The debate over an ENUM "golden tree" matches exactly the debate over competing roots in the DNS. Most of the US telephone industry, including Neustar, administrator of the North American Numbering Plan, would like to establish the e164.arpa domain as the "single, authoritative root" of the new ENUM service. A significant minority of the industry, however, would prefer to retain the freedom to utilize different domains for their ENUM databases. Just like their counterparts in the DNS wars the mavericks, led by Verisign and Netnumber, fear that the official, government-sanctioned enum implementation will be too slow or too restrictive, or that it its choice of a monopoly registry will exclude them from a significant part of the market.
It is instructive to compare the results of this debate in the two arenas.
In the ENUM arena, the US government worked hard to find real consensus among the different parties. Although it was clear that the advocates of competing roots were outnumbered, their concerns were not shoved aside. They were not outvoted and told to shut up, nor were they pilloried by the government officials as being pirates or disruptive profiteers threatening the stability of the Internet. The officials listened to the dissenters and modified their position to try to accommodate everyone's concerns. The final position was a true product of "consensus" - i.e., it was acceptable to all parties.
The US position now reads, "[P]ursuing a coordinated, global DNS domain for ENUM may provide opportunity for both industry and consumers and, therefore, may have merit. At the same time, the implementation of such a system must neither preclude deployments of ENUM and other similar protocols in any other top level DNS domain, nor restrict the development of other innovative services that may serve as competing ENUM alternatives."
The statement goes on to say that "In addition, we note that the promotion of interworking between different approaches and systems should be an ongoing pursuit." In other words, once different roots are established, the industry is being encouraged to find methods of making them interoperable.
Now contrast this result with the outcome of the same debate in the ICANN arena.
Within ICANN, the emergence of New.net and some initial steps toward creating a DNSO working group exploring the policy issues of multiple roots sent ICANN's management and many members of DNSO business constituencies into a hysterical frenzy. In late May, ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn initiated a public relations barrage attacking alternate roots. He unilaterally issued a policy statement that completely bypassed the DNSO and pre-empted nascent Names Council discussions. Lynn declared that it was already settled ICANN policy that alternate roots were evil and should never be recognized by or made interoperable with the authoritative root. At the Stockholm meeting, New.net was publicly pilloried at the Business-Commercial and ISP constituency meetings and at the Board's public forum. A long queue of Internet old-timers lined up at the microphone to vie with each other in crafting eloquent put-downs of the motives and effects of competition at the root level. Worse, during the summer there were behind-the-scenes efforts to get the Federal Trade Commission to make "unauthorized top-level domains" illegal.
What's most depressing about the ICANN response is that ICANN as an institution was unable even to follow its own procedures to come up with a policy. Unlike the ENUM debate, which was moderated by adults, in ICANN there was no attempt to engage in structured discourse about the problem or to find common ground.
The policy precedent set by the US position on ENUM is an important one. Instead of burying their head in the sand and delcaring that the broadly accepted e164.arpa domain was "the one true, authoritative root," it gave the industry the flexibility to pursue different paths. The e164.arpa domain will become authoritative if....it becomes authoritative. And the policy recognizes that if competing roots develop, promoting consumer benefit and competition will require efforts to establish interoperability among them. Interesting that such a high-level industry forum doesn't seem to agree with RFC 2826 that competing roots cannot be made compatible.
This "tale of two policies" makes it clear that ICANN is run by unaccountable amateurs.