" ITREALMS: Politics of Internet Governance

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Politics of Internet Governance


Internet Governance may have different meanings but the trust embedded in the technology of networks may be eroded by undue political desire, reports REMMY NWEKE.

FOLLOWING the June 30, 2005 announcement by the United States Department of Commerce (DOC) with intent to retain authority on Internet root servers, the global Internet community has been thrown into confusion once again.

Internet, defined as an interconnected system of networks that connects computers around the world via the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or Internet Protocol (IP) in line with the Internet Technology Dictionary.com.

The Internet root servers, on the hand, according to the www.domainsarefree.com, is a Domain Name System (DNS) servers that respond to requests for the root name space domain, and redirect requests for a particular Top-Level Domain (TLD) to the required name servers.

Hence, final dot is usually applied, although not all modern DNS software do actually require that the final dot be included nowadays when attempting to translate a domain name to an IP address. The final dot is known as the root domain and all other domains, such as .com, org, .net, .ng, .uk and so on, are contained within the root domain.

The root name servers have the duties for the domain’s where- about and which servers are responsible for the TLDs. Furthermore, each TLD such as .com or .org, has its own set of servers which in turn delegate to the name servers for individual domain request to be solved. In other words, it would answer queries for IP address of sub-domains such as www.ITRealms.blogspot.com.

Currently, there are 12 entities managing the 13 root name servers, specifically: A - VeriSign Global Registry Services; B - Information Sciences Institute; C - Cogent Communications; D - University of Maryland; E - NASA Ames Research Center; F - Internet Systems Consortium, Inc.; G - U.S. DOD Network Information Center; H - U.S. Army Research Lab; I - Autonomica/NORDUnet; J - VeriSign Global Registry Services; K - RIPE NCC; L - ICANN; and M - WIDE Project.

Out of these numbers, five servers namely the C, F, I, J and K, exist in multiple locations on different continents of the world. Thus, most of the physical, rather than nominal root servers are now outside the United States.

Champion Infotel recalls that the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) based in Aberdeen Proving Ground, has a long history of leadership role in the computing and networking field. Today, ARL has continued to operate a root name server as a service to the Internet community.

However, in what has left the Internet community divided, the remarks at the Wireless Communications Association (WCA) on June 30, 2005 by the Assistant Secretary to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Mr. Michael D. Gallagher, announcing U.S. principles on the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System, jolted the industry globally.

It read in part thus:

“The United States Government intends to preserve the security and stability of the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System (DNS). Given the Internet’s importance to the world’s economy, it is essential that the underlying DNS of the Internet remain stable and secure. As such, the United States is committed to taking no action that would have the potential to adversely impact the effective and efficient operation of the DNS and will therefore maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file.

“Governments have legitimate interest in the management of their country code top level domains (ccTLD). The United States recognizes that governments have legitimate public policy and sovereignty concerns with respect to the management of their ccTLD. As such, the United States is committed to working with the international community to address these concerns, bearing in mind the fundamental need to ensure stability and security of the Internet’s DNS.

“Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the appropriate technical manager of the Internet DNS. The United States continues to support the ongoing work of ICANN as the technical manager of the DNS and related technical operations and recognizes the progress it has made to date. The United States will continue to provide oversight so that ICANN maintains its focus and meets its core technical mission. “Dialogue related to Internet governance should continue in relevant multiple fora. Given the breadth of topics potentially encompassed under the rubric of Internet governance there is no one venue to appropriately address the subject in its entirety.

“While the United States recognizes that the current Internet system is working, we encourage an ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders around the world in the various fora as a way to facilitate discussion and to advance our shared interest in the ongoing robustness and dynamism of the Internet. In these fora, the United States will continue to support market-based approaches and private sector leadership in Internet development broadly.”

It also follows that the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS-2003) held in Geneva, Switzerland in December, ended with a resolve that the United Nations’ Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan should set up a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and as at July 14, the group’s report which is due to be presented at the forthcoming second phase of WSIS this November, has been released to Mr. Annan.

Even as its expected to wet the ground for negotiations among the Internet community on modus operandi of governing the electronic network of networks.

The WGIG mandate started from the Geneva summit, during which heads of state and governments recognized the importance of the Internet, by way of acknowledging that the Internet is a central element of infrastructure of the emerging information society, whereas recognizing that there are different views on the suitability of current institutions and mechanisms for managing processes and developing policies for the global Internet.

The WSIS Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action adopted in Geneva, set the limitation for the WGIG according to its terms of reference, which include to “investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on the governance of the Internet by 2005”.

This exercise was useful to identify guiding principles and factors that have facilitated the successful development of Internet, including the open, decentralised nature of its architecture and the underlying technological development of its core standards, as well as the management of names and numbers.

WGIG also recognized that while there is a common understanding of the Internet, there is not yet a shared view of Internet governance, hence, the mandate from the WSIS for the group to develop a working definition of Internet governance.

The WGIG first considered five criteria, namely that the working definition should be adequate, generalizable, descriptive, concise and process-oriented.

Secondly, the WGIG analysed a wide range of public-sector, private-sector and multi-stakeholder governance mechanisms that currently exist with respect to different Internet issues and functions.

Finally, the WGIG assessed a number of alternative definitions proposed by various parties in the course of the WSIS process and related international discussions.

As at December 12, 2004, The Internet Society (ISOC) said there were 258 TLDs and 773 different authoritative servers for those TLDs listed.

However, reacting to the recent US resolve to retain its control over the Internet despite the efforts of the UN to deregulate this or even find a more democratic set up for Internet Governance, chief executive of Internet Service Provider (ISP), Equinox Technologies, Mr. Mba Nwakanma, said he was not surprised by the declaration.

“I doubt it if the U. S. would give up on their position. But why would
anyone think they (U. S.) would invest so much in technology and easily toss its control over to other people?” he declared.

Stressing that like most other things in the world, be it international politics and diplomacy, peace and security, US would continue to seek leading roles in everything, including internet governance.

“If it is controlled more democratically by the UN, it would be great. But quite sincerely, I do not fault US for seeking to continue to control internet governance,” he insisted.

Executive Director of another ISP firm, Nigeria Online Limited and Treasurer, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), Mr. Oleleye Alao, said that what matters most is the security of the internet and he doubts too if another nation could put in so much security measures as US have done so far, moreso in safe-guiding the Internet, even as he would love to see the Internet Governance issues resolved for the greater good of the Internet community.

“As you know the internet itself began from the US and US, probably for security reasons especially the aftermath of September 11 would want to retain its control of the internet. The main reason for the US control is because of its concern for security and stability of the internet,” he asserted.

Moreso, since US said it is committed and willing to continuously preserve the security and stability of the internet’s domain name and address system (DNS).

“Any decision that would have an adverse effect on the operation of
DNS will not be accepted such as relinquishing the authority to some other body,” he endorsed.

Also reacting, the Vice Chairman, African Internet Service Providers Association (AfrISPA) and chief executive of a leading ISP in the country, PiNet Limited, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, said the way the Internet is being governed now could not be said to be controlled absolutely by the US.

He cited an example of ICANN, which though is a US-based and registered Non Profit Organisation, but is made up of people from various parts of the world and policies are formulated based on bottom up approach, so as to ensure that various shades of opinion are reflected in final output of their policies.

Emphasizing that, a number of arguments have been raised on the need for a more properly constituted body like an agency of the UN, such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to take over this responsibility.

Noting however, that there are merits and demerits of this, but he is of the opinion that since the Internet was built to this great height without the direct input of these bodies, maybe it would be nice to allow US that developed it up to this stage to continue, at least, for now.

In the main time, it seems the US policy has continued to shape the globe as most worried were operators in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and how this worry or fear to an extent, would be allayed, will definitely influence on the thrust during the WSIS-05 and growth of Internet after wards, mostly when the current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between US government and ICANN ends in September 2006.

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