Andy Oram Talks Sense About Nonsense (WSIS Coverage, Actually)

This is the most sensible thing I've seen on the subject. And it still leaves out half of what I think is the story: the non-US perspective. Folks out there are getting real grumpy with what they see, with some justice, as US domination of the infrastructure.

Andy Oram, Gee, when did we give away the Internet? (An analysis of news about WSIS)

What king or dictator or bureaucrat has signed the document giving power over the Internet to one organization or another? Did I miss the ceremony?

One laughable aspect of news reportage is that the founders and leaders of ICANN always avowed, with the utmost unction, that they were not trying to make policy decisions and were simply tinkering with technical functions on the Internet. Of course, there is rarely such a thing as a merely technical function, and that truth has been borne out by the effects of ICANN's policies on “intellectual property” and on the allocation of domain names in general. Perhaps it's good for people to be talking openly of ruling the Internet.

But, in whatever ways ICANN has managed to wield its three-pronged fork (domain names, addresses, and assigned numbers such as protocols), it has never come close to being master of the Internet.

Now that the mainstream media have announced that the Internet is up for grabs, they are presenting the debate falsely as a two-sided fight between ICANN and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

So what is up for grabs? Certainly the right to define new top-level domain names (anybody visited a .museum site lately?) and to hand out to various favored organizations the plum of domain name registration (which really should be a nearly pure technical function, and has been turned into a heavy-weight, politicized activity by the “intellectual property” interests). But that's not really very much.

The fears that seem to be circulating around the domain name fight is that governments or other organizations will use control over domain names to censor the Internet. Ironically, the biggest threat to freedom in the use of domain names has been from the private sector, specifically the “intellectual property” interests. But the danger is present that governments will catch on (China seems to be doing so) and manipulating the system to restrict free speech. Still, with search engines becoming more popular and more powerful all the time, domain names are not the prime prizes they seemed in the late 1990s.

IP addresses are also a potential source of control that Internet users should be conscious about, if not worried about. Addressing can be abused mainly in a context of scarcity, and there has been debate for years over whether IP addresses are getting scarce. (They're certainly scarce when you ask the average local ISP for more than one!) A vigorous campaign to adopt IPv6 would remove most of the worry over this potential choke-hold.

And who ultimately is in charge of the Domain Name System? You are. You determine what domains you view. Somewhere on your personal computer is a configuration option that determines where you go to resolve top-level domains, and you can go far beyond what ICANN would like you to see.

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