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    Highlights of the ICANNWatch Archive
    (June 1999 - March 2001)

    USA Goverment Relations Deja Vu All Over Again?
    posted by michael on Wednesday March 21 2001, @08:41AM

    In Fool Us Once Shame On You - Fool Us Twice Shame On Us: What we Can Learn From the Privitizations Of The Internet Backbone Network and the Domain Name System, two professors argue that the mistakes of DNS privatization were largely foreshadowed by similar mistakes in the earlier US privatization of the backbone network. Both, they say, were characterized by
    • problems with procedural fairness in the processes adopted by the government;
    • problems with the government's management of competition during the privatizations; and
    • problems related to the management of the technological infrastructure.
    They suggest that we in the USA have learned little if anything from the earlier problems with communications network privatizations. They have some suggestions to fix that, including more accountability, and more transparency, for ICANN, and clearer goals for the US government's DNS privatization effort.

    Prof. Jay P. Kesan and Prof. Rajiv C. Shah, both of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign spin a complex tale. Here's a portion of their abstract:
    Scholars have neglected the privatization of the Internet, despite the obvious significance of the U.S. Government turning control over a powerful new communication medium to the private sector. This article provides a detailed historical study on the transition from a government sponsored backbone network to multiple commercially owned backbone networks. Next we document a number of problems that occurred during these privatizations. Not only have these problems led to a lack of competition in the backbone industry, but also the same types of problems are reoccurring in the ongoing privatization of Domain Name System (DNS).

    The three types of problems that occurred in both privatizations, and will likely occur again in future Internet privatizations, unless recognized, can be categorized as follows: problems with procedural fairness in the processes adopted by the government; the government's management of competition during the privatizations; and problems related to the management of the technological infrastructure. In response, we have developed a series of proposals to address existing problems and to prevent these problems from reoccurring in future privatizations.


    To increase competition for the ongoing privatization of the DNS, we have three main proposals. First and most importantly, the U.S. Government must ensure that ICANN is accountable to the Internet community as a whole and not just business interests. Second, the U.S. Government must ensure that there is more transparency and public input into ICANN's decision-making. Finally, it must be remembered that a privatization is a means to achieve desirable public purposes, such as the creation of competition, and not an end all by itself since privatization does not, in and of itself, guarantee competition in the relevant market. Without multiple competing firms, the proper use of interconnection agreements to counter network effects in the DNS, and fair treatment by ICANN, there will continue to be problems with the privatization of the DNS.

    The results of this study provide insights and evidence about the appropriate role of government in regulating the Internet. While most rulemaking on the Internet is conducted in a decentralized "bottom-up" manner, this approach has its limitations. Some of these limitations include the private sector acting as top-down rule makers; the limited mobility of most individuals to switch between different rule sets; the role of network effects; and how "bottom-up" rulemaking could be contrary to our society's values. Similarly, the history of the privatizations demonstrates the problems the government had with their use of "top-down" rulemaking. The overarching lesson is that both "top-down" and "bottom-up" modes of regulations have their limitations and problems.

    Remember, this is only a portion of a summary of a long and thought-provoking, if perhaps sometimes depressing, article.

    So, which is it - 'Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.' or 'History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce'? (And if the latter, where are we on the curve?)

    [To respond, or start a new comment thread, click the "Send Your Comment" button in the yellow box to the right.]

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  • Fool Us Once Shame On You - Fool Us Twice Shame On Us: What we Can Learn From the Privitizations Of The Internet Backbone Network and the Domain Name System
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