The Internet an International Public Treasure
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The Internet an International Public Treasure: A Proposal by Ronda Hauben

In testimony before the Subcommittee on Basic Research of the Committee on Science of the U.S. Congress on March 31, 1998, Robert Kahn, co-inventor of TCP/IP, indicated the great responsibility that must be taken into account before the U.S. Government changes the administrative oversight, ownership and control of essential aspects of the Internet that are part of what is known as the Domain Name System (DNS) [I].

Kahn indicated that "the governance issue must take into account the needs and desires of others outside the United States to participate." His testimony also indicated a need to maintain "integrity in the Internet architecture including the management of IP addresses and the need for oversight of critical functions." He described how the Internet grew and flourished under U.S. Government stewardship (before privatization - I wish to add) because of two important components.

  1. The U.S. Government funded the necessary research, and

  2. It made sure the networking community had the responsibility for its operation, and insulated it to a very great extent from bureaucratic obstacles and commercial matters so it could evolve dynamically.

He also said that "The relevant U.S. government agencies should remain involved until a workable solution is found and, thereafter retain oversight of the process until and unless an appropriate international oversight mechanism can supplant it."

And Kahn recommended insulating the DNS functions which are critical to the continued operation of the Internet so they could be operated "in such a way as to insulate them as much as possible from bureaucratic, commercial and political wrangling."

When I attended the meeting of the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP) in Geneva in July (a meeting set up by the U.S. Government to create the private organization to take over these essential DNS functions on September 30, 1998), none of the concerns that Kahn raised at this Congressional hearing were indicated as concerns by those rushing to privatize these critical functions of the global Internet. I wrote a report which I circulated about the political and commercial pressures that were operating in the meeting to create the Names Council that I attended (see "Report from the Front: Meeting in Geneva Rushes to Privatize the Internet DNS and Root Server Systems").

The privatization plan of the U.S. Government involves privatization of the functions that coordinate the International aspects of the Internet. The U.S. Government has a very special obligation to the technical and scientific community and to the U.S. public and the people of the world to be responsible in what it does.

I don't see that happening at present.

A few years ago I met one of the important pioneers of the development of time-sharing, which set the basis for the research creating the Internet. This pioneer, Fernando Corbato, suggested I read a book entitled Management and the Future of the Computer edited by Martin Greenberger, another time-sharing pioneer. The book represents the proceedings of a conference about the "Future of the Computer" held at MIT in 1961 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of MIT. The British author Charles Percy Snow delivered the opening address at the conference and he described the importance of government decisions relative to the future of the computer.

Snow cautioned that such decisions must involve those who understood the problems and the technology. And he also expressed the concern that if too small a number of people were involved in making important government decisions, the more likely it would be that serious errors of judgment would be made [II].

Too small a number of people are being involved in this important decision regarding the future of these strategic aspects of the Internet and too many of those who know what is happening and are participating either have conflicts of interest or other reasons why they are not able to consider the real problems and technological issues involved. (About the 1961 conference, see chapter 6 of Netizens at http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120)

What is happening with the U.S. government's plan for privatization of the Domain Name System is exactly the kind of danger that C. P. Snow warned against.

I have been in contact with Ira Magaziner, Senior Advisor to the President for Policy Development, with these concerns. He asked me to write a proposal as a way to put my concerns into some "operational form." The following draft proposal for comment is my initial effort to respond to his request.

The draft proposal for comment follows:

Introduction: Notes

I. I am requesting help circulating this proposal among the Internet community and asking for comments and discussion both on the proposal and on the issues involved with the U.S. government plan to privatize these essential functions of the Internet.

An updated version of this proposal is published at the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

This can be found on http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/domainhome.htm

See in particular

Proposal of Ronda Hauben (English Version)
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/proposals/hauben/hauben.html

and Proposal of Ronda Hauben (French Version)
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/proposals/hauben/hauben-fr.htm

Also we will have a mailing list for those interested in discussing this proposal and it would be good if a newsgroup would be created on Usenet about this issue as well. Write ronda@panix.com. For too long these issues have been carried out where most people online and off do not know of what is happening or are being told it isn't important, or where it is hard for interested people to find a way to participate.

Please write me at ronda@panix.com with any comments on the proposal and post your comments at

dnspolicy@ntia.doc.gov

Comments submitted in electronic form should be in ASCII, WordPerfect (please specify version), or Microsoft Word (please specify version) format and should be included as attachments to the electronic message.

Comments filed electronically at the above address or any other official address will be posted on the Web at
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/proposals/comments/comments.html

II. About the 1961 conference at MIT on the Future of the Computer and Snow's remarks, see chapter 6 of the book Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet (Los Alamitos, Calif.: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1997) and at http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/ netbook/ and at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_8/chapter6/index.html

Draft Proposal
Toward an International Public Administration of Essential
Functions of the Internet - The Domain Name System

Recently, there has been a rush to find a way to change significant aspects of the Internet. The claim is that there is a controversy that must be resolved over the future of the Domain Name System.

It is important to examine this claim and to try to figure out if there is any real problem with the Domain Name System (DNS) that has to be solved.

The Internet is a scientific and technical achievement of great magnitude. Fundamental to its development was the discovery of a new way of looking at computer science [1]. The early developers of the ARPANET, the progenitor of the Internet, viewed the computer as a communication device rather than only as an arithmetic engine. This new view, which came from research conducted by those in academic computer science, made the building of the ARPANET possible [2]. Any changes in the administration of key aspects of the Internet need to be guided by a scientific perspective and principles, not by political or commercial pressures. It is most important to keep in mind that scientific methods are open and cooperative.

As the Internet has developed, it has become international. In spite of this international growth, the systems that allow the Internet to exist are under the administration and control of one nation. These include control over the allocation of domain names and IP addresses, over the assignment of protocol numbers and services, as well as control over the root server system and the protocols and standards development process related to the Internet. These are currently under the control and administration of the U.S. Government or contractors to it.

Instead of the U.S. Government offering a proposal to solve the problem of how to share the administration of the DNS, which includes central points of control of the Internet, it is supporting and encouraging the creation of a new private entity that will take over and control the Domain Name System. This private entity will magnify the commercial and political pressures and prevent the creation of a genuine solution to internationally shared protection and administration of the DNS, including the root server system, IP number allocations, Internet protocols, etc.

Giving these functions over to a private entity will make it possible for these functions to be changed and for the Internet to be broken up into competing root servers, etc. It is the DNS whose key characteristic is to make the network of networks one Internet rather than competing networks with competing root server systems, etc.

What is needed is a way to protect the technology of the Internet from commercial and political pressures, so as to create a means of sharing administration of the key DNS functions and the root server system.

The private organization that the U.S. Government is asking to be formed will not protect the Internet. Essentially, it is encouraging the takeover of the Internet by a private, non-accountable corporate entity with control of key Internet functions.

In light of this situation, it is important to draft a proposal which will help to establish a set of principles and recommendations on how to create an international cooperative collaboration to administer and protect these key functions of the Internet from commercial and political pressures. This draft is offered as a beginning of this process.

The first essential requirement is that the U.S. Government stop the process it is currently involved in, including the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP) whose objective is to create a private organization to be given the key Domain Name System including the root server system by September 30, 1998.

The second essential requirement is that the U.S. Government create a research project or institute (which can be in conjunction with universities, appropriate research institutes, etc.) The goal of this project or institute is to sponsor and carry out research to solve the problem of the future of the DNS and its component parts including the root server system. The U.S. should invite collaboration (including funding, setting up similar research projects, etc.) from any country interested in participating in this research. Researchers from different nations will work collaboratively.

A collaborative international research group will undertake the following:

  1. To identify and describe the functions of the DNS system that need to be maintained. (The RFCs or other documents that will help in this part of the program need to be gathered

  2. To examine how the Internet and then at how the DNS system and root server system is serving the diverse communities and users of the Internet, which include among others the scientific community, the education community, the librarians, the technical community, Governments (National as well as local), the university community, the art and cultural communities, nonprofit organizations, the medical community, the communications functions of the business community, and most importantly the users whoever they be, of the Internet.

  3. To maintain an online means of input into their work including online reporting of all activities. This should include as many of the open processes used in the development of Usenet and the ARPANET as possible, including appropriate Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists, RFCs, etc.

  4. To produce a proposal at the end of a specified period of time. The proposal should include:

    • an accurate history of how the Internet developed and how the Domain Name System developed and why.

    • a discussion of the vision for the future of the Internet that this proposal is part of. This should be based on input from users of the Internet, and from research on the history and development of the Internet.

    • a description of the role of the Domain Name System in the administration and control of the Internet, including how it functions and what kinds of problems have developed with it.

    • a proposal for future administration of the DNS, describing how the proposal will provide for the continuation of functions and control hitherto provided by U.S. Government agencies like NSF and DARPA and their contractors. Also, problems should be clearly identified and proposals created to begin an open process to examine these potential problems and resolving them.

    • a description of the problems and pressures that can be a danger to DNS administration. There should be specific recommendations to protect the DNS administration from succumbing to political or commercial pressures. In the early days of Internet development in the U.S. there was an acceptable use policy (AUP) that protected the Internet and the scientific and technical communities from these sorts of political and commercial pressures. In addition, U.S. government funding of many members of the computer science community protected these people from commercial and political pressures.

    • a way for the proposal to be distributed widely online. There should also be developed a variety of ways for those not online to access the proposal. It should be made available globally to all interested in the future of the Internet, utilizing assistance from international organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union, Internet Society, Internet Engineering Task Force and others.

    • comment on what has been learned from the process of doing collaborative work to create the proposal. It should identify as much as possible the problems that developed in their collaborative efforts. Identifying the problems will help clarify what work needs to be done to solve them.

    • It will be necessary to keep this group of researchers free from commercial and political pressures. Government funding is one possible way with work completed under an agreed upon Acceptable Use Policy [3].

Draft Proposal: Notes

1. See Michael Hauben, "Behind the Net: The Untold Story of the ARPANET and Computer Science", In: Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, Los Alamitos, Calif.: IEEE Computer Science Press, 1997, p. 109 and http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/c h106.x07. See also "Internet, nouvelle utopie humaniste?" by Bernard Lang, Pierre Weis et Véronique Viguié Donzeau-Gouge, Le Monde (October 1, 1997) as it describes how computer science is a new kind of science not well understood by many. The authors write: "L'informatique est tout à la fois une science, une technologie et un ensemble d'outils ... Dans sa pratique actuelle, l'introduction de l'informatique à l'école, et malheureusement souvent à l'université, est critiquable parce qu'elle entretient la confusion entre ces trois composantes."

2. Ibid.

3. An updated copy of this proposal, as well as other related material will be available at http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/other/

Special Note

This proposal is posted as one of three proposals at the U.S. Dept of Commerce Web site at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/domainhome.htm All of the proposals are open to commentary via electronic mail at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration site.

About the Author

Ronda Hauben has her BA from Queens College and her MA from Tufts University. She has taught at Stillman College in Alabama and Wheelock College in Massachusetts. Most recently she taught introductory Unix, e-mail and Internet classes at Columbia University. Part of the online community since 1988, she has helped to pioneer online research, and her work has benefited from the comments and contributions of the online community. In January 1994, some of the work was collected in the online anthology "The Netizens and the Wonderful World of the Net: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet." Articles she has written have appeared in the Amateur Computerist, Linux Journal, Proceedings of the Telecommunities '95, Internet Secrets, README and other publications. She has presented talks to community, university and professional audiences. Her papers have been presented at conferences in Canada and in Ireland, as well as in the USA.
E-mail: ronda@panix.com

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