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If you read anything today about ICANN taking over the internet, make sure it's this

Hodgepodge of flawed ideas, bad processes

Huge hole in this plan

Perhaps the biggest hole in the entire plan [PDF] is the fact that it does not address a fundamental part of the US government's role: making actual changes to the internet's root.

The internet's root is the source of information about where the internet's main arms exist on the network.

A small file contains information about where, for example, the '.com' extension can be found. So if you are looking for '' you go to the '.com' server and ask: where is ''? And it gives you the network address (this is of course a greatly simplified version of reality). It is the internet root however that tells you where the '.com' server can be found.

It is this aspect that has caused the most concern from the world's governments because, theoretically at least, the person in control of the IANA contract could decide to change the records and so remove an entire arm of the internet.

Just as problematic is the fact that the IANA contract also decides who gets to run that internet registry. Currently, Verisign runs '.com,' but it is within IANA's power to move that ownership to a different entity.

There are obviously processes around this but they have been actively abused in the past, not least when the US government handed over control of both Iraq's '.ir' registry and Afghanistan's '.af' registry in highly suspicious circumstances following the US' takeover of both countries.

This process of making changes to the internet's root involves three entities: ICANN (as the IANA contract operator), the US government (as the root zone "administrator"), and Verisign (as the root zone "maintainer").

ICANN runs its processes and asks the US government to check them. The US government carries out its "clerical" role and approves the change (or sends it back to ICANN for further review). But then the US government tells Verisign to make the change.

Verisign does not take orders from ICANN and it has an entirely separate agreement with the US government that is not a part of the new IANA plan. In other words, as things stand, the US government will still remain in control of the top level of the internet, even after it transitions control of the IANA contract away.

The plan barely makes mentions of that core fact, and instead introduces head-scratching language about what the US government (NTIA) might choose to do:

The NTIA has said that there will be a parallel but separate transition to disengage the NTIA from the Root Zone Maintainer. The exact form of this transition is not currently known, nor what, if anything, will replace the current Cooperative Agreement and the parties involved in providing the services currently covered under the Cooperative Agreement.

The ICG plan notes that "the Cooperative Agreement will likely have to be amended... to implement changes to the Root Zone requested by the IFO without requiring approval from NTIA." In other words, the US government is still in charge.

It highlights that without a change, the IANA operator is effectively powerless and that the ICG is also powerless to fix the problem. It doesn't even make a firm recommendation, but simply notes, "The new arrangements must provide a clear and effective mechanism... possibly via an agreement between the Root Zone Maintainer and the IFO."


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