Internet kingmakers cry mercy over mad dash to fill global DNS throne

Meetings cancelled as volunteer experts burn out from conference calls

The internet's backstage community is crying for mercy over the work schedule for deciding the fate of IANA – the crucial body that allocates IP addresses and runs the world's DNS for domain-name overseer ICANN.

Despite a week-long meeting in Istanbul last month, volunteers designing improvements to the top level of 'net have been inundated with conference call requests, including some days where more than three calls, each lasting two hours, have been scheduled.

"We now have roughly a two-hour conference call every day of the week, several days with two calls, and thus more calls in a week at unholy hours," decried CEO of the Netherlands' .nl registry, Roelof Meijer, in a memo to a group focusing on ICANN's accountability. "I object to this way of working, as it makes the whole process far less inclusive."

Meijer's complaints were reiterated by many others. "More than one call per week is already difficult enough to absorb, but three? And then two on one day? This is not conducive to thoughtful deliberation and as I have said numerous times I am opposed to rushing things through just because of a perceived deadline," said the operator of Namibia's .na registry, Eberhard Lisse.

IANA: What's at stake?

The US government contracts non-profit ICANN to run the so-called IANA functions – a body that runs the highest level of the world's DNS, allocates IP addresses, and ensures developers can agree on the same numbers and protocols when writing software that communicates over the 'net. It's what keeps the internet as we know it glued together.

That crucial contract is coming to an end, and because the US wants to step away from ruling the internet like an unelected king, the future of the IANA functions is being explored by a panel of experts called the Community Working Group (CWG). ICANN, of course, would love to run IANA all by itself, simply put.

They were joined by a number of other registry operators and government representatives. "+1 to the concerns raised. I have really lost track in the process," said network engineer Wisdom Donkor. A Brazilian government representative chimed in: "It is extremely difficult (not to say impossible) to cope with the amount of issues that are being dealt with within this group in a short period of time." He was followed by representatives from the Danish and Kenyan governments, amid others.

As Meijer pointed out, the work is voluntary, and almost all the IANA members are fitting it in between their day jobs and private lives. "For me it is now simply unavoidable to miss a significant part of the calls and impossible to deal with all the necessary working groups’ work in-between them," Meijer said.

Even before this most recent work schedule was outlined, the process has become widely criticized within the internet community for being too time-consuming and impossible to follow.

Two streams, five groups, endless sub-groups

Broadly there are two main streams of work: one looking at how to transition the IANA contract away from the US government, and the second looking at what improvements need to be made to the functioning of the current contract holder, ICANN, before that transition can take place.

The second group alone has a further eight sub-groups, each of which hold regular calls, produce reports and updates and have their own mailing list.

Both groups also have their own independent legal teams who provide input and advice as the work progresses, and both ultimately report to a further group called the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG). Many of the ICG members are also active on both group's sub-groups.

In addition to the ICG, there are another two groups that are expected to influence the outcome: the board of ICANN (many of whose members also contribute to the many sub-groups) and a group of "expert advisors" who were chosen by ICANN's CEO who have then themselves also selected another group of their own advisors.

If all this sounds confusing, it's because it is. And while the majority of volunteers are working very hard on making progress, as the number of sub-groups have grown, so has the amount of output, and the number of active participants has dropped to dangerously low levels. Levels that no one is monitoring because all those remaining in the process are too overwhelmed with work.

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