I've spent the last 10 weeks doing research for a story on the IAHC's proposal to expand the top-level DNS namespace. In the process, I became aware of another IANA-sponsored new registry effort called ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers).
The IAHC proposal provides competition for the Network Solutions, Inc.-run InterNIC domains (especially .COM), but ARIN is being formed for quite another reason. While domain name registration is a profit center for NSI, the InterNIC's other reponsibility--assigning CIDR blocks to ISPs and other large users--is subsidized by the income from domain name registrations. Thus, while the IAHC seeks to provide competition for NSI, ARIN seeks to relieve it of a burden..and, in the process, to put IP address administration on a pay-as-you-go basis.
What the proposals have in common is that they are both sponsored by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the most powerful central authority in the entire Internet. They both also represent attempts to push the ongoing evolution of the Internet from a U.S. taxpayer-funded, National Science Foundation-administered experimental internetwork into a self-supporting, self-administering, commercial-strength global information infrastructure for the next century.
What IANA's creations are grappling with is the issue of creating a sustainable governance structure for the Internet. For example, the IAHC recommends that trademark disputes be referred to binding arbitration under Swiss law (where arbitration is a lot more binding than in the USA). CORE will be self-financing from fees paid by the new registrars, just as ARIN will be self-financing from fees paid by ISPs and others who obtain large address blocks. Both bodies will have their own set of appeal processes and both will be self-governing.
As proposed, ARIN will be a non-profit entity that will inherit the power to make IP address assignments for the Americas, much as RIPE does for Europe and APNIC does for the Asia-Pacific region. (If you want to read more about the proposal, ARIN has a Web site at http://www.arin.net/.) It will charge fees based on the amount of address space allocated in the previous year. Existing assignments won't incur retroactive charges, so if you already have address space, you'll be totally unaffected.
What's really interesting about both intiatives is IANA's involvement. Beginning in the 1970s', IANA quietly became the de-facto owner of the Domain Name System root and the IPv4 address space. That authority developed largely as an artifact of ancient Internet history and the process by which, over time, convention transmutes convenience to control.
Jon Postel, the Director of IANA, has been intimately involved in the development of Internet technology since 1970. His name first appeared on an RFC 27 years ago this month, just a year after the very first RFC was issued in 1969. Early on, he volunteered for the job of maintaining the Internet's various numbering systems, and he's been the central reference point for port numbers, RFC numbers, address space assignments and the evolution of the DNS root name space since the earliest days of the ARPAnet.
Despite the authority with which he's been entrusted, Postel has always maintained a low profile. Even many ISPs don't realize that he or IANA exists. That makes his initiation of the ARIN and IAHC processes all the more interesting.
I think Postel's goal (with which I agree) is to keep the Internet free of external regulation as long as possible. With the U.S. Congress' passage of the Communications Decency Act of 1995, the trend toward national governments attempting to assert their authority over the Internet is clear. The longer the Internet can resist those efforts, the better its chances of making self-regulation stick. Likewise, the longer the Internet can keep external courts from asserting their jurisdiction over it, the better its chances of developing trans-national dispute resolution methods more suited to the borderless character of the beast.
It's nothing less than the future of the Internet that's at stake here. By acting to create its own governance mechanisms, the Net may find a way past the trap of multiple, overlapping, mutually-contradictory, geographically-based regulatory bodies. By putting its governance and administration bodies on a self-financing basis, it cuts the ground out from under the assorted national legislatures' claims that they have the right to regulate the Net because they pay its bills.
That's a good thing, because, for the Internet to succeed in the age of digital commerce, everyone who participates needs to know they'll be playing by the same set of rules.
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)