on Sat, 1 Aug 1998 12:21:39 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> IFWP: A Personal Narrative by Milton Mueller

                  (a fragment)

   IFWP: International Forum on the White Paper - EUROPE
            Geneva, Switzerland - July 24-25, 1998
                 Palexpo Hall 1 - Rooms A, B, C

for the full report see:

By Milton Mueller, Associate Professor, Syracuse University
School of Information Studies.


The ideology of "self-governance" stands at the core of the status
quo, IANA-led faction. They feel that if only the current mechanisms
of Internet administration -- IANA, the regional address registries,
and so on -- can be insulated from such distractions as law, politics,
government regulation, and the profit motive, everything will be fine.
Many of these people still feel that the U.S. NTIA proceeding was an
unwarranted intrusion. Although they recognize that it is futile to
ignore the White Paper process now, they would like to keep the same
system going within the framework of the White Paper.

But the surrounding society just won't go away. Perhaps the most
significant recent encroachment is an antitrust lawsuit against NSI
and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) launched by Paul Garrin's business. See

Garrin is an innovative entrepreneur in New York City who is
attempting to develop a registry system based on an entirely open name
space. Garrin proposes an unlimited number of non-proprietary TLDs and
nondiscriminatory access to the root. His antitrust suit challenges
NSI's refusal to add new TLDs to the name space on competition policy
grounds. It also points out the deleterious impact on free speech of
arbitrary restrictions on the name space.

The lawsuit was the object of a lot of discussion and
concern at the IFWP meeting. During the conference news arrived that
the NSF seemed to be doing a poor job of mounting a defense. People
began to speculate on what a victory would mean. It was
interesting to observe people's reactions to the lawsuit.
NSI representatives, of course, tended toward apoplexy whenever the
subject was raised. Jon Postel literally fled whenever Garrin, who was
present for the IFWP meeting, approached him. Many participants from
the US downplay its chances of success -- not because they feel the
charges are without merit, but because they think that no US Judge
understands the legal, technical and economic implications of opening
up the root sufficiently to feel confident making a decision for the
plaintiff. There seemed to be a whispering campaign to discredit
Garrin's lawsuit as a conspiracy between NSI and some other,
unspecified forces. A French delegate openly denounced the case as a
"fake." The charge infuriated NSI counsel Philip Sbarboro, who not
only has first-hand knowledge of NSI's legal expenses but will have to
contend with treble damages if his client loses. If the Garrin lawsuit
is a conspiracy, it's a hugely expensive and risky one for NSI.

Other interesting reactions: an ITU staff member claimed that a
successful lawsuit would force Magaziner to turn the whole Internet
reorganization over to the ITU. Wishful thinking? You be the judge. An
Australian delegate made a more reasonable speculation that unilateral
action to open the root by a US court would prompt a WTO proceeding.
One could argue, however, that the nondiscriminatory access to the
root advocated by is precisely the kind of free trade in
services that the WTO seeks to promote.

Even if it is not successful, the seriousness of the case and the
lengths to which it has gone demonstrates that privately initiated
litigation in strategic jurisdictions such as the US can play a vital
role in shaping the Internet's institutional framework. Indeed, after
observing the total lack of a substantive consensus in the Workshop on
the authority of the proposed "Names Council," and after contemplating
some of the private deals that were being floated among some of the
contending parties over new gTLDs, I found myself hoping for a Garrin
victory. A court ruling for nondiscriminatory access to the root and
no artificial limits on the name space might generate some confusion
and disrupt the IFWP process in the short term, but it would also cut
the Gordian knot that has stalled the development of the name space
for the past three years.

#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: