Governance
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In his presentation of the work of the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) on Top Level Domain Names (See What's in a name?) at a recent Geneva ISOC Chapter meeting, Robert Shaw, representative of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) at IAHC, was extremely cautious about seeing their work as a potential model for Internet governance. Having neither his caution nor his vested interest, I'd like to explore the phenomenon of IAHC to find out what it can teach us about potential models for Internet governance.

Models of governance?

The current practice of registering Internet addresses within Top Level Domains (TLDs) dates back to 1984 (see RFC 1591 written by Jon Postel of IANA). Many things have happened since then, in particular, the Internet has become more and more international and its growth has literally exploded. These changes have understandably put considerable strain on the way registration is done. A major modification came with the decision to make registration in the so-called "international" domains (.com, .org,..) payable because the mechanism was too expensive to maintain and not appropriate on a purely funded basis. One of the unforeseen consequences of this was that, with the continued exponential growth of the Internet, it rapidly became an enticingly lucrative activity. As such registration was in the sole hands of Network Solutions Incorporated (NSI), increasing complaints were voiced about their monopoly position and some commercial concerns took the law in their own hands, creating new TLDs and selling addresses within these domains.

Something clearly had to be done, but who should do it, and how? The history of the Internet has been one of a collaborative effort between various communities (see the Brief History published by the Internet Society). A number of organisations are active in policy related issues in this area although no one organisation has overall responsibility for the Net. The Internet Address Numbering Authority (IANA) - which is part of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) - is chartered by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Federal Network Council (FNC) to act as the clearinghouse to assign and co-ordinate the use of numerous Internet protocol parameters.

The strategy of Don Heath, President and CEO of the Internet Society, was to bring together key actors in an International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) to make recommendations to the Internet Community. Such a procedure was in line with traditional Internet practice in standardisation using RFC's (requests for comment) as a consensus-seeking document about a particular technical issue. What was new in his approach was involving organisational actors from outside the traditional Internet community, notably the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

The task of IAHC was not at all easy, as it required finding a compromise solution between potentially conflicting vested interests. In addition, there was considerable urgency. Traditional consultancy procedures through representative structures have inherent difficulties in reacting rapidly. A number of factors were essential to the success of this task beyond the formulation of the document itself. The most important was carrying out awareness work and convincing key parties of the need for such a solution.

The procedure adopted by IAHC seeks to reach a rough consensus amongst actors about a given solution that will then be seen as appropriate and be adopted by an ever increasing number of players and impose itself as the solution. What are the main ingredients of this process?

  • Having one organisation that is in a position to take the initiative;
  • Convincing key players to take part and support the initiative;
  • Bringing together experts from these organisations to come up with draft recommendations;
  • Making these draft recommendations widely available for discussion and comment from both individuals and corporate actors;
  • Carrying out awareness work with key actors about the necessity of such a solution:
  • Finalising the recommendations and setting up the necessary mechanisms to carry them out.
In such a process, no organisation is guaranteed a de facto right to participate. Those that hang back and complain they were not invited to participate have not understood the dynamic of the situation. The same goes for those who sit on the fence and wait to see how things turn out. In this kind of procedure, all credit goes to those who take the risk and who invest to make it work. Such organisations are not vested with a power by democratic vote (not even indirectly by being a representative of an elected government), their legitimacy comes from the process itself and its outcomes by making things work to the general satisfaction of the actors concerned.

Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise.

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: February 28th, 1997 - Last up-dated: February 28th, 1997