Vint Cerf Replies to (most of) Your Questions
Date: Thursday April 19 2001, @03:12AM
Topic: Board of Directors

It took a while, but I finally nagged ICANN Board Chair Vint Cerf into taking time out from his travels to sit down and reply to questions selected from those submitted by ICANNWatch readers. You can read our earlier discussion thread concerning what questions to pose here with more here; and you can see the perhaps too-long list of questions I sent Dr. Cerf. "I had time to answer some, but not all," he writes. Recall, as you read this, that these questions were posed a several weeks ago - a few things have changed since then.

Dr. Cerf's answers, unedited in any way other than formatting, are inside.

General Issues

1. Technical coordination?

from tbyfield:
ICANN describes itself as a "technical coordination body"; it has now been operating for close to two and a half years. In that time, what has ICANN accomplished that is actually technical? And -- out of the total human-hours ICANN's staff, officers, and board of directors have expended thus far -- please give a rough guesstimate of the percentage occupied by enacting those technical accomplishments.

Ans:
My interpretation is that ICANN exercises its responsibilities in a technical framework - that is, its decisions are guided by the standards of the Internet, specifically those related to the Domain Name System and recommended Internet Address allocation practices. Most of ICANN's work is aimed at assuring that agreements it reaches with address and domain name registries and registrars are consonant with technical standards. In the course of striking these agreements, many other issues of practice and procedure have to be documented as well, but the core purpose of the work is to assure that these practices and procedures are consistent with the technical recommendations of the IETF and IAB and the recommendations of ICANN's supporting organizations.

All of the IANA activity is essentially technical and it is instructive to read agreements with registries, for instance, to find how much is technical specification. See http://www.icann.org/tlds/agreements/verisign/ as an example.

To the extent that consensus development is largely about technical policy, that, too is a technical activity. The one area that isn't purely technical has to do with the development of funding models and agreements for their implementation. Of course, the end-result, funding, is used to support ICANN's technical coordination role, as is outlined in the founding White Paper (which is worth referencing if you've not had an opportunity to read it).

2. Consensus?

from DavidP:
I would very much like to know what 'consensus' means in ICANN's terminology. Is ICANN seriously attempting to 'govern by consensus'? There's lots of talk to that effect, but really -- is ICANN trying to develop consensus about, say, the Verisign deal? How can that possibly happen in the 10 days or so before the ICANN meeting in Melbourne? In general, do you think that ICANN gives anywhere near enough time for consensus to be devoloped on important policy questions, and, if not, shouldn't we conclude that it is not serious about the consensus model?

Ans:
Based on the very helpful inputs from interested constituents at the public meetings of ICANN and through email exchanges with its supporting organizations, the VeriSign/ICANN agreements underwent some significant changes. In my view, that represents a practical exercise in adapting agreements to comport with consensus. Because consensus is not necessarily unanimity, there can always be disagreement about the degree of consensus reached. I believe ICANN staff and board are working diligently and with good faith towards community consensus on practices and polices.

3. Role of Supporting Organizations?

from lextext:
What are the proper roles for the Supporting Organizations in creating policy, the Board in recognizing consensus policies, and the Staff in implementing those policies? At what point does an implementation detail become a policy issue that itself should be referred back to the relevant Supporting Organization for review or approval?

Ans:
There can be varying views as to what is policy versus something that is an implementation detail and I'm not sure one can establish very simple definitions. The Board has the responsibility for determining what is policy, in its best judgment and conveying that to ICANN staff. The Board has sought and continues to seek input from the appropriate ICANN supporting organizations when matters it considers to be policy-related arise. Ultimately, the Board has fiduciary responsibility to ICANN and to the community for establishing policy. The Board has followed DNSO recommendations on all policies discussed (such as UDRP and the scale of new TLD authorizations) for example. With time and effort, I hope that ICANN policies will be well-enough defined and documented that the Board will not be required to determine policy very often and that the staff of ICANN will have sufficient policy guidance to be able to implement the policies without uncertainty. That will take the concerted efforts of all the support organizations and the board.

4. Overhaul DNS?

from singe:
I may be painfully stupid, but it seems to me that DNS itself needs an overhaul. hostname.domain.TLD is just not human enough for the needs of the general populace. Why not invest all this time, effort and money in coming up with a truly novel "proof of concept," i.e. natural language addressing on the Internet. There have been some feeble stabs at it by various search engines and directories, but for it to really work would take the kind of orchestrated research effort that a body like ICANN could sponsor and help along. Wouldn't the Internet be a lot better off without the squabbling over gTLDs and trademarks and the like, and with the ability for the user to type "The Wall Street Journal" or "Grameen Bank" or "Yahoo!" into their browser and get a web page in return?

ans:
I am a strong proponent of exploring new directory-oriented ways of finding information in the Internet. I would also recommend review of the presentation made by IAB Chairman, John Klensin, citing some of the very difficult technical challenges posed by trying to adapt the DNS to work with internationalized domain names. DNS identifiers are NOT intended to be "language" but they are interpreted that way and in some sense, that is part of the problem. The indirect addressing aspect of DNS has been a very important feature of Internet's architecture so something like it is almost certainly still going to be necessary to provide that feature.

VeriSign Contract

5. Amendments?

from Jon_Weinberg:
ICANN staff have repeatedly indicated that no amendments to the proposed Verisign contracts are possible. In fact, though, when the last set of contracts between ICANN and NSI were adopted, in November 1999, they were changed in response to public comment. Why are the new contracts inviolate?

Ans:
As should be clear by now, though staff had no reason to believe that there could be further compromise, it proved possible to make a few more amendments to the proposed agreements, as suggested by inputs from the ICANN supporting organizations. There were no guarantees, however, that such changes could be agreed. In negotiations with VeriSign leading up to the draft proposals debated and ultimately approved by the Board, VeriSign indicated that no further changes were possible and that was the origin of the observation made by ICANN to that effect.

from Jon_Weinberg:
Along the same lines, you have stated that it would be impossible to negotiate an extension to the current May 2001 divestiture deadline to allow the Internet community to comment on these contracts on a reasonable timeframe. Is that because Verisign would not agree to such an extension?

Verisign states (in Stratton Sclavos's 2/28/01 letter) that you have committed, if the Board does not accept the proposed contracts, to "seek formal Board approval for an appropriate extension of the [divestiture deadline] under the existing agreement." If Verisign will be seeking an extension of the deadline if the proposal is rejected, why should ICANN not seek an extension of the deadline so as to decide?

Ans:
My understanding of Sclavos' language was that it was to protect VeriSign's ability to complete divestiture in the event that deliberations on the proposed alternative encroached on the time available to complete divestiture should there not be an agreement on the alternative. Of course, there was no guarantee that the Board and DOC would agree to such an extension but it seemed fair to agree to request it if it were needed in the event agreement on the proposed alternative were not reached and the original conditions put into jeopardy as a consequence of a good faith effort to explore an alternative.

New TLDs

6. What Concept is Being Proved?

from tbyfield :
If the introduction of new TLDs is a "proof of concept," what concept is being proven?

ans:
essentially that it is possible to introduce new top-level domains in the DNS at a time when the economic importance/value of domains is very different from the time when the first gTLDs were created, without serious disruption in Internet operation. Concerns over who has the ability to register names in new TLDs continue to occupy the attention of registrants, registrars, registries and ICANN for example. In fact, there are many different concepts to be evaluated, and they differ for the various new TLDs. There is an Appendix (U) in each gTLD agreement that will enumerate the concepts on which each operator must periodically report. In my honest opinion, we are all still learning what it means to operate TLDs in the rapidly evolving commercial context of today's (and tomorrow's) Internet.

7. Contractual Control?

from lextext:
The proposed "unsponsored TLD agreements" recently posted by ICANN staff bind the new TLD registries in detail, on matters including the UDRP; a "sunrise" preference for trademark holders (with a detailed dispute resolution process of its own); fees levied by ICANN; fees paid by registrants; the registry-registrar relationship; functional and performance specifications for registry services; bulk access to zone files; whois (with ICANN control over availability, data elements, response format, query types, etc.); extensive reporting requirements; and much, much more. This regulatory regime is quite different from anything historically imposed by IANA. (Indeed, it's quite different from anything in the ICANN-ccTLD relationship today; a majority of the ccTLDs don't even run whois.) Is this sort of centralized control consistent with your vision of ICANN as a body restricted to "technical coordination"?

[Ans:]
First, I would observe that in the IANA period, most if not all of the DNS activity was non-commercial. Volunteers operated the registries. In today's world things are markedly different and call for clearer definitions of many of these details. The whole process of commercialization has significantly changed the conditions under which Internet and its various parts operate. Companies are depending on ICANN to help formulate a framework in which they will operate and interact and ICANN is seeking to make that framework as fair and uniform as possible. Actually a number of issues of operational character used to come up in the IANA context but they were dealt with one at a time by IANA and written policies were relatively high level in nature.

8. Pioneer Registries?

from Anonymous:
What about the pioneer registries? Is it possible to find a formula that will bring these non-ICANN TLDs into the ICANN framework?

Ans:
I don't know whether that is possible. In some sense they were created entirely outside the IANA, and now ICANN, framework and it isn't clear how to incorporate them - especially if there are conflicts among registries offering the same TLD. It seems to me that the only thing ICANN can do is set forth the consensus rules by which new registries are formed and integrated into the ICANN-sponsored root system. Registries that operate outside that structure are simply outside the structure.

9. ORSC Root?

from Anonymous:
Have you used the ORSC DNS settings, and experienced the rest of the internet?

Ans:
No I haven't

Membership

10. Why question at-large?

from alexander:
Dear Vint Cerf, before the At Large elections, (not only) the Membership Advisory Committee (MAC) has been working on recommendations to the Board about the concept of At Large membership. E.g. in the MAC Singapore Report it stated MAC consensus on the purpose of the at-large membership: "To ensure representation on the ICANN board of directors of those individual and organizational users that are not already represented by the Supporting Organizations."

Now, there is a post-election study questioning the whole At Large structure. (By the way, the anonymized election data has not yet been released by ICANN. There are obviously ways of anonymizing the election data without restricting it to simple aggregates or pre-election data.) Why do you (or do you at all) see the need to study this part of the ICANN structure -- and not others? E.g. the DNSO review is taking place because there is a widespread perception, even within the DNSO, that the structure is not working too well. What do you think is wrong or broken when it comes to Internet user participation on the ICANN Board? Best regards, - Alexander

ans:
What the White Paper said (and I believe that the MAC was generally along the same lines) is that there should be representation of Internet users. This is not the same as direct elections; there are many ways to promote representation. And the ALSC is looking at all the alternatives, since the online election uncovered a number of problems. Holding global elections is an extraordinary task for any organization, especially if the scale is measured in millions of potential participants. ICANN is a small organization with a constrained charter and it is not clear whether global elections are the only or even best way to gain useful access to the views and concerns of the Internet's users.

I'm looking forward to hearing what the At-Large Study Committee reports on these and the many other questions on its agenda.

11. Personal support?

from Anonymous:
You have stated repeatedly that "The net is for everyone". That is an admirable concept. But, as we all know, the devil is in the details. Suppose that the "clean sheet" study committee recommends the elimination of direct elections for the At Large seats, or even the elimination of some or all of the At Large seats. 1. Would you personally be willing to support the elimination of direct elections? 2. Would you personally be willing to support the elimination of some or all of the At Large seats on the Board? 3. If democratic elections were to be eliminated, how do you propose to involve the users of the Internet in ICANN's decision making process?

Ans:
This is an area of great interest to me, but I don't have any strongly held views yet and I'm eager to hear what the study committee recommends or at least reports.

And finally....

12. ICANN's errors?

from tbyfield:
What are the three biggest mistakes ICANN has made to date? Why and how were they mistakes?

[no answer]

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Scrivener's Error
by lextext on Thursday April 19 2001, @04:46AM (#544)
User #6 Info | http://www.lextext.com
Just to be clear, Question 7 (a very good question, by the way) was not sent by me, to whom it is attributed, but by Jon_Weinberg. -- Bret
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Re: Vint Cerf Replies to (most of) Your Questions
by cambler (chris@ambler.net) on Thursday April 19 2001, @04:48AM (#545)
User #36 Info | http://onthenet.ambler.net/
from Anonymous: What about the pioneer registries? Is it possible to find a formula that will bring these non-ICANN TLDs into the ICANN framework?
Ans: I don't know whether that is possible. In some sense they were created entirely outside the IANA, and now ICANN, framework and it isn't clear how to incorporate them - especially if there are conflicts among registries offering the same TLD. It seems to me that the only thing ICANN can do is set forth the consensus rules by which new registries are formed and integrated into the ICANN-sponsored root system. Registries that operate outside that structure are simply outside the structure.

Except... Image Online Design has never gone outside of the IANA process, has been involved with it since 1995, the only conflicts with the name were from last-minute applications by entrenched participants, and they still didn't get the string, at Dr. Cerf's own objections. I don't see any of these points relating to Image Online Design and .Web.

--
Ambler On The Net [ambler.net]

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