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Internet-based Internet governance

By Scott Bradner

It was not as easy as some people had said it was. Almost a year ago the US Government started the process of figuring out what to do about domain names by publishing a request for comments relating to domain name system (DNS) administration, top level domain (TLD) creation and related issues such as the impact that trademarks should have on DNS names. The request quite successfully resulted in turning up ideas on the issues. A number of the responses maintained that there were easy answers to the questions -- they were wrong.

Six months later the government solicited comments on a draft proposal, known as "the Green Paper", on how to deal with the DNS issues as well as a number of other Internet management problems. The basic proposal was quite good but a number of the details evoked a great deal of consternation.

Now, after another six months, the US government has published its final plan. By removing some of the policy predefinition the government has come up with a very good plan. Like the Green Paper, the final "white paper" defines an independent not-for-profit, US-based, corporation which will be responsible for a number of the basic Internet infrastructure functions: Setting policy for and direct the allocation of blocks of IP addresses to the regional IP number registries, oversee the operation of the root name servers, oversee policy for the creation of new TLDs, and coordinate the assignment of Internet technical parameters. These functions are a combination of operations and policy. The execution of the policy portions of these functions will be the first explicit instance of Internet governance even though the white paper maintains that it is not defining any such thing. The white paper says that this new organization will not displace existing laws etc but the organization will be defining policy, and that is a governance function.

Almost all of the Internet's growth and impact have been in the last 5 years yet, in this very short time, it has had a profound impact. This proposal is an indication of the impact. It is impossible to imagine that a major world government would have had the vision to define non-governmental governance of such a vital resource a decade ago. The traditional way to deal with this type of issue has been to have a national governmental organization like the FCC or an international inter-governmental organization like the ITU take charge.

This plan by the US government hands the responsibility for vital policy development over to the Internet community. It is a big responsibility and there will be some challenging times ahead as the details of representation are worked out. I expect there will be legal challenges from people who do not like the idea of a consensus-based policy development process and hope that the new organization will be able to deal with these challenges and meet its obligations to the Internet community.

This is the right thing to do.

disclaimer: Harvard has no consistent view of governance (its own or other's) so the above must be my view.