Wednesday, November 16, 2005
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So much for the WSIS running the Internet
Negotiators from more than 100 countries agreed late Tuesday to leave the United States in charge of the Internet's addressing system, averting a U.S.-EU showdown at this week's U.N. technology summit.Of course, a second AP report suggests that things aren't completely hunky-dory among the WSIS participants:
Publicly, officials were positive on the agreement, noting that it brought together government, business and civil leaders to work out issues surrounding Internet governance.Should the EU really feel like it achieved something? Simon Taylor provides some details of the agreement:
The current system where ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is responsible for day-to-day management decisions concerning the internet will remain in place, Selmayr said.Consultation is a pretty thin reed to claim victory -- but I suppose for the EU its better than nothing.
That last bolded part offers the first instrumental motivation for the EU's behavior that I've seen. Until now, I've mostly seen analyses that echo Laurence Lessig:
The largest cause of this rift is European distrust of the United States. It's not particularly related to the Internet. The Europeans are eager to stand up to the Americans, and that I think has been produced by the last five years of U.S. foreign policy. It's not really a cyberlaw problem....My guess is that the EU acted as it did for both sets of reasons. The symbolic reasons explain the surprisingly public nature of the dispute.
As for the U.S., it maintained its primary objective, to ensure that the WSIS -- really the International Telecommunications Union -- has as little say as possible in any important dimension of Internet governance.
And amen to that.
While I'm less than happy with domain name policy and implementation, I don't really see it as the most important thing that ICANN has control over.
The fundamental addresses on the Internet are the actual IP addresses, and IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), a suborganization of ICANN, is ultimately in charge of managing those. You don't have an IP address, you aren't on the Internet. IANA currently delegates this authority by granting blocks of addresses to regional/national internet registries, which generally further delegate and distribute them to ISPs (who then provide them to users...).
But imagine IANA suddenly revokes the IP address allocations to... Taiwan (and perhaps reassigns them to China). Either everyone implments this policy by changing the routing tables of core Internet routers worldwide (and Taiwan drops off the face of the world.. err. Internet) or there's anarchy and chaos.
Actually, since such a change can't be implemented instantaneously world-wide, there would be some chaos anyway, but it would clear up after a day or so. (Some chaos happens anyway today as backbone providers sometimes have routing problems due to anything from plain old human error to large scale DDOS attacks to peering disagreements, as happened recently in the US.)
As for domain names, ICANN manages the "official" DNS root, but it's actually relatively trivial to set up alternate DNS roots--there already are several--the problem is getting ISPs and users to decide to use them.posted by: Sam on 11.16.05 at 10:54 PM [permalink]
It's sad, and more than a little alarming, that even in the 21st century there are so few governments that can be relied upon to support individual freedoms to any significant degree.posted by: Robin Goodfellow on 11.16.05 at 10:54 PM [permalink]
This passage caught my eye:
"We are back on track to what has been agreed with the Clinton administration already some years ago. We are back to cooperation."
Uh..what agreement was that, exactly?posted by: doc on 11.16.05 at 10:54 PM [permalink]
(Some chaos happens anyway today as backbone providers sometimes have routing problems due to anything from plain old human error to large scale DDOS attacks to peering disagreements, as happened recently in the US.)
...don't forget about idiots with backhoes. Right now, Cogent is dealing with two fiber cuts, and the resulting routing issues are spilling over onto AT&T's network.posted by: rosignol on 11.16.05 at 10:54 PM [permalink]
This subject cuts to the heart of the debate over whether the US has really lost its role as global hegemon. There's been an endless stream of papers written on this topic, so I'll be brief.
You can argue that the US is dependent on the kindness of strangers in funding its trade deficit, which is mostly in physical products. But, you can also argue that by keeping control of the Internet, as well as many sources of intellectual property, it is actually extending its hegemony where it really counts. That is, by dominating the "conceptual" sphere as Greenspan would put it, the US comes out well ahead.
Food for thought, then, and another angle on why it may be true that "deficits don't matter." The game has moved on.posted by: Emmanuel on 11.16.05 at 10:54 PM [permalink]
The Europeans are eager to stand up to the Americans, and that I think has been produced by the last five years of U.S. foreign policy.Yeah, maybe, but I think there's evidence the Europeans were just as eager to stand up to the Americans 5 years ago.
posted by: David Fleck on 11.16.05 at 10:54 PM [permalink]
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