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<nettime> Ronda Hauben: Report from Geneva
t byfield on Tue, 11 Aug 1998 05:43:30 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Ronda Hauben: Report from Geneva

                   Report from the Front
           Meeting in Geneva Rushes to Privatize
          the Internet DNS and Root Server Systems
                     by Ronda Hauben

     There is a battle being waged today, one that is of great
importance to the future of society, but most people have no idea
it is taking place.

     I just returned from Geneva, Switzerland where a meeting was
held Friday July 25 and Saturday July 26 to create the
organization that Ira Magaziner, advisor to the U.S. President,
has called for. It is an organization to privatize key aspects of
the Internet, the Domain Name System (DNS) and the control of the
root server of the Internet. The meeting was the second in a
series that are part of the International Forum on the White
Paper (IFWP) (1).

     The U.S. government, without discussion by the U.S.
Congress, the press or the public, and contrary to the direction
of the U.S. court (in the case ACLU vrs. Reno) is throwing a bone
to the private sector and offering them the possibility of making
their millions off of the Internet. And while in Geneva, I saw
folks from several different countries grabbing at the bone, in
hopes of getting themselves some of the same kind of exorbitant
profits from selling gTLDs (generic Top Level Domains) that the
National Science Foundation (NSF) bestowed on Network Services
Inc (NSI) several years ago by giving them the contract enabling
them to charge for domain name registration.

     There is money to be made, or so these folks seem to think,
and so any concern for the well being of the Internet or its
continued development as "a new medium of international
communication" (ACLU vrs Reno) has been thrown to the wind by Mr.
Magaziner, IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) under the
direction of Mr. Postel, which has the U.S. government contract
to administer the Internet Addresses and Names and to administer
the root server, and the others who, without any ethical
considerations or social obligations are rushing through this
process and squelching discussion and dissent.

     It is called "consensus" we are told. I went to the session
setting up the Names Registry Council provisions for the bylaws
of what we are told is to be the new private organization
controlling these key aspects of the Internet. At the beginning
of the meeting, I made the mistake of objecting when all were
asked to register their consensus with the provision for a Names
Council. I wanted to hear some discussion so I would know what I
was voting on. I was scolded by one participant for asking for a
discussion. He claimed that they were *not* here for people who
had not read the bylaws proposal that appeared online only a few
days before. I had read the bylaws proposal but was naive enough
to think that one would hear discussion and clarification before
being asked to declare one's adherence. In that way I thought one
would know what one was agreeing to. Instead, however, I soon
learned that that was *not* how business (or really religion) was
being developed in the session I attended.

     After harassing me for asking for clarification and
discussion, the meeting continued. The Chairman asked people to
brainstorm and list the functions for the council. When I asked
that the activities of the council be reported online and that
there be online discussion with anyone interested being allowed
to comment on all issues concerning the council, the scribe
miswrote what I had proposed. When I asked it be corrected, I was
told by the Chair that there was no "wordsmithing" allowed, i.e.
that it would not be corrected.  After a number of people had
listed functions for the council, it was announced that the
meeting would vote on the functions to determine if there was
"consensus". Then a vote was rammed through on the items.
However, instead of counting the numbers for or against each
function, there was a declaration of "consensus" if, we were
told, it seemed as if there were 60% of those voting who had
voted for the listed function. For the first few functions those
opposed were allowed to voice their objection. The meeting was
being tape recorded, we were told, and there would be a record
kept of it. But that soon ended as someone in the room objected
to hearing any objections. The Chair said that this was how this
was done at the telecom meetings he knew of, as there the players
were large corporations with large bank accounts that could
afford big law suits. Here, however, it seemed those in control
of the meeting judged this was not the case. A short break was
called. After the break it was announced that those with
objections could no longer voice them on the record during the
meeting but were told to come up after the meeting was over.

     So the vote continued on, consensus continued to be declared
for most of the items voted on, despite the fact there were those
indicating their opposition to all of these items. But the record
would no longer contain any note of the objections. The Chair and
others marvelled at the roll they were on. Even though it was
time for the meeting to end, one of the Chairs of the plenary
meeting allowed this meeting to continue as it was on such a

     Then to the Plenary meeting. Here there was joy and praise
for this democratic process from the Chair and spokespeople from
the different sessions. When I tried to go to the microphone and
say that the consensus in the session I had been in to determine
functions for the Names Council represented "no discussion
allowed and no noting of those who objected," the Chair of the
Plenary Meeting told me I was not allowed to speak there.

     This all followed the invitation that had been extended in
the press lunch on Tuesday, July 21 at INET, where all members of
the press were invited to come to the Friday and Saturday
sessions of the IFWP and were invited to participate. However, by
Friday and Saturday the invitation clearly had changed,
especially if one had a question or objection to raise about what
was happening.

     And this is how the supposed new private organization that
is to administer and make policy for the Domain Names System that
is the nerve system of the Internet and the Root Server System,
is being created. No one with any but a private commercial
interest (in normal language, a conflict of interest) is to be
allowed to participate in the process, no discussion to clarify
what people are being asked to vote on is allowed to take place,
and no objections could be voiced in the session creating the
Names Council, which is one of the crucial aspects of the
organizational form, as it is groups with a commercial interest
in the sale of gTLDs who have decreed to themselves the right to
set policy and recommend actions regarding the gTLDs.

     What is the significance of this process as a way to create
an organization to take over control and administration of the
nerve center of the Global Internet?

     The Internet was developed and has grown and flourished
through the opposite procedures, through democratic processes
where all are welcomed to speak, where those who disagree are
invited to participate, and to voice their concerns along with
those who agree, where those who can make a single contribution
are as welcome as those with the time to continually contribute.
(See Poster "Lessons from the early MsgGroup Mailing List as a
Foundation for Identifying the Principles for Future Internet
Governance" by Ronda Hauben, INET '98.)(2) Also historically, the
processes for discussion on key issues regarding the development
of the Net are carried out online, as a medium of online
communication is what is being built.

     This is all the opposite of what is happening with the
privatizing of the DNS and throwing it to the corporate interests
who are the so called "market forces". Here only those who can
afford thousands of dollars for plane fare can go to the
meetings, and once at the meetings, one is only allowed to
participate in a way that registers agreement. At the sessions I
attended there was no discussion permitted so no one knows if
what they think they are voting on is indeed what it appears to
be and there is no opportunity to clarify one's views on an issue
as there is no chance to discuss the pros and cons. And for those
for whom English is not the first language, or for someone who
disagrees with what is happening, there is mockery and the
attempt to make them feel unwelcome.

     This is *not* the way to create a new and pioneering
organization to administer and control the nerve center of an
international public communications infrastructure that has been
built with the tax money and effort of people around the world.
When those who have questions or think what is happening is a
problem are not allowed to speak, it means that there is no way
to know what the problems are to be solved, or what can be
proposed that can offer any solution.

     The U.S. government has initiated and is directing this
process with no regard for the concerns and interests of the
people online or not yet online. Instead only those with profit
making blinders over their eyes are able to stand the glare this
rotten process is reflecting.

     During his speech at the opening session of the IFWP in
Geneva, Mr. Ira Magaziner said that the U.S. government no longer
has any obligation to the well being of the people in the U.S.
and he left the room, claiming that the U.S. government would not
be involved in the process to create the new organization. But
the bylaws of the new organization, made available only a few
days before the meeting, and thus not long enough for those
traveling to the meeting to have had a chance to study or discuss
them, were presented by IANA and its lawyer. IANA is the U.S.
government contractor proposing the structure of this new
"private" organization. Thus the U.S. government is deeply
involved in this process but not in any way that fulfills its
obligation to provide for the well being of the American people.
Meanwhile there is a lawsuit against the NSF brought by a company
which sees itself as the MCI of the Internet. The lawsuit claims
that anyone who wishes should be able to go into business
creating gTLDs. The fact that the DNS is a hierarchical
architecture to keep the number of root level lookups for the
Internet at a minimum is irrelevant to those bringing the lawsuit
and to the U.S. government who is offering out to private sector
corporations competition in selling root level gTLDs. And the
primary functions rammed through at the Saturday meeting was that
the Names Council is being created to make policy and
recommendations for how to increase the number of gTLDs, despite
the fact that those proposing this structure had a commercial
self interest in the issues and thus a conflict of interest in
being involved in proposing or setting public policy regarding
the future of the Internet.

     This is the degeneration that the U.S. government's pro
commercial policy on the future development of the Internet has
led to. There is no concern by Magaziner for the fact that
millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money (and taxpayer money of
people around the world) and effort has gone to create and
develop the Internet. The policy of the U.S. government is to try
to stop the use of the Internet as a medium of international
communication for ordinary people and to deny its technical needs
and processes. This is contrary to the directive of the U.S.
court that the U.S. government "should also protect the autonomy
that such a medium confers to ordinary people as well as media
magnates." (ACLU vrs. Reno)

     The next meeting of the IFWP is set for Singapore in August
1998. Magaziner has given this ad hoc self appointed group a
deadline to have an interim organization in place by September
30. So the Internet is to be auctioned off as officials in the
U.S. government oversee the grabfest.

     But there are people who care about the Net and its
continued growth and development as a medium of international
communication. And it is in the hands of these Netizens that any
future health of this crucial communications infrastructure that
makes possible an unprecedented level and degree of international
communication must rest. The public needs to know what is going
on and it is important that Netizens find a way to both intervene
in this give away of public property and let the rest of the
world know what is happening.  ------------


(1) The White paper was issued by the U.S. government. It begins:
"On July 1, 1997, as part of the Clinton Administration's
"Framework for Global Electronic Commerce" the President directed
the Secretary of Commerce to privatize the domain name system
(DNS) in a manner that increases competition...."

(2) Write to ronda {AT} panix.com for copy of Poster. Also see
"Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet",
http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netbook/ or in print edition ISBN
The above report is appearing as an appendix in the Amateur Computerist
July 1998 Supplement "Controversy Over the Internet" available at:
http://www.ais.org/~jrh/acn/dns-supplement or via email from jrh {AT} ais.org
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