Ronda Hauben on Sat, 24 Apr 1999 18:52:58 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> US govt acts without any authority in privatizing Internet's IANA

I thought that those on the Nettime Mailing list would find this
post from the IFWP list and my response of interest:

Subject:  Brook Meeks & Internet Governance: US Government failing the Challenge
Status: R

Jay Fenello <> wrote:


>:Some of the names have changed, 
>:but the story remains the same:

I disagree. The story turns out to be different from what Brook 
Meeks thought.


>     [Early August, 1997]


>Domain Names and the Threat to the Net
>A tale of intrigue, double-dealing and global power struggles
>  by Brock N. Meeks, MSNBC    

>WASHINGTON - This is a tale that has all the intrigue, double-dealing and
>global power struggles of a spy novel. But the plot line is real, with
>nothing less then the fate of the Internet community hanging in the
>balance. Call it the 'Domain Name' factor.

>It starts with a group of self-appointed technocrats, a kind of Internet
>cabal, which operates with no authority of law or formal governance, which
>has simply rushed in to fill the power vacuum on the Internet, which has,
>since inception, operated in a spirit of consensus and community.

The U.S. government's actions to privatize the Internet Names and 
Numbers functions (IANA) is really a different scenario than Brock 
Meeks recognized in his article two years ago. Meeks seemed to 
believe that there were those outside the U.S. government 
who were acting to steal the owership and control of these vital
Internet functions. Instead it seems that a small group of 
those with ties to certain private interests but inside 
the U.S. government have realized that the Internet Names 
and Numbers functions, and protocols which have grown up 
under the scientific process that ARPA made possible, needed a 
safe and protected home to be able to scale and to function.

Instead of welcoming such a public purpose, they took that
as the sign that they could fleece the public in the biggest
heist ever, and grab for a small set of private interests,
these public and cooperative assets and processes that
make it possible for the Internet to function.

Despite the Report of the Office of Inspector General of the 
NSF in February 1997 which pointed out that these assets are
invaluable public assets, created at the expense of millions
of dollars of public funding, and that these public assets
need to be protected by those in the U.S. government,
certain private interests set out to grab control over these
public assets for their own private and self serving interests.

The Internet grew up because there was an effort and a means
of keeping the "vested interests" at bay and protectinig
its development from them.

This plan of privatizing the IANA functions with no concern for the 
public interests or assets nor for most commercial interests
who depend on the Internet as a communciation medium,
is being carried out by the National Telecommunication Information
Administration of the U.S. Dept of Commerce, despite the fact that
they have *no* authority to give away this public property,
and it is in violation of their governmental obligations to only
do what is permitted by law.

When Becky Burr was asked by a U.S. Congressman by what authority
the NTIA was giving away public assets to some unknown private
sector entity, she said that the Dept of Commerce lawyers said they
had the authority.

Then when the NTIA issued a Memorandum of Agreement for a design
and test entity to carry out their illegitimate plan to create
a corporation to privatize the Internet Names and Numbers and 
protocols functions and assets, they listed only the authority
of the NTIA to write contracts, *not* any authority to create
private corporations to give away public assets and functions and 
policy making authority over the Internet to.

There is no legal or constitutional authority for the U.S. government
to be giving away these public assets. And yet public officials
are proceeding as if they make up their own rules as they go
along, rather than that they have any obligation under the law
or constitution. All of the public property and rights are 
thus being put in jeopardy by this activity of the U.S. government,
as government is thus becoming a rule of disdain for the law
and the constitution, rather than having any authority of law
or constitutional authority. The action of the NTIA and those
in the U.S. government who are functioning to support the 
actions of the NTIA show that with regard to actions of the 
U.S. government only those with money and power have any sway
and that the U.S. government will only function at their behest
and to give them whatever they wish despite the lack of any
authority in law or constitutional authority to do so.

So the U.S. government is announcing itself as a "government
of the disdain for law" as a "government of the powerful and 
privileged" and as a means of their fleecing the public of
all their rights and property.

The U.S. government has had a challenge put up to it. The 
challenge is to act via the processes and procedures authorized
by law and by the Constitution which will provide a way
to create a proper form to protect the Internet Names and Numbers
and protocols from the vested interests who want to seize them.

The vested interests are out in force campaigning for their 
own enrichment and against the public interest. Thus far
it seems that the U.S. government has demonstrated its 
incapacity to be able to respect its own obligations and
responsibilities to the public.

This is a serious challenge to the U.S. government and to 
governments around the world. If those public officials who
have any understanding of government and its compact with
the people via a constitution that only allows that which is
provided for to be done are *not* able to act because they
will loose their jobs, and only those public officials who
are willing to do the bidding of those with financial 
interests to pressure them, then this shows the fact that
there is a need for the people to do what is necessary to 
create a government of law and one that is bound by its
compact with the public.
The U.S. government is facing a very serious test. And thus
far it is failing the test in a way that will have very 
serious ramifications for people around the world.

The Internet has been the hope that there could be a fairer
shake for the common folk. And it has held out the promise
that all could have a voice, not just the rich and powerful.
And the U.S. federal district court in Philadelpia in the 
case overturning the Communications Decency Act passed by
the U.S. Congress, and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court,
instructed the U.S. government to protect the ability of
the average people to the important new communications medium
that the Internet has become.

But by the U.S. government's plan to transfer not only
the domain name system, but also the root server system, the IP
numbers and protocols that make it possible to have an 
Internet, to some secret and illegitimate entity that has
been created by behind the scenes maneuvers and power plays,
it is showing the world that only corruption and criminality
rules when it counts in the U.S. And it is announcing to the 
world that only the narrow commercial interests of a few large
corporate entities are being protected by the U.S. government
and that the people's right to participate in having a voice
in Internet development is being abandoned.

This is a great challenge. And thus far those who try to 
stand up to the challenge are penalized, and those who
give into the powerful and the corrupt are rewarded.

So Brock Meeks statement below, 2 years ago, was but an
understatement. It presented a challenge to the U.S .government
and the challenge remains.


Meeks wrote:

>Not since the OPEC oil cartel of 1970s have so few held so many in economic
>bondage. The Internet cabal holds no less power over the global economic
>infrastructure we call cyberspace.

>This cabal intends to control how and when new domain names will be added
>to the current list of .com, .org, .edu, .gov and .mil, and who gets the
>rights to act as a registry of those domain names.


>The group operates from a document, known as the Generic Top Level Domain
>Memorandum of Understanding, produced by 11 self-appointed participants in
>closed-door meetings in Geneva.

>The group set up a U.N.-style international tribunal that operates under
>the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union, which has
>headquarters in Geneva. The group steadfastly contends that the process has
>been `open` from the beginning and that such a document is needed to ensure
>fair competition and stability for the registration of domain names and the

>But the group has garnered no consensus in the Internet community. During a
>two-day meeting on the issue of domain name registry held in Washington
>last week, the veneer of openness and cooperation being spun by the cabal
>began to be stripped away.

>Make no mistake, this process is not about technology, it is all about
>power, said Jay Fenello, president of Iperdome, a small company that is
>vying to compete in the domain name registry business.


>This whole mess started as a result of the troubles Network Solutions Inc.
>had in its role as the sole administer of so-called 'Top Level Domain'
>names, those ending in .com, .edu, .org, etc. NSI operates as a
>government-subsidized monopoly under a contract set to expire next year.

>Anticipating the end of that monopoly, two influential groups decided that
>some plan had to be put in motion to guide the Internet going forward.
>Those two groups are the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, or IANA, and
>the Internet Society, known as ISOC.

>The IANA operates under a loose charter from the U.S. government to act as
>kind of administrator for handing out the blocs of numbers that are tied to
>each formal domain name, such as MSNBC.COM, which are used by "root
>servers" to determine what message goes where. The ISOC is a non-profit,
>scientific, educational and charitable entity, incorporated in 1992 in


>These two groups put together the Internet International Ad Hoc Committee,
>which hunkered down for eight weeks with members of the ITU and World
>Intellectual Property Organization and hammered out the memo of
>understanding, a document that essentially sets up a global governance
>scheme for the future of the Internet.

>That document spawned other organizations, such as the Policy Oversight
>Committee, which is intended to oversee policies outlined in the memo.
>Members of the oversight committee were chosen from those who drafted the
>document. It then fell to the ITU to circulate the memo for signatures from
>its members, which are comprised of sovereign states.

>To date, the memo has garnered more than more than 150 signatories.
>However, those signatories come with a huge caveat: not a single
>government, save Albania, has signed on.

>This process has drawn the ire of virtually everyone outside the small
>cabal of organizations that had a hand in drafting the document. The memo,
>"although without the stature of a treaty because it can be signed by
>parties other than sovereign states, is clearly an intergovernmental
>agreement that possesses significant binding force and effect... as public
>international law," writes Tony Rutkowski, former executive director of ISOC.

>Remember, IANA and ISOC have absolutely no formal authority to proceed with
>this process -- they just decided to "do it." Indeed, when ITU called a
>meeting of signatories and potential signatories of the memo in Geneva
>earlier this year, Secretary of State Madeline Albright sent a secret
>cable, which was leaked to the Internet, to the U.S. mission in Geneva,
>upbraiding the ITU secretary general for calling such a meeting "without
>authorization of the member governments."  She instructed U.S. diplomats to
>"cover" the meeting, but with lower-level staff, so as to not give the
>appearance of U.S. support of the memo.



>The cabal is moving this process forward on a fast track, claiming that
>action must be taken quickly to keep the Internet from folding in on
>itself. This hurry-up stance goes against the entire culture of the
>Internet and is yet another reason why critics claim the memo is simply a
>power grab.

>The moves by this cabal are set on a train wreck course with the U.S.
government.  Currently a government interagency working group is asking the
>Internet community for suggestions on how to handle the domain name issue.
>On July 2, the Commerce Department put a notice in the Federal Register
>seeking comments on how to proceed with the issue. "The Government has not
>endorsed any plan at this time but believes that it is very important to
>reach consensus on these policy issues as soon as possible," the notice says.


>In discussions with dozens of people ranging from industry to government
>officials, a theme I keep hearing is that this structure of global
>governance for the Internet won't stop at domain names.  "The governance
>models that we choose today for the Internet will be the ones that are
>placed on society in the next century," a U.S.  government official told
>me, in what he admittedly called a "messianic" remark. "Sometimes this
>thought keeps me up at night."

>I won't go that far, but I do know that setting up a global body that
>operates on the U.N. model will sound the death knell for an open and
>thriving spirit of innovation and cooperation that has driven the Internet
>to date. Such a governing body, emboldened by a successful domain name
>coup, isn't likely to stop there. They will take on other issues, such as
>content and marketing, in a kind of cyberspace governing mission creep.

>Let's hope that enough people respond to the Commerce Department's notice
>in time for the government to step up and stop the Internet cabal before it
>puts its plan into action.

>Meeks out....

>1997 MSNBC

See also

             Netizens: On the History and Impact
               of Usenet and the Internet

            in print edition ISBN 0-8186-7706-6 

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