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A glass seven-eighths full

By Scott Bradner

Network World, 12/14/98

Fellow Network World columnist Mark Gibbs knows what he is talking about most of the time, but that's not the case in his column on the ICANN (NW, Nov. 30, page 68).

Gibbs wrote that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plan appears to make "almost no one happy." I may be biased because I've been involved with the Internet naming system issue for the past two years or so, but my view of the ICANN is rather different from Gibbs'.

As Gibbs reported, the ICANN is a private nonprofit corporation that has been created to privatize the functions of the Internet Assigned Number Authority. Jon Postel managed the latter organization until his recent death.

The ICANN, in its current form, is the result of negotiations between Postel, Network Solutions and the U.S. government. Like most products of extensive negotiation, the purity of the ICANN's design can be hard to find. But the new organization is basically true to Postel's vision of having the Internet's infrastructure managed, at least in part, by technical experts.

Discussions about exactly what shape the ICANN would take have involved three groups of people. There are those people, mainly from the technical and ISP communities, who are in strong agreement with what Postel was trying to accomplish. There is a group of people who support Postel's basic ideas but have had issues with some implementation details. And there are those who do not like the basic ICANN concept itself. Many commentators seem to confuse the views of the last two groups.

The best way to summarize the difference between my view on the ICANN and Gibbs' is to look at the transcript from the mid-November ICANN meeting that Gibbs mentions in his column. I was among the 200 people of varied backgrounds who attended that meeting. Attendees included representatives of the three groups mentioned above as well as quite a few people who just wanted to see what was happening.

Mark Luker of Educause, a nonprofit association of 1,600 colleges and universities, elicited the most applause at the meeting when he said: "Our members believe that the present board, the interim board and the bylaws are an excellent start. We would urge that we get on with this business."

Whereas I prefer to recall the applause, my fellow columnist prefers to focus on the repeated complaints of a small minority.

Even though the board made changes to the ICANN bylaws to address many concerns expressed by attendees worried about specific implementation details, I would not claim that the ICANN is perfect. It is a glass seven-eighths full.

It's unfortunate that Gibbs aligns himself with those who see the glass as empty because they disagree with the basic concept of an Internet run for the benefit of the community rather than for just a few.

Disclaimer: Some Harvard people were involved in the ICANN meeting. In spite of that, the above is my opinion.