DNS and the public Internet-letter to House Commerce Committee

2 views
Skip to first unread message

Ronda Hauben

unread,
Oct 20, 1998, 3:00:00 AM10/20/98
to
To: comm...@mail.house.gov
Subject: Letter for Chairman Tom Bliley

To: Representative Tom Bliley: comm...@mail.house.commerce.gov


Representative Tom Bliley
Chairman
The House Committee on Commerce
The U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

Dear Chairman Bliley

It was good to see your letters of October 15, 1998 to
Ira Magaziner, Senior Advisor to the President for Policy
Development and William M. Daley, Secretary of
Commerce, asking for information regarding the proposed
transfer of vital public resources necessary for the
functioning of the Internet from the oversight and
control of the U.S. government to a newly to be created
private entity.

It is important that there be a serious examination
and investigation of this plan by the government.
As I will explain in more detail below, these
public resources that the U.S. Government is offering
to give to a private entity will put great wealth
and power in the hands of that private entity and
will seriously jeopardize the public character
and cooperative nature of the Internet. It is
this public character and cooperative nature
that are essential for the continued functioning
of the Internet, as I explained in my testimony
to Congress, submitted to the Committee on
Science, subcommittees on basic research and
technology for their hearing held on October 7, 1998.
The testimony is a part of the public record and is
also available at
http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/other/testimony_107.txt

There are some concerns I feel it is important to
indicate to you and I would appreciate an opportunity
to talk with you further about them.

In February 1997, a report was issued by the National
Science Foundation Office of the Inspector General.
(See "Office of Inspector General Report: The
Administration of Internet Addresses, 7 February 1997")
This report contained a number of interesting
observations and recommendations that it presented
to the National Science Foundation to examine with
regard to the important question of the future oversight,
control and management (i.e. policy determinations) of the
domain name system and the IP numbers, root server
system etc.

Instead of the NSF examining the report and the
recommendations made, the agency went ahead with
actions to privatize the DNS and related systems,
transferring the oversight over key functions of
the Internet to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

And despite the fact that there have been congressional
hearings conducted by the House Committee on Science
subcommittees on basic research and on technology
and the House Commerce Committee into the privatizing
of the DNS and related systems of the Internet, none
of these hearings have mentioned the Office of
Inspector General's Report or the recommendations and
precautions discussed in the report.

Also in its semi-annual report to Congress, the
Office of Inspector General of the NSF made further
comments and recommendations. And it said it was
referring the problems it had identified of
concentration of power that such privatization would
represent to the U.S. Department of Justice for
examination. (See "Semiannual Report to Congress,
Number 16, October 1, 1996 through March 31, 1997,
pgs. 10-14.)

The Report explains:

"NSF responded to our report by stating that 'long
term issues raised by [our] recommendations may
indeed require additional government oversight.'
Nonetheless, NSF decided it would not be appropriate
for NSF to continue its oversight of Internet
address registration, and it referred our report
for consideration by an informal interagency task
force chaired by OMB. NSF explained that '[i]n
the meantime, next-step solutions...are being
implemented,' citing the proposals discussed
above that would create new, top-level domain name
and number address registries. We believe these
proposals could result in a concentration of market
power and possible anticompetitive behavior. As
a result, we are referring these matters to the
Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice for
analysis and suggested disposition." (pg. 15)


I wondered why there hasn't there been any apparent
consideration by the Executive Branch or the U.S. Congress
of U.S. Government of the NSF Inspector General's Report
on the Administration of Internet Addresses which was
issued in February, 1997.

Though the report doesn't solve the problem, it does make
a significant contribution toward understanding the problem.

It identifies the fact that continued research to meet the
needs of the Internet is a responsibility for government.
And it describes that there is a public obligation of the
U.S. Government with regard to ensuring the protection of the
public interest in the public resource and public treasure
that is the Internet. The report says this in different
ways at different places throughout but at the end it says:

"The current federal oversight of name and number Internet
addresses is the natural consequence of federal financial
support of Internet development. Continued federal oversight
of this unique public resource is required by the nation's
increasing dependence on the Internet, which is being fostered
by additional federal investments in this technology. NSF's
history of involvement with the Internet, its technical
expertise, and its continuing investments in related research
programs uniquely qualify it to perform that oversight role.
NSF's oversight would ensure the protection of the public
interest in the resource, the availability of funds to support
future network related basic research, service, and development,
fairness to the Internet community, and fairness to the taxpayers."

(from page 16 of Office of Inspector General Report: The
Administration of Internet Addresses 7 Feb. 1997)


The Report also identifies the significant amount of money that
the $50 a year maintenance fee in domain names has given to
the U.S. government contractor Network Solutions, Inc.

The Report suggests using part of the fee to support continued
needed networking research. (I feel there would have to be
serious questions raised about whether this is appropriate, but
it is important to examine this recommendation.)

In any case this suggestion clarifies that those who administer
the Internet also have an obligation to support the kind of
research needed to help the Internet to scale.

Also the Report identifies the potential of charging for
IP numbers and the great amount of revenue that this could
potentially yield. ( This raises for me the question of the
enormous power that will be put in the hands of any private
entity that is given control over the allocation of IP
numbers and domain names.)

The Report also notes that policy issues which are issues of
control need to be kept in government hands, not given over
to private hands.

The OIG report discusses that though it might be possible
to move administrative functions out of government hands,
it must be clear these are not policy functions.

The proposed privatization of the DNS and other essential
Internet functions are moving policy functions out of the
control of government and putting them into unaccountable
hands.

The whole result of this is a very dangerous one both for the
public around the world and for the Internet. The reason is that
the private entity has no public obligation or the tools or
functions to enable it to sift through the opposing interests
with regard to policy. The private entity (and I have seen this
in all the efforts I have been made to be part of the
International Forum on the White Paper activity) has no
concern for the public interest. The issue is never raised and
can't be.

There is a reason government has been created and that
governments exist around the world. There is a broad interest
that is more long range than what an individual corporation
is able to consider or act in favor of.

After reading the Inspector General's Report, I thought for
a few minutes about the fact that over 2 billion IP numbers
have already been allocated and that there are over 2 billion
more.

I thought about the tremendous power and wealth that this could
represent as well as the harm that would come to the Internet
if this power and control falls into the wrong hands.

If the new private entity decides to charge just $50 a year
for each IP number, then that gives it a yearly income of
100 billion dollars.

If it makes a decision on who can buy IP numbers and who can't,
then this limits access to the Internet to those whom this
private entity deems should have access.

Thinking about this potential being put into the hands
of a private entity with no expertise to deal with it
and more importantly, no social obligation toward either the
Internet or the public, left me recognizing in a new way
how the development and spread of the Internet is due to
the fact that the policies involving its development had a
public purpose and responsibility, and were under government
protection.

To transfer this great potential public treasure into private
hands who consider it a "gold mine" represents a very very
great disregard of the public trust and public obligation.

I have heard that there are those willing to pay to get these
resources and that they are upset that they are being given
away free.

That person didn't recognize the public and social obligation
that is at stake in all this, but he did recognize that
this is a case of the U.S. Government giving away something
that has very very great value (either private value if it
falls into private hands) or social value if it is kept
in public hands.

So this is the issue that hasn't been discussed and yet this
is a very significant public question.

When I was asked to submit questions to Congress by the staffer
with the House Committee on Science, subcommittee on basic
research, one of the questions I submitted was "By what authority
is the U.S. Government giving away the cooperative development
that is represented by the Internet." I have read RFC's like
RFC 1917 which says about the Internet "It is the largest public
data network in the world." And later on it defines the Global
Internet as "the mesh of interconnected public networks (autonomous
systems) which has its origins in the U.S. National Science
Foundation (NSF) backbone, other national networks, and commercial
enterprises."

So it defines the Internet as "public" *not* private.

And yet the U.S. Government is claiming it is considering giving
to a private entity the essential functions that are at the
heart of this Global public network of networks.

The attempt to transfer vital public resources out of the protection
of the public sector into an entity that allows their fundamental
nature and purpose to be changed, presents a fundamental problem
and challenge for those who understand the importance and
advance for society represented by the worldwide Internet.

Even the U.S. federal district court, in a case affirmed by
the U.S. Supreme Court, recognized the unique and important
treasure that the Internet represents for people around the
world and directed the U.S. government to protect the autonomy
that the Internet makes possible for ordinary people as well
as media magnates.(ACLU vrs Reno ) The privatizing of these
essential functions makes such protection impossible.

When I was at the hearing held by the House Committee on
Science, subcommittees on basic research and technology
on October 7, 1998, the head of the steering committee of
the International Forum on the White Paper spoke to the
subcommittee about her vision of having private corporate
entities take over the power and control that government
has had.

This helped me to understand that the question of governance
is being substituted for the question of what is the proper
role of government in the administration of important
and strategic public resources like the Internet.

The OIG Report mentions two ways to protect the public
interest with regard to public resources. The first is
to keep them under public ownership and control.

The second is to follow "procedures for facilitating public
participation and open decision making."

They recommend that with regard to this responsibility
the "NSF should disseminate the draft policies and requests
for comments broadly, on the Internet as well as via
traditional means, and NSF should accept comments via the
Internet." (pg 12)

They also mention that when the NSFNET was privatized the
NSF went through a public process. Unfortunately, they don't
recognize how this public process broke down at that time.
(See chapters 11, 12 and 14 of "Netizens: On the History and
Impact of Usenet and the Internet" at
http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netbook/ )

Once again the public processes are not functioning,
as demonstrated by my report of the IFWP phony consensus
process. See
http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/other/ifwp_july25.txt


I welcome any thoughts on all this. I recognize that these
issues are not easy for those in government, but the momentous
importance of them requires the most skillful and considered
measures.

Several years ago I met one of the pioneers of time-sharing,
Fernando Corbato. I asked him about his early experiences
at MIT and Project MAC. He recommended that I read the
book "Management and the Future of the Computer" edited
by Martin Greenberger.

The book was about the 1961 conference at MIT on what
should be the future of the computer. Many of the pioneers
who had created the computer or were working on forefront
computer research had gathered to celebrate the centennial
of MIT. They invited C.P. Snow from England to speak. (He had
recently spoken at Harvard).

His topic was "Scientists and Decision Making". And he spoke
about how strategic decisions, especially those concerning
computer technology, would be made by government officials.
His talk explained why it was crucial that those officials had
the needed advice from people who understood the technology and
the consequences to society of their decisions.

Also he spoke about the need to involve the broadest possible
number of people in these decisions. C.P. Snow gave the
example of when strategic decisions involving too few people
were made in England and how the decisions led to harmful
social results. (He cited the decision to do the strategic
bombing of German civilian populations and he told how that
decision prolonged the war, rather than shortening it as
intended.)

And he spoke about how decisions involving a large number of
people had more of a chance of being socially beneficial
decisions.

The plan of the U.S. government to privatize essential
functions of the Internet is the kind of decision that
C.P. Snow was warning against. It is good to see that you,
as the Chairman of the House Commerce Committee have now
begun an investigation into some aspects of the U.S. government
plan to privatize these key and invaluable public resources.
It is important that such an investigation examine the concerns
of the Office of Inspector General of the NSF's Report on
the planned privatization and conduct a much broader
investigation into the public and social consequences
and dangers that giving any private entity the power and
wealth that such key functions of the Internet provide.


In the spirit of citizenship and netizenship,


Ronda Hauben
P.O. Box 250101
New York, N.Y. 10025-1531
(212)787-9361

ro...@panix.com

P.S. The proposal I have presented to the NTIA is also available
at the U.S. Dept of Commerce NTIA web site and you should be
aware that that is *not* a proposal to privatize these key
functions, but to create a prototype collaborative network
to examine and solve the problems of scaling and continuing
the successful operation of the Internet.

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages