and deliver three papers from Nominet, all of which
   argued that ICANN was not suited to running the IANA function, should
   not have the authority to decide who or who does not run a
   country-code domain and should not be entitled to decide whether to
   create any new global top-level domains such as .com or .org. Instead,
   a "treaty based international body" would be preferable to take over
   these roles.

   This was supported. However, an increasingly confident Stuart Lynn put
   ICANN's view across. He argued that people misunderstood what IANA is
   and what it does. He claimed it performs well and many of the
   complained-of delays were due to local problems and not ICANN or IANA.

   It was "nonsense" that there were performance problems, and all
   companies that had gone through redelegation were very satisfied
   (presumably he meant the ones that had won control of the domain).

   Besides, GAC and the new ccTLD ICANN recommendation body - ccNSO -
   would smooth any future problems.

   What could have become a heated debate was tempered however by a
   Kenyan representative who explained that such technical issues were of
   little import to him since his country was concentrating on trying to
   build its basic Internet infrastructure.

   "IANA will become an issue for you in due course," commented Dr Black.

   A paper asking ICANN to work with ITU was briefly introduced with no
   discussion. A paper from the International Chamber of Commerce
   supported ICANN. Again no real discussion.

   Then came a paper from Syria that strongly argued ITU take over the
   technical aspects of the Internet. The reason was simple: the US
   Department of Commerce has final say on any matters with the Internet,
   with ICANN acting as it advisor.

   It was therefore "not acceptable politically" for Syria to sign up
   with ICANN. More forcefully, the representative said for Syria to
   manage its own Internet domain it "does not need the permission of an
   organisation managed by the government of the United States". Instead,
   he argued, the GAC be turned into the policy-making side of ICANN.

   The chairman of GAC said he "fully supported" the statement, but
   pointed out that GAC was only an advisory committee more concerned
   with bridging the "digital divide" that deciding on policy. "At
   present it is not an ideal situation but it is the only one that seems
   to be working".

   The head of CENTR - an organisation representing 27 ccTLDs - Paul Kane
   said that ICANN was largely independent of the US government. And he
   looked forward to a transition to ICANN answering to the US government
   to being truly independent - something in which GAC had a key role to
   play. A representative from Sudan reiterated concerns over the US
   government control and said he hoped the transition would be short.

   This feeling was repeated several times.

   Stuart Lynn again gave a lengthy explanation of ICANN's position in
   which he explained that ICANN had no intention of telling countries
   what to do. This was met with some disagreement. It was argued that
   countries were independent and should not be told how to treat their
   domains. An increased role for both GAC and the ITU was strongly
   argued for. Mr Lynn argued that while the ICANN board has ultimate
   decision-making power, it would seek to resolve any disagreements it
   may have with bodies such as GAC before making a decision.

   And the rest of the meeting

   The meeting continued in the afternoon. Not much of interest happened
   until the meeting was finally coming to a close, at which point a
   summary of all the papers contributed to the meeting became an issue
   of hot debate.

   Some forceful attempts at re-editing were made by Stuart Lynn,
   including, incredibly, the exchange of the word "many" with the word
   "few", to which the author of the paper it related to - Professor
   Geist - took exception.

   Eventually it was decided to drop an executive summary and simply run
   with a simple summary of all papers, approved by their authors.

   Tellingly, requests from the floor for the production of a paper that
   summarised the meeting and the discussions was carefully bypassed by
   both the meeting's chairman and the ICANN contingent.

   It is fair to assume that such a summary would have worked against
   both sides' interests. The organisers' efforts to build a consensus
   against ICANN's continued authority over the technical side of the
   Internet were stymied by the absence of key speakers and indifference
   from smaller countries not literate enough in Internet politics to
   make a judgement.

   Equally, ICANN was unlikely to want an official document carefully
   outlining people's opposition to its policies. "Written documents tend
   to have a live of their own," argued Stuart Lynn. With what many may
   have mistaken for glee, he also noted: "There was no subject that I
   have heard that I could go away from this room and say there was
   consensus." The suggestion that a similar meeting take place in a 
   year's time appeared popular.

   And finally

   And so ended the potentially explosive ITU ccTLD workshop meeting.

   ICANN, highly trained as it is in controlling and leading meetings,
   was prepared and got off fairly easily, but its policy of promising a
   paradise at the end of its seemingly endless path, will not have
   convinced the more experienced hands. They will be disappointed with
   the lacklustre nature of the more combative elements of the meeting,
   especially considering the depth of feeling and well-argued criticism
   of some of ICANN positions.

   It would safe to assume that next time they will be better prepared
   and more willing to argue their point. 

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