Ronda Hauben on Thu, 5 Aug 1999 00:55:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Discussion of Problems with ICANN Needed in the Press

       U.S. Press Needs to Allow Discussion of Problem 
              Represented by Privatizing IANA
                 and IETF Protocol Process
           Especially in column for alternative
                Viewpoints (Op Ed columns)

The failure of the press to provide for the needed wideranging discussion
of different views about what is happening with the Internet is a serious
problem in the U.S. 

A while ago I wrote to a computer trade magazine that played an important
role in reporting a story about some problems in making the cutover from
NCP to TCP/IP and asked if they would be willing to run a story
investigating what was happening with the creation of ICANN. The editor I
wrote to told me that I couldn't do that, but that I could do an op -ed as
long as it was limited to a certain number of words. 

At first I found it difficult to do the op ed as it is hard to write
something short that is also specific. However, I finally did something
and sent it to the editor. He referred me to the new op ed editor. The new
op ed editor asked me to redo the Op Ed. I did. He said it would be
accepted and run.  Then 2 hours before he would be running it, he told me
to rewrite it, cut the word count, and answer a number of questions he
gave me. 

I did so. Got it back to him in the 2 hours. And he wrote me back that he
wouldn't run it. 

I had thought that op ed's were to be alternative viewpoints. 

It became clear in accepting an invitation to do an op ed that that isn't
true, at least in the experience with the computer trade magazine that I
had. There is a serious need for a broad ranging public discussion about
what is happening with the creation of ICANN and the U.S. government shift
of control of enormous economic wealth and power over the Internet and its
users to ICANN. But this requires an open press and the welcoming of a
broad ranging set of diverse views.

Following is the op ed I submitted before all the additional rigid
requirements I was given. I thought it should circulate despite the
censorship by the computer trade magazine. 


Is ICANN out of Control?
On Thursday, July 22, 1999 the U.S. Congress held a hearing on the
subject: Is ICANN out of control? It was held by the Subcommittee on
Oversight and Investigations of the U.S. House Commerce Committee. 
ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was
created in Fall '98 as a private sector non profit corporation to take
over ownership and control of certain essential functions of the Internet.
These functions include among others, the IP numbers, the domain name
system and root server system, and the protocols. 
It is good to see the beginnning effort by the U.S. Congress to
investigate what has happened with the creation and manipulation behind
the scenes of ICANN. 
Such investigation is needed.  But it is only the beginning of the needed
government effort to find a solution to the controversy over ICANN. The
hearing was a very meager beginning of the kind of study and input needed
by Congress to understand the problem that ICANN is creating for the
Internet community. Unfortunately, with a very few exceptions, most of the
witnesses were supporters of ICANN, or were involved in protecting their
own stake in gettting a piece of the wealth from transferring essential
functions of the Internet to the private sector. Some Congressmen asked
good questions. The absence of witnesses who would be able to help to
identify the problem, however, showed the pressure by those who feel they
will benefit from the privatizing of what has functioned effectively as a
public sector responsibility.
ICANN was created in the midst of a controversy over what would be the
appropriate institutional form for the ownership and control of these
functions of the Internet that are crucial to its operation. 
At an ICANN meeting in January of 1999, a panelist from the Kennedy School
of Government, Elaine Kamarck, explained that the nonprofit corporate form
was inappropriate for the administration of functions like those that
ICANN will be controlling. Since an individual's or company's economic
life will be dependent on how these functions are administered, there
needs to be the kind of safeguards that government has been created to
provide. A nonprofit entity, even if it is a membership organization, does
not have such safeguards for the kind of economic responsibility that
ICANN is being set up to assume. 
The development of ICANN over the past seven months has indeed
demonstrated that the nonprofit corporate form, the structural form of
ICANN, does not have a means to provide internal safeguards to counteract
the tremendous power to control the Internet and its users which is being
vested in ICANN.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Internet is not a "finished"  entity. It
is a complex system of humans, computers, and networks which makes
communication possible among these diverse entities. Scientific and
grassroots science expertise continue to be needed to identify the
problems and to help to figure out the solutions for the Internet to
continue to grow and flourish. 
A crucial aspect of the governance structure for the first 12 years of the
life of the Internet had to do with being a part of the Information
Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) of the research agency in the U.S.
Department of Defense known an ARPA or the Advanced Projects Research
Agency.  ARPA/IPTO was created to make it possible for computer scientists
to support computer science research like that which gave birth to and
made it possible to develop the Internet. This early institutional form
made it possible for people of different nations to work together to build
the Internet.
How this was done needs to be understood and the lessons learned for
designing the institutional form to support vital Internet functions today
and for the future. 
The U.S. Congress needs to be willing to raise the real questions and to
look for the answers wherever they are to be found.

*  URL:

See also: URL:

             Netizens: On the History and Impact
               of Usenet and the Internet

            in print edition ISBN 0-8186-7706-6 

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