Fight on the Internet?


TheStar.com – Master of their domain

An interesting article on who controls the internet has sprung up. The fight between the United States and the United Nations has started over who controls the way domain names (e.g. www.billarends.blogspot.com, www.michaelsuddard.com, etc.) are delegated. Also, the fight is over how IP addresses are formulated now and in the future. Confused? Well take a look at this excerpt to explain the details:

At bottom, the conflict is over who controls the bits and pieces that go into creating an Internet address. Like, for instance, thestar.com.

As the Internet took shape and grew in complexity in the 1990s, the job of deciding if a domain name ends with a “.com” or a “.ca” or a “.uk” or a “.xxx” was handled by a non-profit American company called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The company’s other job is to create IP addresses — the strings of identifying numbers that computers wear like nametags when they’re wandering around in cyberspace.

So really the United States government and this private non-profit organization controls the infrastructure of the internet. It is just like Bell Canada in Canada deciding how a phone number is built and the new Rogers Phone service coming in and using the same phone number structure.

Update (thanks to an anonymous commenter): Bell Canada is like ICANN in delegating who gets what phone number. Bell delegates that Joe Blow gets the phone number 555-555-5555 (see the comment section of this blog for full explanation of the first six digits of Joe’s phone number). Basically the phone number makes Joe’s phone ring. ICANN, with I.P.s being like phone numbers, delegates which computer gets which I.P Number. ICANN also delegates, following a formal request, whether joeblow.com (like Joe Blow’s name) is pointed to the right number and makes the connection so the computer “rings”. The two “rings” mentioned in this paragraph means the computer and the phone are alerted that another computer or phone want to make a connection to exchange messages.

Should this important function of the internet be turned over to the United Nations?

Probably not at this moment.

Lets remember what is currently going on in the United Nations and how much this organization is currently dithering because of political infighting.

1. United States still owes a large amount of back dues to the United Nations which the United States continues to refuse to pay. Why? Because the United States believes its military contributions to the United Nations operations should be a good substitute. This disagreement between the United Nations and the United States has continued to fester for many years.

2. The United Nations Secretariet can’t figure out where in New York City to move to temporarily while its own office tower is being renovated. There have been rumours of a move to elsewhere in Manhattan. However, these rumours were quickly quashed by local New York City politicians. There has also been rumours that the United Nations might head to downtown Brooklyn, but nothing has been confirmed. The renovations are supposed to start in the near future and last until 2009. However, before anything can happen, the entire Secretariat needs to be moved out of the current building. Lets also not forget that the current building does not match current New York City fire codes, so the people working in that office tower are in possible danger considering New York City’s immediate history. Yet the Secretariat continues to bungle this move.

3. The Iraq war never saw any sanctions against the United States despite the reasons for going to war not being approved by the United Nations. Sure there were weapons inspectors doing their jobs in Iraq off and on for a decade, but does it really take over a decade to find the weapons? Seems a little fishy to me on whats going on this instance. Was the United States right going in the way they did? I am still unsure (let the comments flow on that one!).

Lets also remember the status quo of the internet seems to be working, so why change it? Anybody know of any political infighting because Joe Blow from a country couldn’t register his domain name or have an IP address he so desired? I think not. I also find it amazing that a worldly used instrument has come to agree on this one organization to handle the basic infrastructure of the internet without any problems until recently. Is it perhaps some people are a little upset over the Iraq war and are seeking other methods to get back at the United States? Perhaps, but am unsure. Would there be such an uproar if this particular non-profit organization was based in the very threatening country of Switzerland? I don’t think so!

Why change something that already is used by billions without any issues in its set-up. Are there improvements that could be made to the internet infrastructure? Probably. But the basis of the internet, the assigning of domain names to the proper numbers and letters, has never caused a problem. Besides if this set-up was changed, the internet would be thrown into dissarray because the likes of Internet Explorer, Netscape, Fire Fox and loads of other browsers might not be able to find the proper website associated with the domain name. I could be wrong on that one, but I do believe there would be problems along the way for computers to find the right domain name somehow. Perhaps somebody a little more technoligically inclined might like to explain the pitfalls of changing the infrastructure of the internet might point out the problems.

Finally, my new formal belief with my experiences with York Region Transit and the New York City Department of Education, that big government is guarenteed to screw things up and take forever in fixing them. So why would a large entity like the internet be screwed up by the United Nations (the largest government organization I know) when currently the non-profit American organization seems to be doing a good job. After all, you did get to this particular blog without any problems right?

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19 thoughts on “Fight on the Internet?

  1. Right…Canada all tucked down there.

    No wonder all those Americans are entering Canada under the guise of not liking the President. That was the plan all along! 🙂

  2. Jack’s comment is tongue in cheek, but the USA does sort of own the Net. The USA has control over domain names because that’s where the internet was invented.

    There are some understandable concerns that the USA might decide to disrupt communications from a certain place, either for security reasons or for some less honorable motive. (Economic, for example.)

    But I’m with you, I’d rather have the USA in control than the UN.
    Q

  3. Please note mine was too….you will find my first line in my comment is almost a line that world’s brilliantist man, Homer Simpson, came up with. Just to let the record show. 🙂

  4. If it aint broke….

    I thought the domain name thing ahd all been sorted out for now, the future & the sci-fi future (we already have hypothetical moon & mars IP addresses)

    IMHO the UN in it’s present state is not long for this world anyway – and why give it something it has no knowledge about? I’m not much of an USAPhile (is that a word?), but Internet addresses is not what the UN is about.

  5. No. At a very basic level DNS is not just like, “Bell Canada in Canada deciding how a phone number is built.”

    Another Canadian, Marshall McCluhan observed that people tend to understand new media in terms of old media. And the people who understand the old media most intuitively have a correspondingly difficult time adjusting when new media emerges.

    Imho, the most serious problem here is that the telecoms regulators discussing this have the conceit that they understand telecoms regulation. Well, they did… when telecoms regulation meant regulating the Bells.

  6. See RFC 1034.

    DNS translates text strings to internet protocol (IP) addresses.

    IP addresses might be considered somewhat similar to phone numbers. Both IP addresses and telco numbers are built into the routing fabric. In short, the numbers in both systems get your message where its going.

    But DNS domain names are like the names of people or business that you would look up in the phone book. That analogy breaks down very quickly, though, because DNS is a distributed database. It doesn’t have just one publisher.

  7. Thanks for the clarification of the technical details.

    Now lets take a look at your comment:

    “IP addresses might be considered somewhat similar to phone numbers. Both IP addresses and telco numbers are built into the routing fabric. In short, the numbers in both systems get your message where its going.”

    Isn’t this like picking up the phone and dialing the number? Isn’t an I.P. number like a phone number in order to get your message to another location…i.e. make that phone ring per se?

    “But DNS domain names are like the names of people or business that you would look up in the phone book. That analogy breaks down very quickly, though, because DNS is a distributed database. It doesn’t have just one publisher.”

    So lets take another look at this. Teledirect issues a phone book listing Joe Blows phone as 555-5555 while Superpages also issues Joe Blow’s phone number as 555-555-5555.

    Bell Canada delegated Joe’s phone number based on where Joe lives. The first three digits are Joe’s “area code” which places Joe’s phone in a large geographic area. The next three digits narrow that geographic area to, at least in southern Ontario, to a town or village area. Therefore, Joe Blow really can select only the last four digits of his phone number because the first six digits are already pre-determined by Bell Canada.

    So isn’t the phone number given to Joe Blow (which you can search via dialing “411”, looking up in the phone book yourself or searching the internet) just like this company delegating IP numbers to websites based on the tags of website address (i.e. the name tags)?

    I know its a long roundabout explanation, but I would enjoy your feedback.

  8. To make it easier to understand.

    Bell sets the phone number (in other words I.P. address) for Joe Blow (equivalent to joeblow.com)(joeblow.com being the name tag referred to in the article).

    For further in depth explanation see the above comment! I hope that makes it easier for the readers and less likely to make your head spin!

  9. There are two separate technical functions here.

    One: ICANN via IANA delegates blocks of IP addresses to regional internet registries (RIRs) such as ARIN (for North America).

    Two: ICANN manages the DNS “root zone”. That is, it make ensures that the nameserver (NS) record for .ca points to the CIRA designated nameservers.

    After those two functions, ICANN’s responsibility pretty much ends. (Well, IANA does do some other technical coordination that’s extremely important, but doesn’t get a lot of political attention.)

    At a basic level, though, the political fight here is about whether these limited technical functions should amount to “management” or “control” of the internet. Because currently they don’t add up to that.

  10. If you try to understand the way the Internet works by analogy to telephone networking, then the likelihood is that you will settle on public policy positions appropriate for old-fashioned, circuit-switched voice telephony.

    The internet runs on rough consensus and running code. Yet the managers, regulators, politicians and bureaucrats steeped in the old telco culture intuitively “know” that you can’t run a global network that way. Because they couldn’t have run the phones that way. So those people look around for a top-level global manager and they think that ICANN must be it, because everything else essentially looks like pure anarchy to them.

    If you want to make good public policy for ICANN, then you have to grok the outlines of ICANN’s technical role in a packet-switched network of networks.

  11. The reason people compare the phone to the internet is because for some of us, including myself in some ways, are not as technologically inclined as others. I would say most of the government agencies are full of people who need to understand how the internet works need something they are already familiar with.

    Since the phone has been around for years and years, that is one of the most common items to be compared to. Hence that is why I, and an expert in the quoted article, use the phone/phonebook analogy. Its all about finding a common basis in order to explain something complicated like the internets functioning.

  12. I hate to make the analogy between DNS and the telephone white pages because it drags in a whole lot of extraneous junk about economic models and legal regimes for telephone books. But if I have to explain this by analogy, then ICANN publishes the “internet telphone book” table of contents.

    It’s important to understand that ICANN only publishes the table of contents. The rest of the book is published by others.

    Why is that important?

    Let’s suppose that the US DoC had some unresolved issues left over from the Pig War. In fact, you still owe us for those potatoes that pig ate! So, Mr. Bush orders DoC to tell ICANN, “Hand over the .ca domain to—” ummm, who? Who doesn’t get along Canada lately? I’m kinda stumped, but play along—oh, I know who!—Mr. Bush orders DoC to tell ICANN, “Hand over the .ca domain to Osama Bin Ladin!”

    What would happen?

    Well, actually, not a lot. Because even though ICANN publishes the DNS root zone, they aren’t the distributors. It’s sort of like book publishers and bookstores. Or like magazine publishers and news stands. ICANN is one of those kind of publishers.

    And if Mr. Bush, in a fit of resentment over those Pig War potatoes, ordered DoC to tell ICANN, “Hand over the .ca domain to Osama!”, then the actual DNS root server operators would quit listening.

  13. Thanks!

    On a similar note, (and ironic) I was channel surfing Friday night and came accross the local community television channel (the channel with basically volunteers running everything). They have this internet show with Alex Nanos who gives tips on e-mail, internet and some basic software. During this show he was doing a comparison of a the phone to the internet. My mouth nearly hit the floor remembering this conversation we are having about comparing the phone to the internet. Really quite amusing.

    Thanks again for the explanation!

  14. Thank you for keeping an open comments section!

    Whenever I try to explain my perspective, my communication skills get just a little bit better. Maybe someday, I’ll learn how to do this well.

    Meanwhile, I’d like to encourage interested Canadians to keep an occassional eye on CIRA (ou l’ACEI). You can kinda bet your bottom dollar (CA or US) that your neighbors to the south are not really watching that organization.

    TTYL

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