[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
The Net's First Civil War
ICANN vs. NSI
The Net's First Civil War
Copyright (c) 1999 Jay Fenello -- All Rights Reserved
Over the last couple of weeks, a war has erupted
over the very future of Cyberspace.
Not only have diverse organizations like Ralph
Nader's CPT and Americans for Tax Reform gotten
involved, but Congress has held two hearings, and
launched an investigation into possible collusion
at the Justice Department, and illegal fundraising
by the Clinton administration.
To most casual observers, this appears to be a
spat between the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Numbers (ICANN), and Network Solutions,
In actuality, much, much more is at stake.
The story begins with the phenomenal success of
the Internet. What was once a sleepy, little research
experiment funded by the U.S. Government, the Internet
has grown to become a world-wide frontier of freedom,
ideas, education, entertainment and commerce.
Along the way, the informal processes used to govern
the Internet became obsolete. And when governments
and organizations tried to address the issues that
required world-wide decisions, they realized that
no-one was in charge!
To address this situation, a couple of alternatives
were possible. One involved getting legislation passed
in over 200 countries throughout the world! Not very
likely, and certainly not very efficient.
Instead, the Clinton administration proposed a U.S.
based, non-profit corporation to assume the management
of the coordinated technical functions of the Internet.
This new organization would use "flow down" contracts
that would specify every right and obligation for
anyone wishing to use the Internet.
Last year, Commerce decided that ICANN was to be this
organization. It has been embroiled in controversy
On the other side of this debate is NSI. NSI was the
recipient of a government Cooperative agreement, and had
the exclusive rights to register all domains in the .com,
.net, .org and .edu Top Level Domains (TLDs). And while
most people consider NSI an unfair monopoly in dire need
of some competition, there was no such consensus about
how to devolve their monopoly.
>From ICANN's perspective, NSI is administering TLDs
which belong to the public, TLDs that are under ICANN's
control. In other words, ICANN is claiming superior
ownership rights in *all* domain names.
ICANN's version of competition is to contract the
administration of *their* TLDs to the lowest bidder,
and to strictly license all domain name resellers, all
while forcing Netizens to agree with some very heavy-
handed policies in the process.
>From NSI's perspective, they have built a business
around registering domain names, and they have built
certain Intellectual Property rights in their client
information and in their brands. For ICANN to claim
superior rights on behalf of the "public" is simply
an attempt to confiscate their property without just
NSI's version of competition involves new TLDs being
introduced by ICANN, with competition between TLDs
based on price and service as the result.
This, in a nutshell, describes the public fight.
And it highlights two very different futures for
the Internet. In one, ICANN owns/controls the assets
underlying the Internet -- the domain names, the IP
addresses, and the protocol numbers. This can be
equated with a top-down, regulatory approach to
In the other, private ownership/control is coordinated
through a "consent of the governed" approach to Internet
governance. Individuals and organizations continue to
own their respective Internet resources, and *choose*
to interconnect based upon rules that are derived from
a bottom-up consensus process.
That's what this debated comes down to -- public ownership
vs. private ownership, Socialism vs. Capitalism, the rights
of the state vs. the rights of the individual -- and it's
not like we haven't explored these concepts before!
In many ways, the virtual world is simply a reflection
of our real world. Attempts to bring order to the chaos
of cyberspace are exactly the same as attempts to bring
order to the real world.
The Internet is the Internet because it embraces certain
concepts -- freedom, private ownership, personal choice.
The decisions we are about to make may change all of this.
Let's hope we choose wisely.
President, Iperdome, Inc. 404-943-0524
What's your .per(sm)? http://www.iperdome.com
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."