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

    The Big Picture We Should be Overcoming ICANN by Listening to Paul Baran
    posted by michael on Wednesday March 20 2002, @01:30PM

    gordoncook writes "On June 23, 1995 Paul Baran, the inventor of packet networks gave a talk at the MARCONI Centennial Symposium Bologna, Italy. He ended his talk with four paragraphs that seven years later and after almost 4 years of ICANN read like prophecy."


    The Internet provides an instructive model for the future of telecommunications regulations. The Internet allows worldwide communications at a far lower cost than any alternative; serving data users inexpensively, and opening access to the world's information to a greater number of people than ever initially imagined.

    In the Internet, there is no central node, and only a minimal centralized management structure, limited to a few housekeeping functions such as standards setting. Local decisions essentially control the network. The independent pieces of the network operate in a coordinated manner with a minimum of restrictions. This lack of a limiting centralized structure has permitted the Internet to be responsive to a very large unregulated constituency and allowing explosive growth and with increasing usefulness to its users. Probably the closest parallel structure to the Internet is the free market economy. We know that works. Will it work for regulating the radio spectrum?

    The Internet is an organization of users sharing a common resource, as appropriate to the sharing of a common band of frequencies by all comers. The Internet model for regulation would be similar to the data network in which each user follows a simple set of commonly observed rules. Which frequency to use and when, or which form of modulation to use would be left to each user. The Internet model has many of the characteristics of a desired communications regulatory approach for the future.

    Such a direction does require a big evolution in the thinking of the current communications regulatory agencies. The present regulatory mentality tends to think in terms of a centralized control structure, altogether too reminiscent of the old Soviet economy. As we know today, that particular form of centralized system didn't work all that well in practice and, in fact, ultimately broke down. Emphasis with that structure was on limiting distribution, rather than on maximizing the creation of goods and services. Some say that this old highly centralized model of economic control remains alive and well today -- not in Moscow but, rather, within our own radio regulatory agencies.

    Baran foresaw the future. Only three months later ISOC on October 1 1995 issued a plan by which it proposed to take control of domain names.

    There followed the DNS wars: the IAHC, the Green paper, the White paper, NewCo, IFWP and, in October of 1998, ICANN. It was battle royal over the DNS which had become the sole single point of failure for the Internet. Among the key architects of ICANN were Vint Cerf, John Patrick, Mike Roberts, Larry Landweber, Dave Farber and Scott Bradner.

    The ICANN that was created was precisely what Baran had warned against 39 months before. It bore a "regulatory mentality [that] tend[ed] to think in terms of a centralized control structure. Emphasis with that structure was on limiting distribution, rather than on maximizing the creation of goods and services. As we know today, that particular form of centralized system didn't work all that well in practice and, in fact, ultimately broke down."

    On March 18, 2002 David J. Farber, Peter G. Neumann, and Lauren Weinstein issued a manifesto acknowledging the breakdown that Baran had warned against. It began

    "Despite its best efforts, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has proven overall to be a failed experiment in Internet policy development, implementation, and management. ICANN's lack of meaningful representation, and its continuing pattern of drastic and seemingly arbitrary structural and policy changes (among other shortcomings), have created an unstable and suspicion-ridden environment that is detrimental to the interests of the vast majority of Internet users around the world. The resulting overly politicized situation not only threatens the stability of the Internet itself, but also invites drastic and undesirable interventions by a variety of vested interests."
    They concluded:
    "First, as an immediate temporary measure, all Internet policy, operational, and other Internet-related functions currently performed by ICANN should be transferred, as soon as practicable while maintaining continuity, to a different, already existing non-profit organization (or organizations) on a non-permanent, strictly stewardship basis. One potential candidate we would suggest considering for this role would be the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), although there are a range of other possibilities of course. The process to plan and begin a transfer of responsibilities from ICANN should be initiated immediately."

    "Next, we recommend that an intensive, international study be started at once, with a mandate to propose detailed and meaningful paths for the Internet's development, operations, and management."

    "Our third recommended step would be for the results of this study to be carefully considered and, as deemed appropriate, to be implemented. Internet-related functions would be transferred from the temporary stewardship organization(s) to the entities developed from the study results."

    Put quite simply this manifesto shows the authors haven't pondered Paul Baran's prophecy of June 1995. For they are proposing yet again to create a set of central control structures for the Internet where none are needed. And where by their own admission the first Internet administrator offered but a "continuing pattern of drastic and seemingly arbitrary structural and policy changes (among other shortcomings), [that] have created an unstable and suspicion-ridden environment." They now ask for permission to go out and do it all over again.

    They miss, however, the absolutely key point. What they did then and are getting ready to do again by proposing ICANN 2 is shaped by their control oriented view of the world. The phrase that was on many peoples lips including Dave Farber’s in the mid 90s: the Internet may need to have "adult supervision" imposed upon it. ICANN was constructed to do just that. This is the paternalistic concept behind computer networks of the ARPAnet era. An internetwork.... that is to say a network of networks can have no central controller. TCP/IP pushed verifiable end- to-end connectivity into the hands of the users and made it possible to do away with central control. Vint Cerf doesn't understand what he and Kahn did. And now Dave Farber, having been one of the primary builders of the original ICANN, admits that the first effort to bring the Internet under central control has failed. Sadly, like the kid with his finger in the dike trying to hold back the onrush of the North Sea, he proposes yet another study group of elite industry and academic vested-interests to do over again what he and EDUCAUSE and ISOC and IANA tried to do in 1998. The 1998 attempt failed. So will the 2002 attempt. So will the attempt of 2006.

    You cannot adequately grasp what is at stake without an understanding of the end to end architecture of the net. I can't emphasize this too much because I am amazed at my own slowness to grasp these fundamental issues. The 1984 Saltzer, Reed, Clark paper first pointed them out. They have been built on by Larry Lessig and Yochai Benkler. In particular, I recommend the Benkler paper, From Consumers to Users.

    Consider Benkler's statement:

    "Today, as the Internet and the digitally networked environment present us with a new set of regulatory choices, it is important to set our eyes on the right prize. That prize is not the Great Shopping Mall in Cyberspace. That prize is the Great Agora-the unmediated conversation of the many with the many.”
    If you place commerce as the most important priority of the Internet, you are inviting outside regulation. Government may regulate commerce. But it may not regulate speech – the Great Agora. ICANN has been underwritten by the GIP to make the Internet safe for global commerce. While one cannot and should not attempt to ban commerce from the Internet, one can also act to ensure that the Internet is not surrendered to those who wish to use it not for many to many communication but to build a better shopping mall. ICANN is there to empower the Great Shopping Mall in Cyberspace. Any Farber, (PFIR) inspired ICANN progeny will be there to do the same. Deal with it people. PFIR's Overcoming ICANN essay merely proposes that a new group of central architects come together to construct the Really Great Shopping Mall in Cyberspace. ICANN failed because it was built in a darkened smoke filled room. The ICANN for the Really Great Shopping Mall in Cyberspace will try to use open meetings involved in the National Academy process to put window dressing over a structure that will drafted behind the scenes by the very interests who are horrified that something like the Internet could exist without being under their control. If you want the Agora and what Benkler calls users, and you do not want consumers and the shopping mall, stay far away from the Farber, Weinstein, Neuman effort. Removing ICANN is fine. It should indeed be done immediately. But the rest of the prescription is unneeded. The Internet has never been a monolithic unity. There never needed to be an authority to give permission to communicate. Given the many kinds networks that choose to connect to the Internet, it has never been possible to reach from one point every single other point on the Internet. Nevertheless, the Internet still works just fine thank you. The Overcoming ICANN manifesto hints at all manner of sinister disasters waiting to happen. And yes those who favor the total control model, the adult supervision model and the Really Great Shopping Mall have reason to be afraid. Their vision is breaking apart as it should.

    The rest of us have no reason to fear. Not, as long as we wake up, look at what the architecture is telling us and vote with our DNS for the inclusive roots. The "adult" supervisors fooled us once. We now have plenty of evidence not to let them fool us again. Should they do so we would have proven ourselves to be the children they perceive us to be. We must not permit them to replicate their previous errors, but send them back instead to study the wisdom of the inventor of the packets that started it all – Paul Baran.

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    We Should be Overcoming ICANN by Listening to Paul Baran | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 6 comments | Search Discussion
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    Re: We Should be Overcoming ICANN by Listening to
    by Muhhk on Wednesday March 20 2002, @10:40PM (#5453)
    User #3085 Info
    I agree with 99% of the above, but for the idea that there needs to be no control. Someone has to perform the IANA roll of handing out numbers.

    Even looking at the so-called "inclusive roots" there are problems. Either they don't talk to the others (e.g. new.net) or they form an association, which "[seeks] to foster cooperation among TLD holders to advance the cause of building a stable namespace", which, to me, looks a lot like the DNS functions of ICANN.

    It's all a bit like phone numbers. If I dial a number, I want to be sure that *whatever* phone I use, I will get through to the person I want. Ditto physical addresses. The "unique address" is an important attribute for *all* addressing systems. This isn't the model that the various non-USG/ICANN/"offical"/"legacy" roots currently offer.

    I don't like ICANN, but I don't rate the alternatives much either, at the moment.

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