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Launching the DNS War: Dot-Com Privatization and the Rise of Global Internet Governance

Launching the DNS War: Dot-Com Privatization and the Rise of Global Internet Governance

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Published by Craig Simon
This dissertation investigates the Internet governance debates of the mid 1990s, narrating events that led to the signing of the Generic Top Level Domains Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU) in May 1997. During that period, an unlikely alliance formed to create a new institutional structure that would administer the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). The collaborators included members of the Internet technical community’s “old guard,” leading officials of the International Telecommunications Union, representatives of organized trademark interests, and others. Their ambitious project aimed at constituting a formal procedural apparatus capable of operating at a world-wide level, independent of the sovereign state system. Institutional membership in the new structure was intended to confer participation rights and normative obligations, thereby establishing status relationships that resonated with the kinship, ingroup, and citizenship relationships of legacy social orders.
The example serves as a particularly valid and germane case study that can be used to model power relations among responsible agents in an expressly global system of rule. This postulated case allows for a more useful comparison of power relations within past, present, and future epochs.
This dissertation investigates the Internet governance debates of the mid 1990s, narrating events that led to the signing of the Generic Top Level Domains Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU) in May 1997. During that period, an unlikely alliance formed to create a new institutional structure that would administer the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). The collaborators included members of the Internet technical community’s “old guard,” leading officials of the International Telecommunications Union, representatives of organized trademark interests, and others. Their ambitious project aimed at constituting a formal procedural apparatus capable of operating at a world-wide level, independent of the sovereign state system. Institutional membership in the new structure was intended to confer participation rights and normative obligations, thereby establishing status relationships that resonated with the kinship, ingroup, and citizenship relationships of legacy social orders.
The example serves as a particularly valid and germane case study that can be used to model power relations among responsible agents in an expressly global system of rule. This postulated case allows for a more useful comparison of power relations within past, present, and future epochs.

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Published by: Craig Simon on Jun 27, 2011
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11/12/2013

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original

Historical

Politically Correct

Pragmatic

Proposed

DoD
FNC
IANA
InterNIC
RIRs
LIRs
End Users

ISOC
IAB
IANA
RIRs
LIRs
End Users

ISPs
IANA
RIRs
LIRs
End Users

ISOC-IAB-ISPs
IANA
RIRs
LIRs
End Users

Conrad’s solution was to propose a new organization in which ISOC, the IAB and

ISPs would serve as peers atop a hierarchy that devolved to IANA, RIRs, LIRs, End Users.

The point was to retain current levels of authority in IANA’s hands, but to constitute a new

oversight body that would serve as an organization competent to review any challenges to

IANA’s decisions.345

One of the biggest drawbacks to Conrad’s proposal was the lack of an institutional

American counterpart to APNIC and RIPE. Strawn detected the emerging consensus. It was

palpably evident that the desire to create an RIR for the Americas was widely popular.

Moreover, the prospect of achieving that goal was much simpler than resolving the DNS

248

Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003.

346

controversy – a big mess that promised only to get bigger. Hubbard was encouraged to

proceed with her goal of creating a new quasi-public agency, to be called the American

Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN).

Hubbard’s organizing and lobbying activities were to be paid for by NSI. The

company also agreed to subsidize ARIN’s startup operations until the organization could

fully rely on remittances from IP users. This arrangement was clearly in the interest of NSI’s

owners. Not only might the company reap the public relations advantages that would accrue

to it as a good citizen of the Internet, it would stand to reap greater profits by moving to

guarantee robust growth of connectivity, and consequently, demand for domain names.

There was also a quiet deal in the works... Mitchell and Strawn had begun to consider

a strategy that would completely release formal ownership of the .com, .net, and .org zones

to NSI as soon as the numbers registry could be split off and formally turned over to

ARIN.346

Yet more imperatives motivated the creation of ARIN. Behind the scenes, Hubbard

and several others had begun to harbor questions about Postel’s interventions in the

allocations of the number space. Due to the widespread perception of Postel as a wise and

impartial arbiter of policy, his individual actions were often taken as rule-setting precedents.

Hubbard and Mitchell worried that he was on the verge of making some choices that would

lead to bad long term consequences. There were signs that Postel was slipping. He clearly

needed help. In short, there was a need for greater rationalization in the decision-making

process. A North American registry dedicated to that single task could take the pressure of

Postel and provide just the sort of carefully spelled-out guidelines that were needed.

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