The Public Domain

Date: Wed, 12 Aug 98 12:45:41
From: (Ronda Hauben)
Subject: Media coverage of privatizing of Internet root server system?
Organization: Columbia University
Article: 41042

"The domain name issue is of critical importance... for the continued well functioning of the Net..."

I have been doing some research on these issues. I found a meeting on July 30-31 1997 on the subject and the report of that meeting noted: "As many have noted, the domain name system is a running service, used by millions every day. It is also a sensitive system, where a small mistake can cause a lot of damage...."

Yet a significant change in who controls this system is being made with no public attention and oversight over what is happening.

Question: Are some industry entities taking this over and why is this being done in such a shroud of darkness?

Who will have the control? How can a crucial aspect of a vital communications infrastructure be be handed over to something that is not accountable to any public process or entity?

I wondered if anyone has seen any media coverage of the changes that are being planned in how the Internet Domain Name System is administered and in the control over the root server system that is the nerve center of the Internet.

It is interesting that this is such an important aspect of the proper functioning of the Internet and yet I have seen very little press coverage of the issues and controversy involved in this.

If there is no accountability in how these are adminstered and controlled all who are on the Internet are at the mercy of those who have control of these vital functions.

There is a meeting going on in Singapore now to plan this privatization and there was a meeting last month in Geneva and there seems to be no responsibility taken by those doing this privatizing to explain the importance of these systems and the great amount of control over the Internet that those who gain control of this private organization will have.

It is a sorry symptom of our times that more of the press (I am mainly speaking of the U.S. but wonder what the situation is abroad as well) is not shedding any light on what is going on so Internet users and the public can know what is happening and that the important questions are being asked.

(Unfortunately, my experience is that the folks doing this change don't allow for any questions. Instead they are rushing to declare "consensus" with their plans and activities.)

Also it is important that there be discussion and debate on this on Usenet and the Internet.

There are some mailing lists where I have heard this is being discussed but it is not even clear where they all are -- I know of one or two. (1)

How can this issue be opened up to public scrutiny?

What seems to be the problem is that the Domain Name System is being used in a way not originally intended. It was originally intended as a way to identify organizations online and there was a hierachical architecture which meant the organization was responsible for getting messages to the machines in its organization. So an address would go to xcollege and xcollege would have to take over the responsibility to send the messages onto their proper recipient at their site.

Now there seems to be an effort to use the DNS to advertise products and to insist on increasing the top level domains rather than respecting the need for the hierarchical architecture.

There is also a lawsuit against the NSF going on to increase the number of top level domains and it didn't seem that the NSF was defending against the lawsuit.

Thus those who are pushing through the privatization seem to be those who want to be able to add more top level domains (gTLD's) which can mean big bucks for those who get to sell them.

But instead it would appear that a directory service is what is needed for the names of products and that the Domain Name System shouldn't be used as a means of advertising a product.

This is a serious question and along with the DNS will go the root server system which is the nerve system for addressing all messages on the Internet.

The Internet is a computer system not a public relations system and its integrity is at stake in the current push to privatize these key aspects.

I welcome comments, suggestions etc. toward having these issues discussed much more broadly before the Sept. 30 fiat that is being planned to grab control off these vital systems.

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