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December 19, 2004

ITU chiefs target ICANN turf

Senior people at the International Telecommunications Union are pushing for reforms that would see it take over management of the internet's naming and addressing systems from the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers.

By CBR Staff Writer

Secretary-general Yoshio Utsumi has twice in recent weeks publicly called for the United Nations to adopt a narrow definition of Internet governance that focuses on the core activity of the management of internet resources by ICANN.

Those who interpret ‘Internet Governance’ more broadly consider that the Internet should not be governed by a private company alone and that a multilateral organization with greater international legitimacy and democratic processes, such as ITU, should assume some of the functions of ICANN, Utsumi said at a UN meeting late November.

It’s the most explicit power push yet from the ITU, which has been working, mostly quietly, to get its hands on ICANN’s responsibilities over the domain name system and IP address allocation for a number of years.

Utsumi is pushing for the UN’s Working Group on Internet Governance to state that ICANN’s powers constitute Internet governance, and to recognize that many countries want the ITU to take over ICANN’s role.

The WGIG, a 40-person team appointed in November by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has been tasked with defining Internet governance before the second World Summit on the Information Society, scheduled for September 2005.

Without having a shared common understanding and, most importantly, a narrow definition of Internet Governance, discussions in the Working Group are likely to remain unproductive, Utsumi said on two recent occasions.

Issues such as spam, illegal content, security and freedom of speech have all been cited as coming under the Internet governance umbrella, but many say that those areas are so broad it would be impossible to reach agreements.

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We should focus on the core activity of the management of internet resources by ICANN, in particular top-level domains, which is where important issues remain unresolved, Utsumi said, calling for reform of ICANN.

It appears he faces resistance from ITU members. At a recent ITU working group meeting, Utsumi’s submission that ITU should ask WGIG to equate governance with ICANN’s functions was rejected.

The working group, known as WG-WSIS, is formulating the ITU’s input to the WGIG and thus WSIS, a UN gathering of governments that will meet in Tunisia in September to discuss matters of global cooperation.

[Utsumi’s] suggestion that the WGIG should adopt a narrow view of Internet Governance was not supported by the WG-WSIS, the WG-WSIS chairman reported after a meeting of the working group.

At stake is control over two master databases the root directories of the internet’s domain name system and the master list of IP address allocations.

The DNS root servers are operated by 13 commercial and volunteer operations around the world. Through agreement and tradition, they all publish ICANN-authorized data. For example, they point .uk to Nominet, and .com to VeriSign.

Also through agreement, ISPs only publish IP addresses acquired from regional Internet registries (RIRs), which in turn only hand out numbers that have been allocated to them by IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which is a part of ICANN.

The ITU, aware that telecommunications and the Internet are converging through efforts such as voice over IP, and also aware that there has been dissatisfaction with ICANN, is interested in taking over parts of both of these functions.

Houlin Zhao, director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, recently proposed for discussion the idea that countries dissatisfied with ICANN could turn to the ITU to take over the IANA function.

A possible option that might be further considered is to study the possibility of ITU’s maintaining and publishing the authoritative list of country code domain name delegations, he wrote, in a paper presented to WG-WSIS.

However, he added that this migration would be only at the request of those countries who wish ITU to undertake this task (with other countries free to continue present arrangements if they wish).

That would require a lot of coordination between ICANN, ITU and the outfits that manage the root server constellation. There would be essentially two roots, one for those nations that like ICANN, one for those who prefer the ITU.

Paul Kane, chairman of CENTR, the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries, wrote that this idea would increase the bureaucracy associated with the IANA database and would be confusing.

Dividing the IANA database into two distinct administrations can create potential confusion rather than help in sorting out the expressed concerns, Kane wrote Zhao. He suggested that ITU instead get involved in ICANN’s Government Advisory Council.

On the issue of IP address allocation, Zhao suggested that blocks of IPv6 addresses could be assigned to countries, in addition to the RIRs. ISPs and others would be able to choose whether to get their numbers from their nation or the nearest RIR, he suggested.

By assigning addresses to countries, we will enable any particular user to choose their preferred source of addresses: either the country-assigned ones or the region/international-assigned ones, he wrote.

In response, the RIRs said that the ITU is proposing a model of IP address space distribution that is based on a limited set of considerations and has not adequately considered the need to ensure stable, fair and consistent distribution of a global resource.

It was also observed that distributing IP addresses along national lines could fragment the address space in such a way that it would interfere with route aggregation a method ISPs use to keep routing tables small and the Internet performing at speed.

The Internet Governance Task Force of Japan wrote: Excessive fragmentation of IPv6 address space will cause a failure of the routing system resulting in discontinuation of services to many part of the Internet.

IGTF-J added that making it easier to recognize an IP address’s location could enable useful services but will also enable questionable applications such as easy censorship, tracking or restriction of communication content.

ICANN declined to comment directly on Zhao’s technical proposals, deferring to the RIRs and others. The respective affected parties have already responded, said Theresa Swinehart, general manager of global partnerships at ICANN.

Swinehart said: We’re not interested in this being an ITU-or-ICANN issue, our objective is to make sure the WSIS has a good understanding of ITU, ICANN and that Internet governance is about more than the domain name system.

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