By Craig Lyle Simon A DISSERTATION Submitted to the Faculty of the University of Miami in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Coral Gables, Florida December 2006

©2006 Craig Lyle Simon All Rights Reserved


A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Vendulka Kubalkova Department of International Studies

Dr. Steven G. Ullmann Dean of the Graduate School

A. Michael Froomkin School of Law

Haim Shaked Department of International Studies

Jaime Suchlicki Department of International Studies

Nicholas G. Onuf Florida International University Department of International Relations

SIMON, CRAIG LYLE Launching the DNS War: Dot-Com Privatization and the Rise of Global Internet Governance

(Ph.D., International Studies) (December 2006)

Abstract of a dissertation at the University of Miami. Dissertation supervised by Professor Vendulka Kubalkova. Number of pages in text. (457) 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.

For my mother, Shirley Simon.



Family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and members of the University administration have all seen a long span of time play out between the inception and conclusion of this project. So much so, that several years in, I decided to tell my nieces and nephews that I was in the 27th grade. I thank everyone for their extraordinary patience. Many individuals deserve mention for their helpful assistance and advice during this long experience, but I want to single out a few. I was exceptionally fortunate to receive feedback and advice from Michael Froomkin, whose expertise in the Internet governance debates prompted numerous corrections and improvements in the text. Though it became clear early on that he and I often stood on different sides of this partisan issue, he treated my work with impeccable fairness. I am deeply impressed by his example. It has been a privilege to work with Nick Onuf, whose framework profoundly affected the way I think about the study of human societies and how to do constructive scholarship. My growing appreciation of his analytical framework radically advanced my approach to this investigation, providing tools that allowed me to probe far more deeply into the nature of rule making than I ever imagined possible. Finally, special thanks go to my dissertation advisor, Vendulka Kubalkova. She is responsible more than anyone for enabling me to resume academic work, and for stepping forward at critical junctures to help me see my Doctorate in International Studies, started so long ago, through to completion. It is traditional when completing a scholarly work of this sort to acknowledge the input and assistance of others, while taking sole responsibility for any errors in the result. Indeed, all errors are my own. Her role has been so pivotal, however, that she deserves a share of the blame for whatever impact this work might have on the world.



In the late 1960s an elite group of scientists, engineers, industrialists, educators, and other specialists embarked upon a long-term project to advance the utility of computer networks. Their goal was to create a highly scalable suite of data telecommunication protocols and media technologies. The result is what we now know as the Internet. By the 1980s, leaders within that elite began to refashion their goals, envisioning their project as a bid to create a universal system of communication. They undertook new projects, intending to create formal mechanisms for managing key Internet resources. Those efforts were organized in a manner that some hoped would shape an emerging system of Internet-based global socio-political organization. The worldwide surge in the use of the Internet in the mid-1990s sharpened the organizational efforts of those founding elites. Prominent newcomers fostered idealistic thinking about how Internet-based activity could provide models for a historical successor to the international system of states. In other words, a real social phenomenon – the rise of the Internet – was portrayed as an episode of grand significance, presaging a new moment in human civilization. Controversy arose as members of the founding elite attempted to reform the administration of the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS)... a distributed database whose functional apex is called “the root.” The DNS infrastructure serves as the prime navigational service underlying the Word Wide Web, and is essential to the successful function of many applications, especially the distribution of electronic mail. The exploding use of the Internet and the apparently singular importance of the DNS at the “commanding heights” of Internet rule-making led to the engagement of a wide circle of actors. They soon fell out among each other, finally joining into factions. Combatants in the so-called “DNS War” went on to exert lasting influence within broader Internet governance debates. The legacy of the conflict is likely to resonate within a larger, stillevolving discourse. Key themes of the Internet governance debates could be replayed throughout the 21st century as new arrays of global institutions become prominent and perhaps ascendent in human culture.


Many participants in the DNS reform controversy articulated direct challenges to the nation-state system. Its defenders responded energetically. The contending parties made ideological claims that reflected clearly discernable patterns of opinion regarding the benefits and detriments of globalization. Analysis of their discourse gives important insights into a speculative line of questioning that was contemporaneous to the DNS reform debates. Namely, how might the rise of “cyberspace” promote a “post-Westphalian” transformation of world order? The question is inherently too speculative to be answered with certainty, but it can be answered insightfully. Any serious consideration of a future world order must also take up the nature of the present one. Scholarly distinctions on the workings of power within the current historical epoch are well known. One position speaks of an international system that is an arrangement of autonomous states in a fundamentally anarchic environment. Another speaks of a world society that is an expression of overlapping interests and shared values. As a consequence of the DNS War, it is now also possible to speak of a formally constituted, expressly global system of rule. Such a system would be empowered to exercise hierarchical control over identifiable resources. Many participants in the DNS controversy were notable members of the Internet standards-making community. Others participants included business people, government officials, and public interest advocates. Their combined activity displayed a wide variety of status-based, normative, and material motivations. They generally understood that the outcome of their arguments would affect essential components of the Internet. Since they were undertaking rule-making on a grand scale, they were self-consciously aware that they were engaged in a kind of social engineering. The levels of polemic argument and reflective introspection were often quite high, as if the participants were categorically and selfconsciously justifying the foundations of their own rationality, even laying a record for posterity by presuming to speak to distant historical observers,. At issue was the extent to which accountability for the development of the Internet's name and number allocation system should be: 1) driven by impersonal market forces; 2) left in the hands of elite Internet engineers; 3) reverted to national authorities; 4) given over to formal public processes organized under a new global constituency, or; 5) managed by some mix of these approaches. The bids to organize formal processes were often remarkably vi

ambitious, but only a few bore fruit. Some plans raised the prospect of establishing new jurisdictions beyond the scope of traditional state powers. One planet-wide election did take place, and there were hopes for more. An overarching goal shared by most participants was to organize an accountable deliberative body capable of governing the administration of key DNS resources. A central point of contention was how to constitute a legitimate organization whose officers would, on one hand, be expertly conscious of the Internet’s technical constraints and, on the other, be directly responsive to the as yet unarticulated interests of a legitimating global polity. Achievement of the goal was encumbered by contention over: 1) formal legal structure; 2) how to establish geographic or geopolitical balance in the organization’s membership; 3) the extent to which the organization’s powers should be limited, and; 4) how to address conflicting demands from various propertied, credentialed, and ideological constituencies. This dissertation narrates the early history of the Internet governance debates, preparing the ground for further investigation and analysis. Research is based on interviews and correspondence with leading figures in the debates, participation in some key events as they occurred, and review of documentary evidence. The methodological approach used here is qualitative, not quantitative. Rather than prove a statistical correlation between causal variables and specific outcomes, the goal is to make these events understandable through a historical narrative that is accessible to a wider audience. It focuses on “The Root,” the most contended piece of “property” within the Internet’s domain name system. The story of that fight contains enough acronyms to fill a large can of alphabet soup. No one could claim a full understanding of what happened during the domain name wars without mastering vocabularies from several diverse fields, including computer science and intellectual property law. The dissertation starts by discussing some of the foundational analytical problems which motivated this investigation. The central narrative begins by foreshadowing one of the most dramatic episodes in the controversy, an incident in early 1998 which revealed the root as a point of contention. It also introduces Jon Postel, an eminent personality in Internet history, as a decisive figure. Relevant aspects of the technical, ideological, and legal background will be raised along the way.


The story then jumps back in time to describe how key institutional and personal relationships were established. The creation and rise of the Internet is covered here, from the origin of its technical precursors in the late 1960s, its expansion through the early 1990s, culminating with the first phase of the DNS War near the end of 1994. The story then returns to the late 1960s to retrace the building of the Internet again, but this time focusing specifically on the technical and administrative origins of the domain name system. Building on a base of established characters and concepts, the narrative tracks the launch of the DNS War, and recounts its early battles in three distinct phases: 1) Prior to September 1995, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) held a preeminent role delegating oversight responsibility and making policy for the root. A crisis was triggered on September 14, 1995 when officers within the NSF unilaterally instituted a radical policy change. As a result, fees were instituted for the formerly free registration of names within the well-known top level domains, .com, .net, and .org; 2) In response, many constituents of the Internet community demanded reform. Postel moved to assume policy-making leadership. He was a likely candidate, given his capacity as a highly respected figure within the Internet engineering community, and his position as director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a key organ of the Internet standards-making community. Despite giving considerable attention to the problem, he was unable to offer a solution that satisfied a sufficiently broad constituency of interested parties. 3) In mid 1996 Postel passed the initiative to the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC), a conglomeration of associates from the standards-making community, plus some representatives of trademark interests. Together they developed a plan which proposed radical reform of DNS management. Postel endorsed their results, but vehement resistance gave rise to a concerted opposition. This phase culminated in the signing of the Generic Top Level Domains Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU) on May 1, 1997, a bid to set up an expressly global system for Internet governance. Ensuing events will be chronicled in a brief synopsis. The gTLD-MoU signing led to an intense phase of the DNS War, culminating in US Government intervention against it early 1998. In the aftermath, various agencies of the US government and a number of lobbyists coordinated their efforts to develop a counter proposal, eventually leading to the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). viii

The narrative will be followed first by an analysis of the motivation of certain key agents, particularly Vint Cerf, and then by a summary of findings. Three appendices are included. One provides a list of relevant acronyms, the second offers a justification for the metaphorical scheme used in the narrative, the third describes Internet-based sources and interviews referred to in the text.


List of Tables. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii List of Figures. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii List of Chronologies.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii “Who Makes the Rules?”.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Constituting the Root of Power. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Power Makers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Predecessors.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Encountering the Internet.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Investigating the IETF. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Evaluating ICANN’s Errors.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 Opening the Inquiry. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Postel in Power. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 The Day the Internet Divided.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 Authority. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Agency. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 Internetting. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 ARPANET. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Czar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 IANA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 TCP/IP. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 Commercialization and Privatization, Round 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83 Institutionalizing the IETF. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Open Culture. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 The Rise of the IAB. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 Discretionary Authority. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 ISOC Underway. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 The Anti-ITU. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116 Palace Revolt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 “It Seeks Overall Control”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 Standardizing the Standards Process. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 Charters. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137 Lord of Hosts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144 What it All Means. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144 Dawn of the DNS.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 Domain Requirements – 1983 - 1985. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 x

From SRI to GSI-NSI – 1991.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159 One-Stop Shopping – Summer 1992 - Spring 1993. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165 Running the Internet’s Boiler Room – 1993 and Beyond. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172 The Goldrush Begins – 1994. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181 IEEE Workshop – September 1994. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191 InterNIC Interim Review – November 1994. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 194 Exit GA – January 1995.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 197 Enter SAIC – February 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198 Top Level Domains: Who Owns Them? – March 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201 Under New Ownership – Summer 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211 Pulling the Trigger – September 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213 A New Age Now Begins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221 Scrambling for Solutions – September 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221 On the Roadshow – November 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230 You Must Be Kidding - January 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235 ISPs Ascending – February 1996. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 240 The Rise of ARIN – Flashback. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248 The Alt-Root Backlash – Spring 1996.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 255 Draft Postel – May 1996. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263 IRE BOF – June 1996. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273 Blessed Envelopes – July 1996. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279 The Technical Construction of Globalism.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293 A Chorus of Critics – September 1996. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293 Blue Ribbons – November 1996. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 304 IAHC - Late 1996.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 306 Constituting CORE – December 1996.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 313 Blocking the MoUvement Jan-April 1997.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 316 Haiti and iTLDS – March 1997. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 333 Laying the Cornerstone for a Global Commons. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 336 After Geneva. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 346 Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 359 Pursuing the Gutenberg Analogy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 359 Summary of Findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 368 Appendix I: Acronyms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 371 Appendix II: Power. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 380 Rule-making on the Internet vs rule-making in general.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 380 The Skilled Practice of Rules and Categories. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 382 Structuration.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 382 Speech Acts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 390 Interests. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 396 xi

A Short History of Interests and Motivations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 400 Fear. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 400 Rationality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 404 Reflexivity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 407 Deploying Rules.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 411 The Scope of Parts and Wholes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 411 From Neurons to Narratives.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 414 Direction of Fit.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 428 Guides, Gatekeepers, and Peers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 437 Appendix III: Comment on Sources. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 443 Bibliography and Sources. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 449


List of Tables Table 1 Reclassification of the IP address space. September 1981. RFC 790. Table 2 David Conrad’s Models of Internet Governance Table 3 Conceptual Sources of Rule Table 4 Triadic Constructions of Motivations and Interests Table 5 Matrix of Rule Styles Table 6 Searle’s Five Illocutionary Points and Constructivist Derivations Table 7 Mailing Lists and Abbreviations Table 8 Selected Schedule Interviews Table 9 Meetings and Conferences Attended 80 247 386 405 428 436 445 446 447

List of Figures Figure 1 Partial representation of the legacy DNS hierarchy Figure 2 Root Server Hierarchy of the late 1990s and early 2000s Figure 3 Creators of the ARPANET Figure 4 Jon Postel, Steve Crocker and Vint Cerf Figure 5 Jon Postel in 1997 Figure 6 Depiction of early ARPA Network. Figure 7 Danny Cohen’s proposal for TCP/IP, circa 1977. Figure 8 “The In-Tree Model for Domain Hierarchy.” 44 45 56 56 56 58 76 148

List of Chronologies Chronology 1 Selected Events in Internet History Chronology 2 Early Infrastructural Development Chronology 3 Early Steps in IAB, IETF, and ISOC Governance Chronology 4 Selected Events in DNS History Chronology 5 DNS History after the gTLD-MoU 41 94 143 345 358


It's a thorny subject. As the state of my mental hands prove every time I think I have grasped it. Harald Tveit Alvestrand


a. Constituting the Root of Power Among the most hallowed beliefs circulating during the late 20th Century was that no

one was in charge of the Internet. That myth was especially popular among those who should have known better – the computer specialists and public officials who pioneered the system. The reality was quite different, of course. Their vision of a scalable, interoperable, globallyaccessible network shaped not only the Internet, but the unfolding of the new millennium. Nevertheless, the powerful were happy to retreat behind their legend of powerlessness. Consider Brian Reid, who began working as a computer scientist while an undergraduate at the University of Maryland in the late 1960s, and who went on to contribute pivotal advances in electronic document processing, scalable routing systems, and search engine technology. In 1988 Reid proclaimed, “[To] offer an opinion about how the net should be run [is] like offering an opinion about how salamanders should grow: nobody has any control over it, regardless of what opinions they might have.”1 A long parade of unfounded assumptions kept the legend alive. One quip, nearly a decade after Reid’s, epitomized them all: “Asking who manages the Internet is like asking who manages the world's sidewalk program.”2 The instigator of that one, Stephen Wolff, was Director of the Networking Division at the United States National Science Foundation between 1986 and 1995. Wolff presided over the construction of the Internet’s first high speed data backbone. He then organized the transfer of that backbone from the US Government to private ownership. Under Wolff’s leadership the NSF distributed funds that made it possible for hundreds of universities to connect to the Internet. This made him a key

Usenet Newsgroups History,“Alt Hierarchy History - Brian Reid, Usenet Newsgroups, Backbone...” Recounted by Stuart Lynn in an interview with W, June 20, 2002,



2 figure in the events that led to the dominance of the Internet Protocol and the computerization of modern society. Yet, despite Wolff’s remarkable personal achievements, the myth conveyed by his quip is far better known than his name. It is appropriate to set the record straight. Sidewalks do not build or maintain themselves, and neither did the Internet. It is not a distinct life form, like a salamander, with its own independent will and self-contained anatomy. The Internet is the intentional product of human choices, and thus forever subject to them. The fantasy of the Internet’s sovereign anarchy was sustained by Reid’s and Wolff’s misleading metaphors and many like them. Over and again, people who laid the foundations of the Internet fostered myths which denied the far-reaching impact of their choices. This was not due to modesty, but to a familiar ethic of irresponsibility. It allows people from all walks of life – leaders and followers, inventors and functionaries – to excuse themselves from the implications of their power and the ramifications of their actions. This is not to say that Wolff and Reid were part of some grand conspiracy to foist the Internet on a naïve public. They embraced the myth of the Internet’s sovereign anarchy as dearly as anyone. It would be fair to say that they felt humbled and privileged by the opportunity to contribute to something so amazingly, so excitingly big. The paradox of the salamander and sidewalk myths was an overweening humility that left no place for the guiding role of human intention. Cherished delusions are not unusual in human history. Nowadays they are quite prominent, made manifest as individuals act out their choices while declaring humble obedience to providential powers. The list of credited forces is long and familiar: the anarchy of the international system (the law of the jungle writ large), the invisible hand of the market, the immutable logic of Reason, the sacred inviolability of tradition and taboo, the will of supernatural beings, or the rule of scientific progress. These pretenses are characteristic of a culture in which people learn to deny responsibility for their individual deeds by chanting the dictates of socially exalted creeds. It is certainly true that many people shamelessly proclaim virtuous-sounding philosophies to cover their vicious intents. But that sort of self-conscious hypocrisy is a

3 different matter, and ultimately less pervasive. As in Reid’s and Wolff’s cases, most people seem honestly unaware of the contradiction between the powers proved by their deeds and the humility implied by their creeds. Why did the myth that “no one in is charge of the Internet” become such a compelling conventional wisdom? First of all, because it resonated with the order-out-of-chaos, freemarket Zeitgeist so prominent in that era. And that resonated with a deeper human urge to subordinate one’s own willful actions to a desire for graceful harmony with the grandest truths of the universe. But why do people buy into such justifications so readily? And why was the idea of the Internet’s anarchy so compelling at that particular time? The answer lies in the way people recognize and deploy the powers that are accessible to them, and thus their capacity to make choices as responsible agents within a social context.3 By acting to make a difference in his or her own life, someone may either reinforce an existing social context, or perhaps change it slightly, or even inspire one that is altogether new. One’s conception of agency informs one’s own sense of power. Certain questions about power on the Internet suggest themselves: Who sets policy for the Internet now? How they did they acquire their positions? As I will show, a particular cast of characters tended to be in the middle of things, collaborating or battling among themselves. But questions about responsibility must probe deeply, and questions about attitude toward responsibility more deeply still. Those are the underlying questions that drive this investigation: Why did the Internet’s pioneers so often justify their decisions by crediting superior forces beyond their control? Why did those justifications resonate so successfully as overarching ideologies? Many of the Internet’s creators were smitten by intellectually fashionable concepts from chaos theory, a field of mathematics.4 Playing up its metaphors to describe growth and change was a popular exercise in the 1980s and 1990s among thinkers in fields as diverse as economics, psychology, and biology. As the jargon slipped into the engineering community,

The approach used here generally follows from the views of Giddens (1984).

A basic precept is that large complex systems having slightly varied initial conditions may produce widely varying effects. Gleick (1988) remains the most popular book on the concept.


4 it became trendy to say that power-making on the Internet, like its technical structure, was self organizing... edge-controlled.5 Those metaphors intersected nicely with the “end-to-end principle,” a fundamental architectural doctrine of the Internet community. Authors of end-to-end principle rejected the pyramid-like hierarchical structure of other computer systems in favor of moving intelligence and control mechanisms out to peripheral devices. This approach paid off dramatically. Earlier generations of mainframe/dumb-terminal computer systems and switched-circuit telephones required relatively high overhead to maintain communication between endpoints. By refusing to concentrate memory and computing power at a single machine, the Internet’s designers simplified operational management and the process of introducing technological upgrades. More importantly, the Internet avoided a centralized, circuit-switching approach in favor of a highly-distributed, packet-based design. This scalable architecture enabled movement toward a network of interconnected networks – thus, “internet” – far larger than anything conceived before. Another feature of the end-to-end design was that information about the state of a conversation between devices could be maintained exclusively by the devices along the periphery. There was no need for a central authority devoted to monitoring whether lines were available or busy. Conceptually, the Internet was a “dumb network,” like a robotic golem with no consciousness of its own. As the end-to-end principle proved successful, related concepts like dumb networks and intelligent peripherals diffused through the Internet community, taking on creedal properties. Quite a few engineers and analysts were already wary of central authority, perhaps because of an anti-establishment cultural Zeitgeist inherited from the 1960s, or because of the accumulated frustrations of working within large bureaucracies. For these and other reasons, they found it convenient to blend in the trendy jargon of chaotically-styled, edgeoriginated, edge-driven variation. It all rolled up into an allegory for Internet-mediated personal freedom. Personification (or at least Salamandarizaton) of the Internet gave the

“Self-organizing” was by far the more common metaphor. For a typical example of “edge-controlled” see National Research Council (2001),

5 golem a goal. The Internet’s most avid boosters began to portray it as an avaricious vanguard of human progress. Ironically, by crediting a complex mathematical theory for the logic of their design, members of the engineering community tended to disown credit for furnishing the circumstances under which variation could occur. Pioneers like Wolff and Reid were happy to accept recognition for specific contributions, but not for creating and perpetuating the overarching structure itself. There was more honor in the idea of serving the community rather than leading it, and in doing so by mimicking the exigencies of Nature. Not long before the rise of the Internet, the eminent mathematician Norbert Wiener warned of “gadget worshipers” whose “admiration of the machine,” betrayed a “desire to avoid the personal responsibility” for potentially disastrous decisions.6 Gadget worship has ramifications for not only physical devices, but institutions as well. Social organizations can be as enthralling as any new tool. To say “no one controls the Internet” is to say that one of the most important institutional innovations of the modern era is immune to human intervention. This is mistaken. To embed a definite form of decision making at the heart of a process – be it dumb or intelligent, centralized or anarchic – is to champion one’s own design preferences for the body at large. Whether they admitted it or not, the Internet’s engineers were social engineers. People may want to deny their responsibility by denying their power as agents, but such denials will not hold up. An immutable lasseiz faire is as bound by intention as any tyranny. *** The crux of the story is this: There was a war. As in any war, the victors wrote the rules. But in this one, however, they described their actions as a process of natural evolution. The war I will be chronicling ultimately came to be known as the DNS War. DNS stands for Domain Name System. The DNS consists of a set of databases that are used to link Internet domain names such as with underlying numeric addresses that identify specific computer resources. The conflict erupted on September 14, 1995, when names


W iener (1964:53-55).

6 ending in dot-com – names that had once been registered free of charge through a government-subsidized agency called the InterNIC – were suddenly subjected to registration fees. The ultimate beneficiary was Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a well-connected Defense contractor which reaped a multi-billion dollar windfall from the decision.7 The DNS War of the late 1990s and early 2000s engaged countless partisans, plus untold numbers of interested observers, unwitting bystanders, and aspiring referees. Nearly all of them were sucked into a complex, drawn-out combat. Fortunes were won and lost. There was stealth, betrayal, courtroom drama, and backroom dealing, and even the death of a heroic figure in the heat of battle. There were regular shows of selflessness, and even a few authentic acts of it. The grand prize of the struggle was control of a small but critical database at the apex of the DNS. That database is called the root. Each veteran willing to reminisce about those days is bound to offer distinct impressions of what the fighting was about. For many, the dominant theme would be the privatization of the Internet’s domain name system – the creation of a market for a service that had once been provided without charge by the US Government. Others would stress more grandiose concerns – the preservation of free speech and open markets in a world they called cyberspace. It was about values, and money, and ethics, and establishing the rule of law. It was about technology, innovation, and visions of the future. So much seemed to be at stake, the drive to participate in making the decision was all-consuming... simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. The fight was about so many things that much is likely to be forgotten. The parts that will linger, however, concern its central power play... the effort of various factions to establish an institutional gatekeeper for the Internet. In fact, a quasiformal gatekeeping authority had been in place long before the DNS War. But that authority had assumed a tacit and even self-denying persona, bowing to the self-humbling myth of the

See, John Gilmore, “IP: SAIC's acquisition of NSI - details,” IP July 6, 2002. See the filing for SAIC’s purchase at See the filing for the sale to Versign at


7 Internet’s anarchy. Combatants in the DNS War sought to put things on a new level, out in the open. This meant openly formalizing or perhaps even superseding the chain of authority that had been in quiet effect under Steve Wolff and his predecessors. The conflict was intrinsically political. To build up the powers of the gatekeeper’s office, it would be necessary to provide a foundation of legal standing. That step suggested another. Formal authority was not enough. There would also have to be some deliberate articulation of the gatekeeper’s guiding doctrine. Consequently, a deeper, almost philosophical kind of justification was necessary. What would it mean to regulate the use and administration of Internet-based services? What would it mean to establish Internet governance? Those questions prompted vigorous debates about underlying values. Was the Internet about freedom for freedom’s sake, the right to compete (or innovate, or disintermediate), or stable growth for the sake of jobs and commerce? Some saw the debates as an opportunity to sanctify a brave new orthodoxy. Politics begat religion. The crisis raised hopes of another exciting step forward in the technical community’s amazing experiment. Some participants were convinced that the world was on the verge of a grand constitutional moment, as if the current order could be swept away, and redesignated ancien regime.8 After all, the nation-state system wasn’t necessarily a permanent feature of the world stage. It had superseded the Holy Roman Empire, and perhaps could be superseded itself, marking advancement to a new phase in human community. The goals of naming a global Internet gatekeeper and defining its duties were often supported with that prospect very much in mind. Done right, it seemed, the results would serve to advance the interests of global community and human fraternity. The DNS War provided a venue in which people could dare to impose their own Utopian visions of a good society onto the blueprints of tomorrow’s Internet. It was an opportunity to exert power right at the root of a new world order and thus shape the future of our collective civilization.
Consider, for example, the “Cyber-Federalist” writings of Hans Klein under the aegis of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and, and M arc Holitscher, et al, “Debate: Internet Governance,” Swiss Political Science Review, 1999, 5(1): 115-136,

8 Yet there was an inherent paradox in this Utopianism. The prevailing myths of the Internet contrived a realm of unconstrained, participant-directed freedom. True believers demanded that the Internet’s “openness” be preserved and fortified.9 Consequently, any move to formalize enforcement of the Internet’s overarching rules would seem, on its face, heretical. Those sentiments were exploited by individuals whose material interests were best served by maintaining the status quo. The move to fee-charging created instant beneficiaries – SAIC among them – who worked hard to preserve that advantage. Rhetorically, they often found it quite useful to declare themselves harmoniously in line with the vanguard of the Internet’s spirit, whether one called it freedom, openness, unplanned informal order, forbearance, chaos, or anarchy. They found no shortage of idealistically-motivated “useful idiots” who could be enlisted to serve their purposes. Beyond these tactical skirmishes, the struggle was also confounded by the classic political dilemma of establishing a fair decision-making process. Those who hoped to lead the Internet’s first overtly constitutional act faced a double-edged challenge. They needed to constitute a venue for power making whose legitimacy depended on showing regard for power sharing. They needed to enthrone a Boss, and they needed to make it look fair. The text of the Internet’s new guiding values – as well as the rules which would govern the gatekeeper – were being negotiated and articulated by parties whose material interests were directly opposed to each other. So-called “stakeholders” squared off against self-proclaimed “public interest advocates.” The participation of eminent technologists, legal experts, and duly appointed representatives of national governments made it a Battle Royale. The goal of the fight, ironically, was not to be recognized as the last fighter standing, or even as the leader of the pack. The ultimate prize was to be acknowledged as referee. Those jockeying for power sought to elevate themselves as the responsible peers of a newly constituted order. All tended to frame their discourse with references to what was
Preservation of “openness” has served as a battle cry ever since. See, for example, Cliff Saran, “US proposals threaten openness of internet, warns Berners-Lee,” ComputerW, May 24, 2006, p m /A rticles/2006/05/24/216093/U S+proposals+threaten+openness+of+ internet%2c+warns+Berners-Lee.htm.

9 best for the Internet community as a whole, as if their ultimate motivation was nobly distinct from their own particular concerns. Partisans worked hard to establish themselves as rule-makers. Yet, despite their remarkable record of success at producing vast changes in the world, they habitually disclaimed their own agency. Even as they sought to consolidate control of the Internet’s most valuable resources, they personified the Internet as an entity which could foil any overseer. Consider the words of Don Heath, President and CEO of the Internet Society, at a pivotal moment early in the DNS War. We believe that for the Internet to reach its fullest potential, it will require self-governance. Our intent is to facilitate that realization. The Internet is without boundaries; it routes around barriers that are erected to thwart its reach - barriers of all kinds: technical, political, social, and, yes, even ethical, legal, and economic. No single government can govern, regulate, or otherwise control the Internet, nor should it.10 (my emphasis) In that context, “self-governance” meant loyal advancement of the Internet’s barrier-breaking imperative. Traditional human constraints were deemed expendable. Such handwashing rhetoric sought to shift responsibility onto a higher order purpose, as if one’s own sources of power were rooted somewhere far beyond oneself. *** By the end of 2001, administrative reform of the system had trailed off into a bureaucratic quagmire, disappointing the idealists, and reducing their grandiose visions to historical footnotes. Any description of what an Internet-mediated world order might look like belongs firmly within the realm of speculation. But the episode left a trail of insights. Participants in the DNS War offered models of association intended to suit an expressly global political order. Those models were clearly distinguishable from the familiar kinds of social arrangements that conventionally arise from within the bounds of sovereign states.

Donald M. Heath, “Beginnings: Internet Self-governance: A Requirement to Fulfill the Promise.” Speech delivered April 29, 1997,


10 Those distinctions must be examined more closely, but the prospect of doing so raises a formidable analytical problem. To understand the world that Internet idealists thought they were creating, we must understand the world they actually inhabited. What framed their vision? What circumstances did they seek to surpass? In other words, What is the structure of the contemporary international system in the first place? Traditional realists portray the current order as a fluid arrangement of autonomous sovereign states. More economically-minded observers see an interdependent web of pluralistic interests. And others describe a deepening regime of shared values and common law. Is it a bit of all, or something else altogether? For now, let us say that the present order is a discernable reality of rules and rulemakers in which nation states are deemed to be the preeminent locus of politicallymediated activity, framing the rights, obligations, and interests of the subjects and citizens who are, at heart, the animating agents of the present order. Ultimately, what matters is that any civilized human social structure is rooted in agency. If this is true for the modern international system, it will also be true for its predecessor or its successor. The key to making a comparison between past, present, and prospective social arrangements, then, is to get a clear understanding of the mechanisms by which people become social agents. That, in turn, means finding out how people actually go about practicing old rules, making new ones, and abandoning others. If sociality is the skilled practice of teaming up, it is necessary to examine the precise details of how social skills are exercised. In the end, I will argue, the DNS War largely reconfirmed the modern cultural attitude of exalted denial. The issue of who may rightfully exercise power over expressly global resources was left unsettled. Gatekeeping power over the Internet’s core resources simply calcified further into the hands of those who already held it. People, for the most part, still prefer to do as Dorothy was told in the Wizard of OZ... “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Still, there were skirmishes in the DNS War that were about much more than a greedy battle for market share. The experience challenged us to acknowledge the power of

11 agency, to open up the curtain, and to impose accountability on those who are at the controls, starting with ourselves.


Power Makers

This is neither a simple story nor a short one. Its details are spun from an intricate combination of technical, legal, and political threads having antecedents and postscripts that span decades. Measured in “Internet years,” it spanned epochs. For some it became the defining struggle of their lives. Steve Wolff and Brian Reid will appear again later in this narrative, but another pair of Internet pioneers – Jon Postel and Vint Cerf – will play a far more prominent role. In many ways, this is a story about them. Their combined impact is likely to have such farreaching effects on history that they might rightfully be compared to epoch-making inventors such as Johannes Gutenberg and Thomas Edison. By inducing radical and authoritative transformations in peoples’ day-to-day practices, Cerf and Postel emerged as exceptionally powerful agents of change. Having known them both, however, I must hasten to add that they did not present themselves as arrogant, larger-than-life masters of the universe, but as down-to-earth professionals who were simply smart, diligent, and public-minded. Yet they quite intentionally forged careers as recognized leaders within the Internet community. To the extent the creation of the Internet launched a new phase of human order, the outcome bears the imprint of their design. Three distinct metaphors – guides, gatekeepers, peers – can explain the powers of these two pioneers. In fact, those metaphors shed light on the powers of any agent. The first concept is easiest to convey. A gatekeeper’s action brings about a changed state of affairs that other members of a society are forcefully obliged (whether through physical or formal means) to recognize and respect. Gatekeepers close out or open up options. They let people and things pass through gates, or can push them through. Gatekeepers oblige others to act. The second metaphor is also quite familiar. A guide’s power can be equated with concepts like reputation and unenforceable moral authority. Guides make truth claims. But

12 being recognized as someone who makes a truth claim does not necessarily guarantee one will be believed or followed. Guides act by speaking of obligation. The last metaphor is somewhat more sophisticated. The power of a peer generally implies the action of one party freely joining another to participate in a transaction that binds them both. It could also mean testing the merits of a guide’s power, or voluntarily deciding to play out the rules of an existing gatekeeping arrangement. Peers agree to oblige themselves, and then act accordingly. Each of these metaphors will be handy for showing the kinds of power struggles that occurred during the DNS War, and what was at stake. Interested readers can turn to Appendix 2 to find an extended discussion of how these metaphors were derived. But a probing theoretical discussion is not necessary to set out the basic distinctions. For that, a few more examples will suffice. As the Internet’s most important gatekeeper, Jon Postel headed an office he called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. He was thus empowered to make final decisions about the allocation of resources within the Internet’s critical symbolic hierarchy. He could those decisions himself, or delegate the authority to do so. Postel was also a highly respected guide in that he played a key role in defining the values and principles that motivated both his delegates and the community at large. In fact, any Internet engineering veteran could rightfully be considered a guide, presuming he or she advocated the idea of the end-to-end principle or propounded the virtues of the dumb network. The Internet’s most famous guide, arguably, was Vint Cerf. As co-creator of the Internet Protocol, as a self-described evangelist for the technology, and as a perennial figurehead within various organizational efforts, he became an internationally recognized personality. Cerf also acted as a leading gatekeeper from time to time, channeling material resources on behalf of public and private agencies to fund activities that turned out to be critically important. Like many who participated in the creation of the Internet, Cerf and Postel were both peers. They produced experiments, they negotiated as colleagues, and they made agreements about how to proceed as collaborators. Indeed, the goal of enabling further collaboration was

13 a central premise of the Internet’s end-to-end principle. The whole project reflected a conscious intent to create an ever-expanding peer-enabling structure. To get a richer flavor of Cerf and Postel as people, one might want to know how they looked, how they sounded, how they moved, how they dealt with the emotions and puzzles of their inner lives, and perhaps even what clothes they wore on this or that day. Those pictures would offer a sense of who they were as living, breathing, flesh-and-blood people. For starters, it might help to note that the correct pronunciation of Postel’s name is päs-‘tel, with two short vowels and the accent on the second syllable. He was quiet, casual, rather overweight, and easily recognized by his long beard, ponytail and Birkenstocks. Cerf wore a beard as well, but his was trim and elegant, like the rest of his clothing and the assiduously fine manner of his public persona. Drawing a finer picture will be left to others. Given that this narrative will be focused on agency in the Internet’s DNS War, biography must take a back seat to describing how people acted as guides, gatekeepers and peers. Fortunately, those roles are not simply dry academic abstractions. They reflect activities that any living, breathing individual might undertake... from acts as grand as Internet engineering to those as mundane as toilet training. To get a fuller flavor of how guides, gatekeepers, and peers are indeed walking, talking people, it might help to consider another thing they do, and how their doings deploy power: Consider, for example therefore, the power of a kiss. To bestow a kiss reflects a sheerly empirical kind of gatekeeping. An observer using specific criteria would be able to tell whether or not a kiss had been given, with no other meaning beyond that raw fact, like any snap of the fingers or clap of the hands. A kiss takes place in material reality. But the performance of a kiss can also indicate an event of social significance. For example, depending on the context, bestowing a kiss could change the status of the recipient. A ceremonial kiss might formalize the recipient’s official standing in a hierarchy. In certain circumstances it might mark the recipient for arrest, even assassination. The point here is that the instance of the kiss brings about a changed state of affairs. And so might a finger snap or a handclap signal that a new reality has come to pass. The kisser is a gatekeeper.

14 Once a kiss has been bestowed, those who are sufficiently skilled to know the implications of the kiss within that social context will have been empowered to speak to its particular meaning and value. Everybody who knows about the kiss is a potential guide, starting with those who kiss and tell, and including any gossip or purveyor of status. There is also, of course, the freely-given, mutually erotic kiss that readers of this passage probably imagined first. It is most certainly an agreeable act between peers. To the extent we cherish such kisses and say they are to be cherished, we guide our preferences and suggest to others what should be called good. *** Please consider yet one more example of how peering involves creative, risk-laden endeavors. During my research I met quite a few Internet pioneers, several of whom talked at length about the excitement of working on the very first computer networks. Some of the equipment they described was hulkingly primitive. Their stories evoked the imagery of a sepia-colored bygone era. As these graying men recounted the highlights of their youth, resurfacing the thrill of intense effort, I often saw a change in the appearance of their eyes... a joyful glimmer that I labeled “The Twinkle.” When I met Jon Postel in 1997 I noticed he could get rather grumpy when talking about the ongoing responsibilities of being the Internet’s big-shot guide and gatekeeper (which, at the time, was an increasingly arduous and politically messy task). On one occasion, however, our conversation turned to his involvement in an advanced networking experiment. The technology was far ahead of its time, and he liked talking about its speed. Once again, I noticed The Twinkle, but with a twist. It was motivated by thoughts about the present, and not the past, as if he had just been out driving a high-performance concept car, flat-out and open-throttle, with the top down and the wind in his hair. The point here is to stress that acting as a peer involves creative risk. A prospective peer can not know for sure how things will turn out, or even whether potential partners in the endeavor will be reliable partners. The attempt to engage as a peer may succeed delightfully. Or it may crash. In either case, the attempt is life affirming.

15 c. Predecessors

There have been prior narrations of the DNS War, of course, and others are likely to emerge. What distinguishes this one is its focus on the precursors and early stages of the conflict. At the time of this writing, the fullest published account of the story can be found in Milton Mueller’s Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace (2002). Mueller received his advanced degrees from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and wrote the book while teaching Information Studies at Syracuse University. His telling spans a period that starts with the origins of the Internet in the 1970s, closing near the end of 2000 as a new institutional framework for Internet governance finally took stable form. This dissertation provides a far more detailed chronicle of the story, but focuses on a narrower span, beginning in 1990, when the transition to commercialization began to take shape. It concludes with the May 1, 1997 signing of an instrument called the Generic Top Level Domains Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU). Several of DNS War’s most famous (and most infamous) incidents will receive only brief treatment here because they occurred after the gTLD-MoU signing. The benefit of concentrating on this earlier period is to present a discriminating look at the actions and justifications undertaken by key agents prior to the signing. That enables a more detailed replay of various dialogues and more attention to the context of a speakers’ circumstances. Mueller and I reach very different conclusions about what the story means. Drawing on analytical frameworks of political scientist Elinor Ostrom and economist Gary Libecap, he portrays the fight over the domain name system as part of the evolution of a “common pool resource.” Those would be resources that are easily accessible, and that are likely to regenerate if not overused. Well-known examples include trees in forests, fish in fishing grounds, and supplies of fresh water in rivers and aquifers. Mueller sets up the problem in the following way: 1) The establishment, discovery, or “endowment” of new resources occurs, which immediately spurs the next step; 2) A rivalrous “appropriation” of those resources gets underway, prompting competitive battles that lead to conditions of exclusion and scarcity, and finally, therefore; 3) The

16 “institutionalization” of rules helps resolve conflicts and facilitate continued exploitation of the contended new resource.11 Framing the Internet governance debates within that theoretical lense, Mueller argues that the technicians who created the domain name system sought to use it as a mechanism to fund their future activities. Postel and Cerf were chief among them. Supported by allies in the telecommunications industry, the trademark lobby, and elsewhere, this core group of the Internet technical community formed a “dominant coalition” around itself intending to: 1) “reject the authority of the US government” to designate who would be entitled to collect the rent on domain names; 2) “capture” the Internet governance process, putting itself fully in charge of that process via the gTLD-MoU, and; 3) impose a new institutional regime over the domain name system.12 Members of that dominant coalition are the implicit villains of Mueller’s story.13 Putting aside the question of whether Internet resources strictly equate with common pool resources (since nothing is actually regenerated or replenished when the domain name system is left fallow), Mueller gives a remarkably brief and sanguine account of the decisionmaking process that endowed dot-com registrations with value in the first place. Names in dot-com had been provided free of charge until September 14, 1995 when a secretlynegotiated policy amendment caught the Internet community by surprise. Though many paths to the institution of fees were possible, Mueller jumps to conclude that the September 14 event was “the only option.”14 His entire analysis depends on interpreting this single decision as responsible for transforming the Internet’s name space into a common pool resource. Mueller goes on to argue that such resources are characterized by “disequilibriating freedom... social innovation [and] absolute freedom.”15 By implication, this utopian state of

Mueller (2002: 57-8, 267). Mueller (2002: 163-70). Note how Vint Cerf’s influence is characterized by Mueller (2002: 151). Mueller (2002: 110-2). Mueller (2002: 266-7).





17 affairs reigned over the dot-com namespace in the immediate wake of the fee-charging decision. That is, until the “dominant consensus” came in to wreck it. Members of the “entrenched technical hierarchy,” he argues, “lacked the vision to understand” that their resentment of the fee-charging decision and, more to the point, their subsequent countermoves starting with the gTLD-MoU, violated the “old spirit” of the freewheeling and “self-governing” system they had created years before.16 My closer study of the events leading up to the fee-charging decision will reveal that the engineering community had good reason to be suspicious of how that decision was made. It led, after all, to a massive financial windfall for one company – Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). As I will show, several of that firm’s subordinates had cultivated very friendly connections inside the US government, especially within the agency where the decision was enacted. Also, Mueller vehemently criticizes members of the “technical hierarchy” for forfeiting the “Jeffersonian decentralization” that had supposedly characterized their culture in an earlier period. This is mistaken for a variety of reasons. First of all, the “Jeffersonian” characterization overstates the case. Despite its famed openness, the community had no lack of hierarchical decision-making and resource-allocation structures. For example, mechanisms controlled by Postel became well entrenched quite early on. As I will show, those mechanisms were sustained by a general recognition of cases in which the authority of responsible gatekeepers was essential to their own institutional continuity and to the operation of the Internet itself. Second, rather than blindly forfeiting their norms, as Mueller suggests, members of the technical hierarchy responded to the fee-charging event by offering up the gTLD-MoU as an institutional structure designed to operate independently from states. Though problematic, that structure was perceived as a less odious compromise of the community’s norms than subordination to a government’s dictates. Given that states have more coercive power than other legitimate social bodies, avoiding their potentially meddlesome


Mueller (2002:12, 267).

18 participation had an obvious appeal. As we will see, many members of the Internet community were becoming extremely suspicious of the motives held by the US and other governments. One could even argue that the community’s strategy of bypassing governments was reasonably compatible with Mueller’s undisguised Libertarian-infused stance.17 Circumstances at the onset of the crisis had clearly demonstrated the need for a deeper intersection between domain name operations, formal legal doctrine, and stable regulatory bodies. The question was how to do it. The community’s answer was to suggest that the rule of law need not depend necessarily on the rule of states.18 Finally, it is noteworthy that leaders of the engineering community continually asserted the nostrum that “no one controls the Internet” as a guiding principle even as they refashioned its hierarchical mechanisms to establish a new array of gatekeepers. They did indeed publicize their culture in Jeffersonian terms... as a decentralized, globally inclusive community made up by innovative, highly autonomous, freedom lovers, even if they sometimes may have seemed to act at cross purposes with such principles. But that compromise does not mean that they abandoned their core vision of highly scalable, end-toend networking. In fact, their strategy for resolving the domain name crisis was intended to advance that goal by facilitating continued growth of the Internet, and with it, the capacity of people to engage as peers. Another point on which I differ from Mueller concerns the principle of acknowledging oneself as an agent and not just as an author. Though many argue that the task of scholars is to speak objectively and to project a neutral, uninvolved stance, I consider it proper and necessary to disclose the facts that I participated in the Internet Governance

Mueller has occasionally published under the aegis of the Libertarian-oriented Cato Institute. It is noteworthy that he equates an uncoerced style of power – which he implicitly prefers – with institutional control. Mueller (2002: 11). Parenthetically, by my scheme, whenever gatekeeping power comes into play, so would some degree of coercion, whether the brute physical coercion of states, or the ability to have the final say regarding a simple allocation decision. For a succinct argument advocating deeper intersection, see Hans Klein, “ICANN Reform: Establishing the Rule of Law: A policy analysis prepared for The W orld Summit on the Information Society (W S IS ), T unis, 1 6 -1 8 N ovember 2005,” G eorgia Institute o f T echno lo gy,


19 debates beginning in late 1997, and that I tended to be a moderate supporter of the technical community’s position.19 Mueller was involved also, and far more intensely than I. In fact, he was an exceptionally well-traveled and outspoken opponent of the group he calls the “dominant consensus.” But his book did not reveal that activity.20 Readers will find that my narrative moves in directions quite distinguishable from Mueller’s. That said, I also consider him to be a serious scholar and a friendly colleague. There is no denying that his work stood as the most significant study of this aspect of Internet history before now, and that it will continue to remain highly useful to any student of the subject. *** It happens that important elements of the “Internet Governance” story were covered in various works published well before the topic was recognized as a specific field of concern. Two of those older resources provide particularly valuable background. Katie Hafner’s and Matthew Lyon’s Where the Wizards Stay Up Late (1996) is a popular account of the origins of the Internet and its technical precursor, the ARPANET . Their history ends before the DNS controversy begins outright, but they fill their pages with personal stories of many key personalities, including Cerf. Jane Abbatte’s Inventing the Internet (2000) also focuses on the ARPANET and the early Internet, drawing attention to how supervision passed from military to civilian agencies. She briefly addresses the domain name controversy, which was in an early phase as she finished her study. One online history that deserves a look is “A Brief History of the Internet,” written by several of engineering stars, including Cerf, Postel,

Most notably, I served as a scribe at the first IFW P conference in Reston, Virginia, in July 1998, and I was a member of ICANN’s W orking Group C (New gTLDs) in early 2000. Beyond his partisanship in the governance debates, he also provided testimony as an expert witness for PG Media, one of the plaintiffs in related litigation (see “Declaration of Milton Mueller on Behalf of Plaintiff PGMedia, Inc.,” And Mueller later took on official responsibilities as a panelist in the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process (UDRP) that emerged from the institutionalization effort.


20 Wolff, and Barry M, Leiner.21 Others include Zakon’s “Hobbes’ Internet Timeline,” Anthony Anderberg’s, “History of the Internet and Web,” and an online tutorial by David Mills. 22 Ellen Rony’s and Peter Rony’s copious and wide ranging book, The Domain Name Handbook. High Stakes and Strategies in Cyberspace (1998), focuses directly on domain names, covering a time span that is overlapped in this dissertation. Their chief motivation was not unraveling the controversy, however, but explaining domain name “registration procedures and pitfalls” to their readers.23 (Though it is peripheral to this dissertation, the “How do I get a domain name?”question has proven to be the one I am asked most often in public discussions.) The Rony and Rony book also provides plentiful detail about specific trademark disputes. Similar territory has also been covered by various legal scholars who have a professional interest in matters of jurisdiction and intellectual property.24 I will deal with a few trademark-related cases only in passing, addressing certain background concerns – especially political ones – leaving the case histories and legal reasoning to others. Some other issues examined by Rony and Rony will receive extensive treatment here. One was an entrepreneurial movement they labeled the “Alterweb.” Another concerned the questionable legitimacy of the so-called “charter” of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. Like Mueller, they chronicle some of the events which led to the signing of the gTLD-MoU. Again, what I hope to contribute is a fuller and more focused narration of the associated episodes, so that the readers can gain a livelier picture of agents and their circumstances.

Barry M. Leiner, et al. “A Brief History of the Internet (Version 3.23, revised December 10, 2003),” Robert H. Zakon, “Hobbes’ Internet Timeline v8.2,” An earlier version was published in November 1997 as RFC 2235. Anthony Anderberg, “History of the Internet and W eb,” David Mills (2005). “Tutorial on the Technical History of the Internet.”



Rony and Rony (1998: viii).

For an early example, see David J. Loundy, “A Primer on Trademark Law and Internet Addresses.” 15 John Marshall J. of Computer and Info. Law 465 (1997), and JMLS-Trademark.html.


21 A pair of relevant studies were published by A. Michael Froomkin (a Professor of Law at the University of Miami who was active in the DNS debates, and is also a member of my dissertation committee). In “ Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace,” Froomkin made a sustained argument that the standards-making processes developed by members of the Internet’s technical community met exceptionally high criteria for ethics and legitimacy.25 This illustrates the early appeal of the Internet’s culture, and how that culture was attributed a status approaching an exemplar of moral authority. Froomkin’s “Wrong Turn in Cyberspace: Using ICANN to Route Around the APA and the Constitution,” written later, portrays some segments of the technical community with very low regard, indicating the dramatic changes that occurred after the Internet Governance debates got underway. Froomkin became very critical of the technical community’s participation, deeming the policy process which emerged to be “precisely the type of illegitimate agency decisionmaking that modern administrative law claims to be most anxious to prevent.”26 Other studies include Governing the Internet: The Emergence of an International Regime (2001), by Marcus Franda, and Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World (2006), by Jack Goldsmith and Time Wu.27 Franda’s book launched a three-part series about the Internet’s affects on global economic development. That first volume was particularly concerned with the norms, principles and assumptions underlying the Internet expansion policies promoted by the West, especially the regulatory forbearance policies intended to encourage investment. In addressing the domain name controversy and the related Internet Governance debates as examples of “agenda setting and negotiation,” Franda was understandably far more concerned with the results of the DNS War than the details of

Michael Froomkin, “ Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace,” 116 Harvard Law Review. 749 (2003). A. Michael Froomkin, “W rong Turn in Cyberspace: Using ICANN to Route Around the APA and the Constitution,” 50 Duke Law Journal. 17 (2000). Also online at articles/icann-main.htm. Note that while the publication date of “W rong Turn” precedes “Habermas,” (fn. 25 the latter was available online in draft form well before 2000. See also Paré (2003) and Harold Feld, “Structured to Fail: ICANN and the Privatization Experiment” in Thierer and Crews (2003).
27 26


22 its episodes.28 Goldstein and Wu, on the other hand, offer a narrative that briefly recounts some of the DNS War’s most celebrated events, linking them as anecdotes in a bigger story about how the Internet’s idealistic culture ultimately conformed to the demands of geography and the dictates of governmental authorities.29 *** It will be some time before history’s final verdict is rendered, but the idea that the Internet launched the world on a path of fundamental transformation has become deeply embedded and is likely to persist. Take the prognostications of Thomas Friedman, the author and New York Times columnist whose best-selling The World is Flat (2005) portrayed the dawn of the new millennium as marking the move to a new era of global technological convergence. He based this prediction on the appearance of ten so-called “flatteners” – crucial developments that sparked radical, unabating explosions of cross-border transactions. All but one of them stemmed directly from increasing reliance on the Internet and computerization. The other was the destruction of the Berlin Wall. And even that welcome event was a product of the “information revolution,” he wrote, because interconnected computers and faxes broke the “totalitarian monopoly” on tools of communication.30 Internet Governance debates were far under the horizon in Friedman’s book, as were the civil society movements that have increasingly come to the fore in the early 21st century. Yet the proliferation of cross-border grassroots political movements during the first decade of the century certainly appears to validate Friedman’s views about the march of “flattening.” If anything, it is accelerating. *** Herodotus thought it best to “always wait and mark the end.” Perhaps recent expectations of an Internet-engendered global transformation were unwarranted, revealing a lot about peoples’ capacity to engage in exaggerated projections and wishful thinking, and


Franda (2001: 43-81). Goldstein and W u (2006: vii-ix). Friedman (2005: 52).



23 very little about likely consequences of the current reality. Whether a wrong turn was taken, or no turn was taken, it is clear enough that a turn was intended. What follows is the story of agents who hoped to drive the world in a new direction. A useful way to begin, I believe, is to describe for the reader my own story of how I became aware of the DNS War and how I developed my particular understanding of it.


Encountering the Internet

My involvement began inadvertently. Though I had already been “online” for several years through the Compuserve Information Service, I had no direct experience with the Internet until 1994. That introduction was fascinating, but baffling. It was busy, electric, a hopping swirl of electrons inside a vast labyrinth of code and wire, zipping with traffic, organized unlike anything I had encountered before. There was no obvious beginning or end, just the chance to plunge in and sweep along, giddy, feeling the current push out to an everexpanding universe of information-bearing islands and grand tangential way stations. The main pieces of the Internet’s structure were not easy to make out. At first glance, the format of email addresses seemed to offer a clue. Compuserve identified its members with seemingly arbitrary numbers like 72210,3613, whereas the Internet let people use names like It was an easy guess that email was being routed across the Internet based on the parts of the name following the @ sign. Beyond that, I was stumped. Still, there was a way to grope ahead. Compuserve offered something called a “gateway” to the Internet through which users could send and receive email. Correspondents had to translate between the two systems’ different address formats. I learned the procedure, but I was performing rote operations step-by-step, without real insight as to why they were necessary. Finally, in early 1995, I saw a demonstration of the World Wide Web. A librarian at my University had a machine running a program called Mosaic, a web browsing tool which was the precursor of Netscape’s Navigator and Microsoft’s Explorer.31 One could see that
Mosaic was developed under the leadership of Mark Andreesen at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser is a direct descendant of that project. Andreesen also developed the M ozilla code base which was the heart of Netscape’s original Navigator browser. See

24 the layout of the Web’s hypertext links, such as, slightly resembled Internet email addresses. The demonstration was exciting, but perplexing. Compuserve did not yet provide web access. To get a browser running at home meant having to find out about a whole new class of tools, and where to get them. With so little knowledge of the Internet or how to maneuver my way around it, catching up looked like a daring project. I was willing to strike up a conversation with anyone who seemed like they might be able to demystify it for me, its naming system included. The “net,” as insiders called it back then, was particularly difficult to understand because there was no “there” to it. It had few features that resembled the online world I already knew. Compuserve, in rudimentary terms, relied on a widely distributed number of telephone dial-up nodes that fed into high speed trunk lines. Those lines ultimately fed into a powerful computer system in Columbus, Ohio. Compuserve used a technology known as time sharing, so called because commands submitted by each logged-in user were serviced in small slices of time. By sharing a computer’s processing power this way, a complicated command issued by one user would never seem to bog down the system for everyone else. It was easy enough to imagine bundles of wires feeding into Compuserve’s building where a gigantic mainframe computer was humming away behind glass walls, a blinking monolith tended by bald men wearing thick glasses and white coats. Before long it became clear that there was little sense to questions like “Where is the Internet based?” The consistent response was that it didn’t work that way. A full answer would take a lot of explaining. And catching on meant a lot of relearning. The categories which rendered Compuserve comprehensible weren’t sufficient to cover the Internet, where data storage and processing power were physically distributed. Making analogies to familiar technologies could be misleading. Unlike the phone system, which depended on continuous transmission over dedicated circuits, the Internet leveraged a technology called packet switching, sending bits of disassembled information over shared media. Domain names stood out as particularly interesting creatures. The Internet was supposed to be open and decentralized, yet its naming structure was obviously hierarchical.

25 It was clear that some organization somewhere was in charge of assignments. I developed a routine question, “Who makes the rules for getting domain names?” Not long after my first look at Mosaic I met someone who had a good grip on the answer. He worked for an Internet Service Provider (ISP) which, back then, was a fairly new and rapidly growing kind of business, and he gave me a reasonable summary of Internet administration as it then stood. A US government-funded organization called the InterNIC gave out names free of charge to qualified applicants. Names ending in .com were meant for businesses. Names ending in .net were for ISPs, .edu was for colleges and universities, and names ending with .org were for non-profit corporations. I didn’t bother to ask who designed the system, or why they chose those particular suffixes, or how the InterNIC was put in place, or any other of a host of questions that now seem so relevant to the “who makes the rules” part of my inquiry. At the time I was wondering whether I could get a domain name of my own. As it happened, the rules were about to change, making the acquisition process easier for everyone. In September 1995, as the result of a revision in US Government policy, the subcontractor which had been operating the InterNIC adopted a fee-based, first-come firstserved policy for names ending in .com. Proof of qualification would no longer be needed. Names had suddenly become commodities. It was impossible to miss the surge of advertising which ensued. Many small businesses began offering name registration services, typically for about $200. For my own particular reasons I liked the word flywheel as a possible business name. It was suddenly clear that if I didn’t act immediately to register, someone else would surely beat me to it. I experienced a rising sense of panic that many Internet-savvy people must have felt back then – the fear of missing a chance to get first pick at one’s identity (a type of dread that must be deeply rooted in the human psyche). Luckily, an acquaintance was starting his own Internet business and knew what to do. He filled out the form required by this mysterious InterNIC, and sent it in on my behalf. He even took care of requirements of which I was then unaware, like matching the name with an underlying Internet Protocol number, called an IP address. I later received a $100 invoice

26 directly from the InterNIC, covering a two year registration period. What a bargain. With my friend’s generous help I had been able to get the right to control But I still had no clue at all about how to put it to use. Around that same time I signed up for an Internet account via a service provider which had advertised in a book I had purchased. (This was still well before the genre of primers pitched at self-selected morons had become a market phenomenon.) Soon I was exploring news groups on the Usenet, and having some fun with a search engine called Archie. I wasn’t using the Web at home yet, and I still had only the vaguest notion of how the Internet fit together. I continued on with Compuserve. I also installed an early version of America Online, seduced by its promise of hours upon hours of free service. My domain name continued to lay dormant. I had learned to place value on domain names, and I had even learned that I could – with lots of help – acquire them. In a sense, I had just been transformed by a process of socialization. I had entered into a society – I had become an agent within it – by adopting pertinent values shared by other members. Other important evidence of that agency was that I had adapted my actions to suit that society’s rules. Like the other newcomers, I was acquiring new skills appropriate to the culture of an Internet domain name owner. Nevertheless, I really hadn’t acquired any deeper understanding of who made the rules for the InterNIC, or how those rules worked from the top down. As a consequence of my ad hoc, bottom up approach, I had learned that one of the chief rules for getting domain names to act quickly and in league with people who knew how to work the system – in this case my generous friend; the entrepreneurs selling name services; and the operators of the InterNIC at the top of the chain. I had gotten through the gates.


Investigating the IETF

In early April, 1997 a group of about one thousand computer networking specialists gathered in Memphis, Tennessee for a week-long meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force, better known as the IETF. For them, the meeting was about fleshing out the details

27 of the Internet’s newest technical standards. For me, the flight to Memphis was a fishing trip. I needed a case study for a Ph.D. dissertation I had just started, and the IETF promised rich waters. My general idea for a topic concerned how recent developments in the creation of standards for high-tech telecommunications seemed to be prompting the emergence of a new kind of global regime. In common parlance, the word regime generally means a country’s ruling government. For International Relations scholars like myself, however, regime is a very precisely defined term of art concerning explicit and implicit kinds of international arrangements that reveal interdependence among states. Academics generally use the term to account for interlocking systems of trade, security, law, and even culture. More precisely, regimes are said to emerge from a confluence of norms, interests, and decision-making processes pertaining to specific issue areas.32 Regime-oriented theories have been used to explain international collaboration on issues as diverse as public health, arms control, and management of ocean resources. While most scholars who wrote about regimes tended to be interested in traditional arrangements initiated and managed by state actors, I was investigating the nature of arrangements initiated and managed by explicitly global regimes. The distinction depended on two factors. One was the preeminent role of individuals within the regime who were representing private bodies such as corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society groups, or perhaps even just themselves. Consequently, diplomats and other governmental functionaries were relatively less likely to perform as leading guides and gatekeepers, establishing fundamental principles and carrying out operational rules. The second factor was the increasing role of technical elites in setting policies for the distribution of important resources. This is what made the IETF so interesting. Recent trends hinted that governments were either ceding power to entities other than themselves, or that governments were simply unwilling (or perhaps even unable) to hold the reigns of control


Stephen D. Krasner, ed., International Regimes (1983). See also, Robert Keohane, After Hegemony


28 over certain kinds of modern resources. I was interested in finding examples that could prove the trend and uncover its causes. The IETF was not the only option for a case study. Other candidates included agencies that were allocating radio spectrum, designating satellite orbits, putting out faster modem protocols, or developing new specifications for moving data across high speed fibre and cable. The activity in so many areas indicated, to me at least, that a real power shift was underway in the world. The technical elites who designed such standards were making important decisions about rules and resources which the rest of the people in the world relied on but rarely thought about. In the field of International Relations these expert-run, scientifically-oriented regimes were known as epistemic communities – groups of “knowers.” They were like technocratic meritocracies, bringing together people around a set of shared assumptions and rigorous methodologies as they generated increasingly specialized truth claims within highly focused disciplinary areas. Epistemic communities exemplified systems of rule by professionally trained technical specialists, supposedly immune from the “truths” that political leaders might try to impose.33 They were weather wonks and garbage geeks. My kind of people. To prove the point I wanted to make about the growing influence of such groups, I needed an example of a standard-making process that had a significant world-wide effect, yet operated without direct government oversight. The IETF seemed to be more promising than the other options for several reasons: First of all, the Internet was the new darling of global communication. A dissertation on the dynamics of Internet standards-making would certainly have more sizzle than one about the backroom politics of modems. Also, the IETF was a notoriously open organization with a large and diverse mix of participants who met relatively frequently. An outsider would find it much easier to observe activities there than within any of the other candidate agencies.

The standard definition is, “a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area.” See Peter M . Haas, "Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination," 46 International Organization 1 (1992). Peter M. Haas should not be confused with Richard N. Haass, the former State Department policy planning director.


29 Most intriguing of all, some IETF members were remarkably uninhibited about making radical sounding pronouncements. For example, at a meeting in 1992 one of the IETF’s leaders, Dave Clark, a professor at MIT, had declared, “We are opposed to kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code.” The slogan was soon printed on a thousand T-shirts which the IETF’s membership snatched up and wore enthusiastically. When I learned about Clark’s statement and how strongly it had resonated in that community, my mind ran wild with inferences about what it could mean. The creators of the Internet were already being heralded in the media as technical revolutionaries. Now I could see that they were daring to talk like political ones. I wanted to know what kind of a revolution they had in mind. How did their political agenda affect their technical one? Which of the IETF’s standard development processes most clearly

exemplified the political program of its members? If I could somehow identify the Next Big Standard at its moment of creation, I believed I would be in a position to watch the future unfold. *** The Memphis IETF meeting was attended by nearly two thousand people, who spent the better part of a week discussing hundreds of interrelated standards. The meetings were arranged according to a handful of overarching categories called Areas, including Security, Applications, Routing, Operations and Management, Transport, User Services, and Internet, which dealt with fundamental technical protocols. Each Area had several working groups, making up about one hundred active groups in all.34 Working groups were identified by acronyms that were only slightly more arcane than the titles they stood for. For example, the Border Gateway Multicast Protocol group was known as BGMP. There was a lot to absorb. The participants seemed to be an army of geniuses, led by an inner corps of “doers” who seemed to turn up everywhere. The meetings also included many silent “goers” who were just monitoring the proceedings. Not surprisingly, the meetings were pitched at a high level of skill. Jargon-laded conversations focused on extraordinarily specialized matters. Had

These Areas are









30 I wanted, I might have tried passing myself off as a goer rather than a topic-hunter, but I was exposed every time sign in sheets were passed around to attendees at the working group sessions. Nearly everyone wrote down a normal-looking Internet email addresses, whereas my Internet-readable Compuserve address stuck out like a sore thumb. I could have used my AOL address, but quickly surmised that doing so would have made me look even more, for lack of a better word, unhip. It hadn’t taken long to pick up on the fact that many IETF members – people who had been using the Internet since the mid 1980s and earlier – deeply resented the new mass market email services provided via,,, and others. Use of those suffixes immediately identified the owners as clueless newbies – rough and uncouth in the ways of the veterans’ beloved ‘net. There was even a word for an IETF member’s prejudice against people who used mass market addresses – “domainism.” *** Prior to my Memphis trip, the most appealing candidate for a case study of standardsmaking was the effort to revise the Internet Protocol. The version then in use, IPv4, had a glaring flaw. It was designed in the 1970s by a team that vastly underestimated Internet’s eventual popularity. As result, IPv4 didn’t contain enough numeric address space to meet projected demand through the first decade of the 21st century. It was as if the phone system had been designed with too few digits in the length of a telephone number. A two digit phone numbering system, for example, would support only 100 distinct connections. The Internet’s IPv4 standard could theoretically support “only” about four and a half billion unique connections... certainly not enough if everyone in the world eventually got online with at least one device that needed an IP number. Avoiding the expected scarcity would require an overhaul much more traumatic than simply adding area codes here and there. Some stopgap measures were in place, but IETF members were hard at work on the next version, IPv6. Their priority was to deliver gigantically higher capacity. But that was not all. They were also working to deliver mechanisms that promised lots more security. New features facilitating encryption and authentication of identity were

31 intended to strengthen confidence that online communication could be a private and trustworthy form of interaction. Providing security, of course, happens to be one of the most important things that states do. The approaches were fundamentally different, however. Where states can provide public security by coercing people, the Internet community was offering tools by which individuals could better protect their private communication. Better “locks” could keep potential thieves out of one’s business, and could keep governments out as well.35 It didn’t take a great leap of imagination to wonder about the ulterior activist motives of the IPv6 designers. The question of how much security to build into the protocol had become a growing point of contention between the technical community and some governmental agencies, sparking a series of legal battles between the US government and some IETF members over the publication and export of some encryption algorithms.36 It seemed that focusing on development of the protocol revision would force me to learn a great deal about how the Internet worked, both technically and politically. This, in turn, would enable me to describe how an epistemic community melds the processes of technical design and social architecture. Also, the topic offered a very appealing bonus... lots of spicy source material. Technical though it was, the encryption debate stimulated real passion. Security questions have a way of triggering a primal emotional response in people. An important lesson of this poking around in the IETF was that the foundational structure of the Internet was actually independent from the domain name hierarchy. Routing IP packets turned out to be an issue that was far more important than domain names, and much harder to visualize. Routing depended on a complex topology of nodes and exchange points that constituted the roads and ramps of what was popularly called the “information superhighway.” For various technical reasons, efficient routing depended on how IP addresses were allocated among ISPs. Consequently, it was clear that the people who


Credit goes to Michael Froomkin for bringing the “lock” analogy to my attention.

The most celebrated cases involved Phil Zimmerman, who developed the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) standard in 1991. Zimmerman then became a target of criminal investigation for violations of munitions control regulations, until the US government unilaterally dropped the matter.


32 controlled the distribution of the new numbers would play a major role in shaping the flow of Internet traffic for decades to come. Given all these factors, an analysis of the debates surrounding IPv6 seemed like a perfect topic for anyone who wanted to investigate how an elite technical community could wield powerful influence over the development of globespanning infrastructures. As it turned out, there was a German sociologist at the Memphis meeting who was apparently working on that topic, and she had already developed a strong background as a result of previous studies on IETF processes.37 Moreover, she seemed to be on familiar terms with many people at the meeting and she clearly had an inside track on getting interviews with its leaders. Academics generally prefer to be the first to write about a subject, so I was open to finding another. Finally, on the next to the last day, I saw a presentation about plans for a pact between the IETF, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and several other private and public organizations. The agreement, presented in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), had three practical goals. The first was to extend the domain name system by creating seven additional suffixes, including .web, .art, .shop, and .info. These suffixes are known as Top Level Domains, or – to people in the know – TLDs. Sales of names within those TLD categories were to be managed by a new registry service that would function as a kind of worldwide wholesaler. The second goal was to create a global array of registrar agents to provide retail and customer service functions for both the new TLD registries and any existing ones that wanted to leverage those services. The third goal was to develop and apply a new quasi-judicial system to settle disputes between entities who wanted the same domain name. All of this was to be done under the aegis of a radically new kind of administrative structure constituted expressly for that purpose. That structure was to be based in Geneva. Since Switzerland was traditionally regarded as a neutral political venue, the move would

This was Jeanette Hofman. See Sabine Helmers, Ute Hoffmann, Jeanette Hofmann. “Standard Development as Techno-social Ordering: The Case of the Next Generation of the Internet Protocol,” Social Science Research Center, Berlin, M ay 1996,


33 signal the people of the world that the Internet’s management was no longer dominated by the United States Government. Also, to improve the process of registering domain names, a new supporting standard called “core-db” was to be developed. Taken together, these steps would transform the US-centered commercial monopoly based around the InterNIC into a globally-diversified market. Everything was supposed to be completed well before the end of 1997. Here, it seemed, was an issue that concerned a fairly narrow band of events, yet was rich with analytical possibilities. The IETF’s move to create new TLDs was clearly a case of standards-making prompted by private actors. But there was an intriguing twist, in that the ITU was one of the world’s oldest international organizations. Writing about the gTLD-MoU seemed like a perfect fit for an International Relations program, and it would indulge my abiding curiosity about who makes the rules for getting domain names. The task ahead appeared to be simple and clear: Just dig into the details concerning the political and technical background of the MoU and then, over the next few months, monitor the development and implementation of the new core-db standard. If things stayed on course, the research could be completed soon... perhaps by December that same year.


Evaluating ICANN’s Errors

Three and half years later, November 2000, the dissertation was far from complete and I was attending yet another in a long series of contentious meetings on domain name policy, this time at the Marriot Hotel in Marina del Rey, California. It was the second annual meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), where its Board of Directors had just selected seven new TLD suffixes for the domain name system. At the end of the last day, as an audience of about 800 people was clearing the room, I spotted Bret Fausett sitting in the front row. A young Los Angeles-based attorney, Bret was clearly preoccupied by an intense internal dialogue, with his head in hands and his elbows on his knees. Occasionally he would look up and slowly shake his head side to side as if thinking, “No. I can’t believe it. We were so close.” Then would drop his head into his hands again. I approached, waiting for his state of mind to shift. He didn’t seem inordinately upset

34 by his inner recounting. But he was not happy. Given what had just transpired, he was taking things rather well. I had recently met Bret as a result of agreeing to sell my domain name, A few weeks earlier, someone representing a Silicon Valley startup had called offering thirty thousand dollars for it. Several such offers had come over the years of the Internet boom, but that one seemed far more serious. Prices for “good” names ending with dot-com had grown quite high, partly because of the “irrational exuberance” fueled by the overheating stock market, but also because of the drawn-out failure of the Internet’s rule makers to introduce new suffixes. Bret and I were both longtime members of an Internet-based community and email list dedicated to the discussion of domain name policy issues. He had reviewed the contract for me, and now at last, in Marina del Rey, I was meeting him in person. But this did not seem like the best time to say thank you. Bret was at the meeting representing a consortium of companies that were bidding for the rights to inaugurate a TLD named .iii. His clients had paid a non-refundable $50,000 application fee to ICANN, and had shown they were prepared to make millions of dollars more in related investments if their bid was accepted. More than forty other applicants had done the same, seeking their own TLDs. During the course of the day the prospects for dot-iii looked exceptionally good. At each step of the process it ranked high on the list of leading candidates, which was projected on a giant screen at the front of the room. But fortunes changed suddenly, right at the very end. Dot-iii was removed from the list. Seven winners were chosen, and all the losers – including Bret and his clients – were left with nothing. The application money was spent, hopes were dashed, and calls for reproach were in the air. The MoU which had sparked my interest so long before was now old history, crushed before it was launched. Over the ensuing years I had spent countless hours online, monitoring and joining in as people fought over how to reform the domain name system and debated what kind of rules should shape the Internet. I had published one of the first articles in my

35 field to deal with the question of Internet governance,38 and I had turned into a useful site for people looking for information about that subject.39 I had participated in a fascinating and even inspiring series of meetings that some people called the Constitutional Convention of the Internet. I witnessed ICANN’s emergence, practically out of the blue, after a surprise backroom deal that made the efforts of those heralded meetings irrelevant. I had become an active contributor to an ICANN working group that recommended criteria for creating new TLDs. I had watched the controversy grow, attracting hordes of journalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and diplomats, as well as a former Swedish head of state and a cacophonous handful of loons. And I had been present as various academics from International Relations and other fields came on the scene to pursue their own investigations. My topic had become a crowded territory. At the time of the Marina del Rey conference, the dissertation was on what I called “the back burner.” I was still working on it intermittently, amid making a living and having a life. But I had come to this ICANN meeting because, finally, in November 2000, after years of delays and setbacks, it looked like new Top Level Domains were really going to be added to the Internet’s Domain Name System. It would have been a shame to miss it. Bret’s attention soon returned to his exterior world. As our conversation began I asked him about the choice of .iii as a suffix. His clients had made such a strong bid from a technical and financial standpoint; it was surprising that they did not also select a suffix that sounded more marketable. What was the appeal? Was it really a plausible choice? One board member had derided “eye-eye-eye” for being “too hard to pronounce.” This struck me as a fair point. Bret’s answer was unequivocal. Since .iii didn’t mean anything in particular already, it could be pronounced several ways, would be easier to brand later, and it could be marketed differently in different languages. The string was also relatively less susceptible to typos. Moreover, he felt it wasn’t ICANN’s business to mandate what TLDs should or should not
“Internet Governance Goes Global,” in Kubalkova, et al, eds. International Relations in a Constructed World (1997).
39 38

Information developed during that period was moved to

36 be created. Nothing in the application process specified the name had to be pronounceable. Once registry operators had proved their technical and financial bona fides, why not allow them to proceed? A few of ICANN’s board members had voiced support for portions of Bret’s logic during the open deliberation period. But they were in the minority when the final vote was taken. I had learned a lot over the past few years, and was well aware that Bret knew better than nearly anyone else on earth how to get a domain name. Yet he couldn’t get the one he wanted. Ironically, he couldn’t even get a name that no one else wanted. Despite all the knowledge that had been accumulated about who made the rules for registering names, in the end it was all too clear that there was something humanly arbitrary about the process. The choices were political, even personal, but not technical. In rendering their decisions, ICANN’s staff and board members made a show of giving considerable attention to published processes. In the end, however, the formalities seemed like lip service. The final decisions didn’t seem to point to any hard and fast standards. Few among the remaining applicants considered the process straightforward, neutral, or fair. Luck was involved. Sentiments weighed heavily. Bargaining was evident. Threats were playing a part as well. The outcome had more to do with the relative persuasive powers of the selectors than the qualifications of the contenders. ICANN’s officers were committing an error that had also been made by the authors of the 1997 MoU. That same error was repeated throughout the history of the domain name controversy. In the past it had occurred behind closed doors. This time it was being performed in full public view. New rules for the domain name system were being issued by individuals who had fallen woefully short in their efforts to demonstrate the broadest possible legitimacy of their authority to do so. History was repeating. It was just another episode in what one scholar called a pattern of “closure and usurpation.”40 A venue for “open” discussion would be created; numerous participants would work furiously to arrive at a consensus; then some


Daniel J. Paré, Internet Governance in Transition: Who is the Master of This Domain (2003:166).

37 authoritative body would step in to impose its own notion of what the rules should be. It was true that ICANN’s Board had done far more than its predecessors to prove its responsiveness and to try to avoid looking like a usurper, but expectations had heightened over the years. Observers were now terribly sensitive to legitimacy issues; they were demanding, skeptical, and very hard to please. ICANN’s institutional predecessors in the DNS War had been wrecked by allegations of illegitimate, secretive behavior. Now ICANN was exposing itself to similar attacks. Its board claimed to be acting as an open and inclusive body. But ICANN’s growing cadre of critics believed that was a false pretense. The board had emerged from a closed and exclusive process, after all, and had only opened up in response to strong public pressure. ICANN’s critics now felt alienated and even subservient in the face of its actions. They railed at every hint of a process violation and every whiff of a broken commitment. Despite the widespread desire for new TLD suffixes, the perceived arbitrariness of the selection process did more to energize ICANN’s opponents than it did to settle issues that had been plaguing the Internet community for the previous five years. Would ICANN be the DNS War’s next casualty? There was a critical difference between ICANN and its predecessors, however. For now, just as long as they didn’t do anything that seemed too crazy, ICANN’s Board members could count on the Clinton Administration to support their TLD selections and any related policy decisions. An official from the Department of Commerce would co-sign its own Memorandum of Understanding with ICANN and that would be that. Many other national governments were likely to follow suit, in spirit if not in letter. But governments are only a part of the Internet community. ICANN was just two years old. It seemed to be creating enemies inside and outside the community faster than it was creating allies. For the time being, given continued US endorsement of its activities, ICANN’s existence was not in jeopardy. But now its supporters faced yet another enervating round of vehement condemnation from a passionate, well-mobilized opposition. ICANN’s enemies were intent on wearing it down. Its relative effectiveness depended on how well its officers and supporters could endure each new wave of attacks and insults.

38 I relished having a front seat to history all those years, and felt privileged to have one again that afternoon. But those feelings were offset by my belief that I was witnessing another monumental waste of effort. November 16, 2000 could be construed as the dawning of real Internet governance, but an old story was unfolding. It was easy to predict what would come next. There would be massive public fights over process and philosophy while a small group of individuals with privileged access to members of the US Government decided how to proceed. Many familiar faces were present that week, playing out their traditional roles at the front line of the domain name wars. A contingent of veteran techies from the IETF’s old guard was there, of course. Dave Crocker, John Klensin, Jun Murai were warning against doing things that might break the Internet, or somehow sabotage their carefully wrought design for it. Christopher Ambler and Jonathon Frangie were there again, too. They were the all time losing contenders for a privately operated suffix, and were pushing their claims for control of dot-web as relentlessly and as unfruitfully as ever. Chuck Gomes was there too... polished and charming, well-prepared and well-supported. He was fully determined to protect his employer, Network Solutions, Inc., and its highly lucrative position as the SAIC subsidiary that was the incumbent operator of the dot-com registry. Journalists and academics were there in force. Author/pundit Ellen Rony was among them and was, as always, chiding the people in power to do better. Perhaps even the gentle ghost of the Internet’s noble hero was there – the disembodied spirit of the lately departed Jon Postel. Postel was co-creator of the Domain Name System, and the long-time steward of the Internet’s standards making process. He had died two years before, but the presence of his influence was undeniable. He had been honored and recalled in numerous speeches throughout the meeting. It was his handiwork, after all, that was the subject of all this brouhaha at the Marriot in Marina del Rey. The suite of offices where he had served as the Internet’s quasi-helmsman and reigned as its grand old man was just down the street from the hotel. If Postel’s ghost was indeed present, he was probably not hovering over the room in the hope of bestowing some ethereal wisdom. It was far too late for that. Instead, he most

39 likely have been watching and listening from out in the hallway, on the other side of a half closed door, an apparition of pained dismay.


Opening the Inquiry

When I first became aware of the Internet, some spark of curiosity generated a simple, practical question about the here and now: “Who makes the rules for getting domain names?” Along the way, the project mushroomed. My investigation of Internet addresses expanded into a survey of all kinds of identifiers – not just electronic ones. Before long I was pondering the structure of language, the nature of identity, and the constitution of power. Each detour gave rise to others. New tangents beckoned, teasing and pulling with unexplored distinctions and questions. How were identities assigned in the past? How might they be assigned in the future? Had I been more diligent about restraining my interests, I might have ended up writing a fairly mundane and narrow description of reforms in the Internet’s technical administration during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Instead, I undertook a much deeper inquiry into the foundational rules of global society. The long, fractious effort to reform the Internet’s domain name system is still the underlying thread of this story, but it has been woven into a broader tapestry. In hindsight, it is no great surprise that the project turned out this way. Despite all its twists and turns, the central theme remains the same. This is a recounting of how particular people fought over their particular interests at a particular point in time. The focus of their energies was the world’s largest distributed database system, a collection of records that included the dot-com domain name registry, one of the most productive cash cows in the history of the Internet boom. With so much to gain and so much to lose, the struggle to reform the administration of that system often degraded into outright brawl. But the dispute was not just a mean grab for money and power. It also fired visions of how the future might work. This corner of the Internet’s gold rush, more than any other, was rich with Utopian idealism. These events define a pivotal stage in the development of

40 a computerized human culture. They tell a story about how people behave when they think they are making history, as indeed they were. Many of the participants thought they were doing great things. Many conducted themselves professionally. Others made great sacrifices for their ideals. Some behaved selfishly, and therefore rather predictably. Far too many showed themselves as fools. Some covered all the bases. Quite a few justified themselves according to some virtuous ideology, and thus claimed to be acting in harmony with the proper order of things. What happened is emblematic of how human foibles and human aspirations so often bump up against human circumstances. If this study offers anything unique at all, it is because my curiosity carried me to an exceptional vantage point. While pursuing my initial question about who makes the rules, I happened upon a place from which I could observe power being used and abused in the here and now. By allowing that question to lead me in so many directions, I gained perspectives that had perhaps never been considered before. I imagined that I could peer backward and forward through history, into the sources from which power has always been drawn, and always will be.

Chronology 1 Selected Events in Internet History Date October 2002 November 16, 2000 March 2000 October 16, 1998 September 18, 1998 June/July 1998 January 28 1998 September 1997 July 1997 May 1, 1997 March 1997 November 12, 1996 September 1996 July 1996 September 14, 1995 March 1995 March 10, 1995 March 1994 April 1, 1993 June/July 1993 December 1992 June 1991 August 1990 During 1990 October 1, 1991 July 25, 1989 During 1986 February 26, 1986 January 17, 1986 October 1984 September 1984 June 24, 1983 January 1, 1983 August 1982 May 1972 During 1971 October 29, 1969 Event Massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack against the root constellation ICANN approves new TLDS. SAIC sells NSI to Verisign for $15.3 billion. Death of Jon Postel. Creation of ICANN announced. Release of “White Paper.” First meeting of the IFWP. Postel“Splits” the Root. Contentious Congressional hearings. Network Solutions’ IPO. Kashpureff’s cache poisoning. gTLD-MoU signing ceremony in Geneva. Criticism of Postel and IAHC. IANA sued by IODesign. Launch of the IAHC. “Coordinating the Internet Conference” at Harvard. IANA/IODesign “envelope” event. Collapse of newdom. Fee charging begins in .com. Newdom dialogues begin. RFC 1602 formalizes Internet standards process and ISOC/ IETF relationship. SAIC purchases NSI for $6 million. RFC 1591 describes delegation policies for TLDs. Start of the Cooperative Agreement. NSI is running root and .com. IPv7 debates. Boston “Tea Party.” Final negotiation of the Cooperative Agreement. Formation of ISOC announced in Copenhagen. RFC 1174 published, describing IANA’s authority.

decommissioned. Tim Berners-Lee creates http and web technology.

Root, DDN-NIC, and ARPA-NIC moved from SRI in California to NSI in Virginia. First meeting of IETF, as umbrella standards group for the Internet. Cerf, Kahn and Uncapher create Corporation for National Research Initiatives. First incrementation of the NIC zone file; DNS is officially in production. First meeting of Internet Engineering (INENG), direct ancestor of IETF. RFC 920 announces TLD selections, including .com. Creation of Internet Advisory Board, precursor of Internet Architecture Board (IAB). First successful test of DNS technology.

transition from NCP to TCP.

RFC 819 proposes tree-like domain hierarchy. Jon Postel proposes himself as numbers “czar” in RFC 349. First use of @ in electronic mail. First use of hosts.txt to list ARPANET sites. First host to host message transmitted on the ARPANET.

Prometheus had been foolish to bestow fire on men instead of selling it to them: he would have made money, placated Jove, and avoided all that trouble with the vulture. Primo Levi The Periodic Table


a. The Day the Internet Divided In early 1998 the Internet briefly split in two. Before the break, a computer known

as “Server A” had served as its unifying apex. To be more precise, Server A was the technical fulcrum of the Domain Name System (DNS). That system allows names such as to be mapped against the Internet’s underlying numeric addresses. The split was possible because Server A did not stand alone, but worked in tandem with a strategically dispersed cluster of “slave” servers. Together, they constituted the “root” of the DNS. These were not supercomputers or giant mainframes, but nicely-appointed enterprise-class machines with exceptionally robust, high-speed connections to the Internet. They were constantly online, running specialized software that could “serve” data to “clients” anywhere in the world. For most of the 1990s, Server A had been the pole star of the root system, feeding out information essential for the operation of popular Internet applications like email and the World Wide Web. Server A was configured as the master of the root system, while the others providing authoritative copies of Server A’s data. Server A was based in Herndon Virginia, close to Washington D.C. Its twelve partners in the root constellation were also designated alphabetically... B through M. The US Government had hired a private contractor to manage Server A several years before, and was still providing regulatory oversight. Several other servers in the root constellation were also subsidized or directly managed by the US government, but not all. Some were privately operated, and some were based overseas. In the weeks leading up to the split the root had run smoothly, with no sign of technical trouble. But the root operators had recently gotten caught up in a raging argument about Internet policy questions. Over the past few months they had gravitated into factions, presaging a rift.


43 Finally, if only for a few days, the root constellation tore apart. Server A remained in operation, but at the other end of the continent, in Marina del Rey, California, a challenger arose. The rival, DNSROOT, began to provide root name service under the aegis of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a long-standing contact for scientists and engineers who had developed and expanded the Internet. Outside the community of operators and government overseers, few were aware of the rupture. The Internet continued to function as before, with no impact on users. Behind the scenes, however, its fate was in play – the prize in a desperate tug of war. *** Just as it is possible to row a boat across an ocean, it is possible forego domain names and still navigate the World Wide Web. Few people have enough skill to do so, however, and even fewer would ever want to. Locations on the Web are typically linked to underlying Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, familiar for their “dotted quad” format, which looks like In many cases, using an IP number to access a resource at a particular address would provide the same result as using its assigned domain name. But maintaining lists of IP numbers can be daunting. Relying on names tends to make life considerably more convenient, and offers lots of extra advantages. The function of the DNS is transparent to most Internet users, but they call on it often. When a hyperlink is clicked in a browser, or an email is transmitted, the DNS is effectively being asked to match a name to a number. Server A does not answer the inquiry directly. For this, there are millions of computers operated by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other enterprises, as well as by a few well-equipped home users. Those machines keep a list of names that were recently requested and the IP number which should be provided as an answer. The genius of the DNS is how the list gets refreshed. Those millions of local servers don’t need to keep a persistent memory of every name-to-number pairing, just the address of at least one server in the root zone. In turn, each root server contains a list of Top Level Domains (TLDs) servers. At the beginning of 1998, when the root was split, that list was only just over a thousand lines long. There were about two hundred and forty TLDs in the

44 list at the time, including .com, .net, .org, .edu, .us, and .de. Nearly every country had its own distinct two-letter TLD, but the generic three-letter TLDs were better known, and .com was by far the most popular of all, with over five million registered names.

Figure 1 Partial representation of the legacy DNS hierarchy, circa 2000, showing relations between root servers A through M (collectively know as the dot “.”), approximately 250 Top Level Domains (of which 4 are shown), and the arrangement of third, fourth and lower level domains.

Machines in the root zone provide the addresses for the machines of the TLD zones, which in turn serve out the names called by people at their computers. If an ISP or an enterprise’s DNS server fields a request for a domain name like and doesn’t find that name its current memory cache, it will probably have some memory of where an authoritative dot-com server is located, and send the request there. Presuming the dot-com server delivers an answer, the ISP or enterprise DNS server will pass the number back to the original caller and also save a record of the name-to-number pairing in its own cache. The ISP’s DNS server would only need to send a request to a member of the root server constellation if it had just been rebooted, or had received a request for a name with an unfamiliar suffix.


Figure 2 Root Server Hierarchy of the late 1990s and early 2000s. From a slide distributed by Anthony Rutkowski.

The arrangement is innately hierarchical, with Server A at the top of the chain. Just as each of the thirteen root servers is supposed to provide an identical list of all the TLD zones, every TLD zone could be supported by its own array of (hopefully) identical servers. Responsibility for adding, deleting, and modifying the most frequently used name and address match-ups was delegated out to the operators of the TLD zones. Obviously, accurate replication of the names in a zone was a critical administrative issue. This was the crux of the debate that preceded the split in the root. Who should be in charge of adding, deleting and modifying names in the list of TLDs?

46 *** On January 28th, a Saturday, at the command of IANA’s director, Jon Postel, seven of the twelve subordinate root servers were reconfigured to treat DNSROOT as their new master. Two of them – based at IANA’s offices in Marina del Rey – were redirected first. Soon thereafter, five others – in Tokyo, London, Stockholm, Woodside, California, and College Park, Maryland – also began to copy the list of TLDs from DNSROOT. A zone’s master is more properly called a primary name server; the slaves are secondary name servers. The sole purpose of a secondary server was to replicate all the data in the primary, thereby providing redundancy and distributing the load. Just as .com, .net, and .org and each of the country codes zones provided one or more slaves to support the master, so did the root. But the root was the top of the chain for the entire Internet. Until then, all the slaves in the root zone had routinely “pulled” their updates of the brief but absolutely essential root zone file from Server A in Herndon, Virginia. That site was operated by a US Government subcontractor named Network Solutions, Incorporated (NSI). The four slaves which remained loyal to NSI were all based in the United States – one also at NSI, and the others at government-operated facilities in California and Maryland. As NSI’s Executive Vice President Don Telage once acknowledged, “NSI is the corporation everyone loves to hate.”41 NSI was awash in profits by virtue of its US-granted monopoly control over .com, .net, .org. The company charged $50 a year for each name it registered, keeping $35 for itself and sending the rest to the National Science Foundation. There was little real competition in the name registration business. Veterans and newcomers alike were extremely sensitive to problems with NSI’s performance and inequities in its policies. Its monopoly was sorely resented throughout the Internet community, as was its sweetheart deal with the US Government. Perhaps Postel didn’t hate NSI, but his decision to split the root was certainly no demonstration of friendship. Uncle Sam didn’t take kindly to it either.
See Ellen Rony,“Re: W hat ICANN doesn't want you to know - a well hidden web site” March 13, 1999, IFWP Rony reported similar wording, “W e're the company that everyone loves to hate,” based on his speech at ISPCON on August 22, 1997. See

47 *** Postel was the only person on earth who could issue such an edict and expect his order to be followed. The servers now within his orbit were given an edited copy of the file he had obtained from Server A, but there was no substantive difference between the content of the two roots. Both NSI’s and Postel’s roots pointed to the same lists of TLDs. Given the background leading up to the split, however, there were good reasons to suspect the two systems might soon diverge. Postel, a central figure in the creation of the Internet, was in close and friendly contact with a global business consortium named the Council of Registrars – CORE. Its members were planning to introduce seven new Top Level Domain suffixes to the market – .arts, .firm, .info, .nom, .rec, .shop, and, .web. About one hundred registrars around the world were preparing to sell names into CORE’s new zones, and the launch was widely anticipated. But the front end of the business, including the retail system through which buyers would make their purchases, was not ready. Since nearly everyone expected there would be a huge burst of demand on opening day, CORE’s members were trying to devise a fair way of dealing with it. Their plan relied on an as yet untried intercontinental round-robin distribution system designed to ensure that no single registrar could acquire a built-in advantage when submitting their buyers’ orders for names. It was essentially a global lottery. As was often typical of software projects of great ambition, the builders had fallen behind schedule. Though no domain names had yet been sold, lots of money had nevertheless changed hands. Several of the registrars were already accepting unguaranteed preregistrations, promising to move bidders ahead in the round robin queue, a somewhat sleazy practice that exploited the feverish worldwide hunt for “good” names. Given the pervasiveness of the Internet’s land rush mentality, it turned out that many people were willing to pay for a chance to move ahead in a line for lottery tickets, even when the date of the drawing wasn’t known. In any case, the back end of CORE’s planned system was much farther along, virtually complete. The primary nameserver for the new TLDs was sitting at an Internet colocation facility in San Francisco. Secondaries were based in Barcelona, Dusseldorf, and

48 Melbourne. Another was slated for somewhere in Japan. These were the machines that would ultimately serve CORE’s domain names out over the Internet. Most large zones were supported by eight or so nameservers, but even with just four, CORE promised sufficient redundancy. According to the rules that Postel himself had helped establish years before, only two were required. CORE’s nameservers had been undergoing testing for weeks, and were ready to go live. Postel was well aware of it. From the perspective of CORE’s operators, the ideal way to proceed depended on NSI’s operators taking steps that would add the names and addresses of CORE’s new private zones to the root database file contained in Server A. Once amended, that file would automatically be distributed to the other root servers. In short order and CORE’s zones would have been available to the entire Internet. NSI’s managers, however, had no interest in cooperating. Nearly two years earlier, a small group of private entrepreneurs had confronted the same problem. Their strategy had been to bypass the existing root constellation altogether – to “route around” it, as the expression goes. Their approach was to try creating an alternate root constellation from the ground up. All the existing TLDs in NSI’s root were to be included, plus a set of new zones. From the consumer’s perspective, it would be as simple as simple as getting a phone book with some new area codes, or subscribing to a cable service that offered extra channels. The challenge was to assemble an array of machines that could do the job, and then to persuade a few ISPs and savvy end users to use the new constellation instead. Success rested on the hope that the market would tilt in their direction. It didn’t, despite their best plans. In fact, the whole thing backfired. As the entrepreneurial bid came to the fore and finally flopped, its proponents earned a reputation as rogues. Postel was well aware of that history. But Postel was no fly-by-night entrepreneur. He had established a long and distinguished tenure as a key player in the legacy system. He had helped direct pivotal administrative and technical changes on the Internet since its very beginnings, and was still clearly in a position to do so. Despite the spectacular growth of the Internet over the previous few years, many critical resources remained subject to his influence. These included most of the root’s slave servers. It was within his power to

49 manipulate the configuration of the root server system – or at least a major chunk of it – and thus dare to displace Server A as its pole star, anointing DNSROOT as its replacement. This would have made the physical task of adding CORE’s new zones a simple prospect. Postel could order changes to DNSROOT’s zone file, adding any suffixes he deemed appropriate, along with the IP addresses of their corresponding nameservers. And, for reasons to be explained, he was fully in league with CORE’s operators and overseers. Suppose Postel had in fact updated DNSROOT to include the new TLDs. Any ISP in the world that happened to query one of the root servers loyal to him would have been able to resolve names within the new CORE zones. But the solution was far from perfect. The names in the new zones would be invisible to any ISPs – and thus to any end users – whose queries went to servers that stayed loyal to Server A in Reston. The problem was that the ISPs would not necessarily know which root system they were using at any given moment. The BIND software then used by nearly every ISP in the world was configured to query the root servers from A to M, and to stick with the first one which gave a fast answer. BIND “knew” how to adjust and pick another server if the response was delayed by network congestion or an outage. Moreover, this adaptive selection feature worked at each level of the domain name system. Accordingly, operators of both the root zone and various top level zones could boost responsiveness by distributing their secondary nameservers at strategic distances. But the design of the DNS was premised on maintaining identical copies of the data in the respective root and zone servers. The split in the root raised the worrisome prospect that the answers delivered by BIND could begin to shift unpredictably between an IANA root which included CORE’s zones and an NSI root which lacked them. Introduction of the CORE zones through Postel’s machine would have been technically sound only if DNSROOT ultimately supplanted Server A altogether. This had long been a popular idea among key members of the engineering community.42 In a world where the Internet remained split in two, however, service for CORE’s suffixes would have

See, for example, comments by Paul Vixie at Harvard University’s conference, “Internet Names, Numbers, and Beyond.” November 20, 1995.

50 been spotty, and the Internet as a whole would have become less reliable. Cracks in the constellation would have become another memorable affliction of the computer age. For better or worse, things never got that far.



Postel was highly respected for his judgment about how to manage the root, but he had never done anything like this. During nearly three decades of involvement with advanced computer networks and the Internet “community,” he had always been careful to promote harmony and to respect consensus. Until that moment he was widely regarded as a quiet if stubborn team player... politically astute, a bastion of prudence and good sense. He was someone who had rightfully exercised power within the vast collaborative enterprise called the Internet and who had been trusted to exercise that power in a sound way. Yet here he was, acting seemingly on his own initiative, making a move that would clearly generate trouble and controversy. Splitting the root was radical enough. The potential next step was flabbergasting. Adding CORE’s seven new TLDs to his half of the root would turn the Internet upside down. The threat to stability was clear. When Postel decided to play tug of war on the Internet, he certainly must have expected that his adversaries might try to tug back. He couldn’t have known how hard. Postel’s authority to oversee the contents of the root derived from longstanding institutional relationships, informal conventions, quasi-formal documentation, webs of selfreferential charters, and an unusual personal charisma. It was the kind of charisma that worked well with computer nerds, much of the computer-trade press, and numerous government officials. It was not a glibly gregarious, high-spirited charm. He epitomized the computing world’s image of a slightly unkempt, Buddha-paunched, long-bearded guru... Jerry Garcia with a pocket protector. At first glance, there was little about his appearance or his physical mannerisms to indicate his stature or why he was treated with such reverence. It became clear as soon as he spoke. He was a model of relentless precision. His words were

51 delivered quietly and succinctly, occasionally tempered by a bone-dry, way-inside-theballpark sense of humor. As the Internet’s übergeek, only Postel had enough power to tell the operators of the world’s slave servers to salute a new master. That power derived from many sources, including his long relationship with the US Government dating back to the late 1960s. By 1998, however, he was drawing primarily on reputation and tradition. The root operators around the world trusted and respected him. They had always followed his requests in the past and he could count on most of them to do as he asked, even with eyebrows raised. Liability was problematic, however. Antitrust and restraint-of-trade issues were looming. The legal basis of Postel’s authority to act was extraordinarily ambiguous. NSI’s attorneys would certainly consider themselves obliged to challenge the addition of CORE’s new zones. There was no surprise in that, but it was unclear how Postel’s legal bills might be paid, win or lose. There were additional fears, not altogether unfounded, that NSI would act in league with some of the aspiring private operators who had been undercut by CORE’s plan. Despite their inability to set the market on fire two years earlier, there were still some who were eager to proceed under the right circumstances. Dave Holtzman, NSI’s Senior Vice President for engineering, was in regular contact with several of them.43 Simon Higgs claimed rights to TLDs such as .news and .coupons. Christopher Ambler of IODesign claimed .web. NSI let the rumors fly that it might simply add those zones in accordance with the doctrine that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Postel’s options were also complicated by the possibility of intervention from the US Government. At the least, he was vulnerable in that his strings could be pulled. Postel’s IANA work was largely dependent on government funding, and had been for many years. On the other hand, it was clear to everyone that Internet privatization was well underway. US funding for Postel’s shop at USC had briefly dried up a year before, prompting colleagues


Phone interview with Dave Holtzman conducted May 1, 2000.

52 in Europe and Asia to step forward with offers of stopgap support.44 US Government funding resumed shortly thereafter, but it was clear that federal largesse would not be permanent. If the spigot simply cut off now, in response to the root redirection, Postel would at last have to confront the inevitable. And if finding new sources of support would indeed be the next course of business, his options looked good. The Internet boom was still building, and IANA had a world of alternatives to pursue. More ominously, however, members of the Clinton Administration were at a critical juncture in their own investigation of the DNS controversy. They had voiced an intention to take control of the root expansion policy, and had tried to enlist Postel in working out a compromise between NSI and its adversaries. The administration officials did not want assume responsibility for funding IANA in perpetuity, but they also did not want to see IANA beholden to sources they deemed inimical to US interests. Furthermore, only one month earlier, Ira Magaziner, the administration’s overseer of the issue, had gotten wind of the plan to add CORE’s zones to the root, and he had personally warned Postel not to do it.45 It was anyone’s guess what Magaziner or others at the White House could or would do if Postel proceeded on that course.



The story of the root redirection can be interesting, even fascinating, if only for the portraits of the people involved. But a retelling can also provide deeper insights into the construction of social capacities such as status, authority, and responsibility. It can help explain how people become agents of something much larger than themselves. Until the DNS controversy got underway, Postel was a man who possessed virtually undisputed high standing in his community, and yet was nearly invisible beyond it. The

Kenneth Cukier, “Plan to Protect Net's Key Central Authority Underway,” Communications Week International, June 2, 1997, 1. Conversation related by Magaziner to Gordon Cook and Steve W olff, recounted by Cook in phone interview conducted November 20, 2002. See also Cook’s article on the Magaziner interview, “Internet Governance W ars,” Cook Report, 6.9, December 1997.


53 historical circumstances – the rise of Internet – would have tagged celebrity on anyone in the same position. He had power not only because he had the capacity to make and execute hard and fast decisions about technical matters, but because power is also a function of preferences, concepts, and moral standing. Leadership is not just a matter of steering a ship toward a pole star, but pointing out the pole star as a reliable source of guidance. Such leadership creates a social memory of what, how, and why to follow. That memory may long outlive the leader. For nearly three decades the work of coordinating and regulating the Internet had been a central part of Postel’s livelihood. People rarely thought hard about the distinction between those two activities – coordination and regulation – just as they rarely explored the nuances of Internet management that set governance apart from government. Postel’s action forced the issue. The distinctions reflected categorical differences in social behavior. Coordination conveyed the sense of various parties working out harmonious arrangements on their collective behalf according to shared principles. Regulation implied that one superior party would be able to impose an arrangement on the others in accord with some law or legitimating authority. These were separate functions, reflecting two very different classes of power... normative influence and official right. Postel appeared to wield them seamlessly over the years, as if the difference could be ignored. Postel had banked reservoirs of trust through years of exemplary service to the research and engineering communities. The US Government’s Department of Defense paid him to perform those services, but allowed him a very free hand. In fact, he had been given so much discretion in the performance of his responsibilities, many had come to believe that his capacity to act was entirely independent of US control. The onset of the Internet boom made Postel’s significance ever more apparent. Simultaneously, it became clear that funding from the Defense Department would soon come to an end. As a consequence, many insiders – Postel included, though reluctantly at first – began talking about institutionalization. How could his official powers be spelled out and distilled into bureaucratic posts that a professional could fill? What kind of expertise was

54 needed? And, regardless of technical competency, who could ever acquire a level of trust and respect equivalent to Postel’s? Those discussions were subject to their own inexorable logic. To whom was Postel ultimately accountable? Who were his constituents? Who were the stakeholders whose interests were to be served? Who would pay for those services to performed? Dealing with the question of how the Internet would be ruled – if at all – raised discussions over what was meant by words like governance, coordination, and regulation. The struggle to add new TLDs to the root added content and urgency to the matter, turning what could have been a rather dull process of bureaucratization into a high stakes confrontation. When large scale public debates about the reform of the domain name system began in late 1995, shortly after registration fees were instituted by NSI, the notion of coordination sounded more agreeable, like a friendly proposal among colleagues. Yet the collegiality implied by that term left an open question: “What happens when a group can’t settle an issue among themselves?” And the most obvious alternative to coordination – regulation – implied an uncomfortably harsh sense of political closure: “Whose rules should have final say?” Regulation was a sensitive issue for Europeans, most of whom did not want to admit openly that the Internet would continue to be ruled – directly or indirectly – by American politicians. Tacit acceptance of ongoing American dominance of the policy making process was embarrassing enough. A move toward formal regulation would enshrine that dominance, underscoring the subordinate position of European policymakers. The trend toward formalizing of US government influence was also troubling to selfproclaimed Netizens. This was a diverse group that included sophisticated computer specialists with a philosophical bent, as well as professional journalists and armchair pundits who thought they knew a thing or two about computerization. Veterans and newcomers had been drawn together by their enthusiastic celebration of the quasi-legal status of the Internet and the liberating sense of anarchy they believed it afforded them. Until the likelihood of US intervention became clear, they thought they had found a way to avoid being ruled by any nation-state at all.

55 The players groped for a solution, sometimes advancing dialectically. The concept of “self-regulation” was often bandied out, as if it were possible to constitute a new form of authority that would resolve the difference between soft coordinated and hard regulated conceptions of power. As the talk went on, however, the DNS crisis began to boil over. Despite the looming crisis, authority was in place and working. Formal or not, Postel already possessed the resources of both guide and gatekeeper. These two distinct but complementary aspects of power were both available to him, to be deployed at his discretion. He had been quietly accumulating those powers for decades. His redirection of the root proved that his own powers were formidable, but that they were not arranged coherently enough to sustain him on the path he had taken. That single act could have marked the culmination of his career, putting important elements of the Internet’s administrative structure on course toward a free-standing official status. In the end however, facing threats made in the name of the US Government, he backed down.46 *** Forces had been massing for a confrontation, but Postel’s move was a shock nonetheless. His critics called it a hijacking.47 Redirecting the root was an uncharacteristically bold move. Even if there was a strategic logic to it – and a very risky logic at that – this crossing of the Rubicon and the hasty retreat back drew exceptional attention to the General heading the march. Now, in addition to his judgment being questioned, the very basis of his power was open to scrutiny. What were its sources? What were its limits? His decision would ensure lasting celebrity, but it wasn’t clear whether he was building a legacy of fame or infamy. Postel had made his own authority an issue. Who was this man who could post an email and push the Internet to the brink?

Ira Magaziner recounted an extensive series of late night phone calls between himself, Postel, attorneys at USC, and Erskine Bowles, W hite House Chief of Staff. “The President was at a reception at the W hite House, and I notified the Chief of Staff, who was ready to notify the President if we needed to do something.” The pressure could not be issued as a direct order since the US government’s immediate authority over Postel and the root was unsettled. Phone interview with Ira Magaziner, August 5, 2000. See Sandra Gittlen, “Taking the wrong root?” Network W orld, February 4, 1998,



Figure 3 Creators of the


Figure 4 Jon Postel, Steve Crocker and Vint Cerf

Figure 5 Jon Postel in 1997


a. ARPANET In September 1994, twenty five years after installing the machine that spawned the

Internet, the veterans of the ARPANET project – the Internet’s precursor – regrouped for an anniversary celebration in Boston.48 Using a huge mural of the world as a backdrop, a photographer set up to take a shot of the most distinguished engineers present. There was evidently some jostling for position among the nineteen who made it in, but no question about who would sit front and center in this prestigious class of middle-aged white males. That spot went to the ubiquitous Vint Cerf, one the Internet’s most inventive and celebrated personalities.49 He had directed the ARPANET project from 1976 through 1982 and was a truly seminal figure in the long series of technical and political developments that led to the modern Internet.50 His productive career brought him countless honors plus the benefits of financial success. He would becoming a recurring figure in the DNS War, and even more prominent in its aftermath. Cerf was flanked on his right in this picture by Bob Taylor, former director of the Information Processing Techniques Offices at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), under the U.S. Department of Defense. It was Taylor who had first envisioned the

as such, and put the project in motion in 1966. No slacker either, Taylor went on

to create Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC), the laboratory where computing innovations from Ethernet to the graphical user interface underlying the Apple MacIntosh and Microsoft Windows were nurtured and inspired. On Cerf’s left was Frank Heart, head of the team that submitted and won the bid for the ARPANET proposal. Heart’s contribution was undeniably important, but his chances to get a seat in the front row weren’t hurt by the fact that his employer – Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) – was paying for the party and the photographer.


The story of the BBN party is recounted by Hafner and Lyon (1996: 257-65).

The apt characterization of Cerf as “ubiquitous” comes from Craig M cTaggert (1999) , Governance of the Internet’s Infrastructure: Network Policy for the Global Public Network. See for example, notes of Robert Kahn at minutes.s1.html



58 ARPA’s initial award to BBN in 1968 was just over one million dollars. It was arguably one of the smartest and most effective investments ever made by the U.S. Government. Taylor had conceived the ARPANET as a project that would enable a few large computers at universities and research institutions to interoperate with each other.51 First two, then four, then more. Data signals were converted into an analog format so that they could be carried across the public telephone network. The ARPANET ’s proof of viability was an encouragement to the development of numerous public and private networks over the following years.

Figure 6 D epiction of early ARPA Network. Hosts are shown as rectangles, Interface Message Processors (IM Ps) are shown as circles. Graphic is taken from a presentation by Bob Braden.

Steve Crocker, “Initiating the ARPANET,” Matrix News , 10.3, March 2000,


59 Many other networks sprouted and flourished in the ensuing years, including MILNET, CSNET, NSFNET, Bitnet, FIDONET, and eventually Compuserve, Prodigy, and America Online. But the suite of protocols that emerged from the ARPANET community made it possible to link those various networks together, joining thousands and eventually millions of nodes into a network of interconnected networks – an internet. Older systems either merged in, or expired from lack of use. Even the ARPANET was shut down in 1990. High speed digital lines interconnected the various networks that survived and prospered. The network of networks came to be treated as a distinct entity – The Internet. Presently, most people are familiar with the fact that Internet traffic is carried by private firms called Internet Service Providers – ISPs. When the ARPANET cornerstone was put in place, no reference was ever made to anything like an ASP – an


Provider. But for all practical purposes BBN filled that role. The equipment which constituted the network’s first node had been delivered and installed at UCLA by a BBN team in September 1969. The company grew as innovation after innovation fostered explosive use of networking technology and spawned the global Internet. BBN’s generosity as host for the anniversary party was not driven entirely by sentiment for days gone by. By the early 1990s the commercial environment for service providers had become extremely competitive. Facing pressure in the marketplace, the company was looking for new ways to advertise itself. It was in the process of launching its own commercial ISP, called BBN Planet. (That venture that was later absorbed by GTE, which was, in turn, swallowed by Verizon.) From an advertiser’s perspective, a celebration that brought together some of the most famous names in modern computing under BBN’s roof looked like a good idea. Reporters were invited, of course. The company had also commissioned Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, a husband and wife team, to write a book about ARPANET history that would showcase BBN’s important contributions. This became the critically-acclaimed best seller, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (1996). One of its plates included the group portrait of the ARPANET ’s pioneers, featuring Cerf, Taylor, and Heart on the front line, reproduced here on page 56.

60 *** The second row of the group portrait included Larry Roberts, whom Taylor had hired in late 1966 to execute the project on behalf of the Department of Defense. Roberts became the government’s man in the trenches. Highly regarded for his prodigious talent and discipline, Roberts was the true leader of the project. He had drawn up the

specifications, supervising activity around the country as work came to fruition. Roberts left government work in the mid 1970s, going on to create the first private data telecommunications carrier, Telenet (also absorbed by GTE), and later serving as President and CEO of DHL. In the picture, Roberts sat next to his longtime friend, Len Kleinrock. The two had worked together in the early 1960s on advanced aerospace defense projects at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. Kleinrock wrote a seminal paper on packet switching in 1961 and published the first book on the subject in 1964.52 After completing his Ph.D. at MIT 1963, he joined the faculty at UCLA, doing research in mathematical queuing theory; a subject of great practical utility to anyone who wanted to measure the performance of a computer network. Roberts awarded the contract that put Kleinrock and the students working under him – including Cerf – in charge of configuring the ARPANET ’s first Interface Message Processor (IMP). Supplied by BBN, the refrigerator-sized machine was hooked up to a hulking Sigma 7 computer at UCLA. It was also connected, via a phone line leased by BBN, to another IMP/computer combination at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto. As these IMP/computer pairings mushroomed to include dozens of nodes, the ARPANET became an increasingly useful network. (The idea that the system was designed to survive a nuclear attack is a persistent urban legend, but the IMPs were indeed built into “blast hardened” cabinets to help demonstrate the concept of a “survivable network.”53)

See his July 1961 Ph.D thesis proposal, “Information Flow in Large Communication Nets” at, and the 1964 book, Communication Nets; Stochastic Message Flow and Delay. Email by David P. Reed, “The Internet and nuclear attack,” reprinted by Dave Farber, “IP: Must read (especially the press) The Internet and nuclear attack,” IP December 28, 2001.


61 Also in the third row of the picture was Robert Kahn, who had been a key player at BBN in the first years of the ARPANET contract. Kahn left the company to work for the US Government in 1972, and set out to develop a way of connecting computers as peers, rather than as components in a hierarchy. This was a formidable task, given the diversity of machines and operating systems to be interconnected. Kahn knew he needed help solving the peering problem. Cerf had finished his Ph.D. by then and was teaching at Stanford University. Kahn picked him as his collaborator, and Cerf never returned to academia. Over the course of 1973 and 1974, Cerf and Kahn devoted themselves to developing a technology they called the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). TCP was a huge leap forward that vastly improved the ability to exchange messages between different types of computer systems. The protocol afforded a software substrate upon which all the various nets of the world could ultimately interconnect. The development of TCP made the Internet possible, and thus raised up its developers as legends. *** There were several more rows of ARPANET veterans in the photo. Smiling broadly, way back in the next to the last row, were two engineers who might have won a ranking closer to the front of if they had elbowed for it. But their temperaments were famously unobtrusive. One, Steve Crocker, had been Cerf’s best friend at Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles. Next to him was Jon Postel, who had graduated from the same school a few years later. In addition to wearing a wide happy grin, Postel sported the longest beard of anyone in the picture. Cerf, Crocker, and Postel were literally present at the creation of internetworking. When the first messages were sent between computers at the Stanford Research Institute and UCLA, they were all working as graduate students under Kleinrock. The first host-to-host message was sent by another student, Charley Kline, at 10:30 PM on October 29. 1969. There was no profound message in the transmission. In fact, the initial attempt caused a

62 crash.54 Characteristically, it was Postel who had set up and maintained the IMP log book in which that portentous first sign-on was recorded for history.55 Cerf, Crocker and Postel had been together in other commemorative pictures over the years. One turned up in a special issue of Time Magazine, celebrating the legacies of the 1960s. They didn’t make the cover. That was a scene from the Woodstock music festival. But inside, there they were, sitting around a table, mischievously talking into tin cans connected by sausage links. The actual topology of the ARPANET was considerably more sophisticated than a few string and cup telephones. BBN made the connections possible, installing four IMP nodes by December 1969 (the third and fourth were at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City), and hooking them up via dedicated phone lines. In those early days Cerf, Crocker, Postel, and many other graduate students around the country were working to make those links practical by designing mechanisms that would allow the IMPs to communicate with their local “host” computers. With Kleinrock’s support, Crocker had taken the lead in coordinating this dispersed group of students and volunteers. His goals were fairly simple... to articulate the basic standards that would allow different kinds of computers to talk with the IMPs, and to describe new features of the system as they emerged. Those meetings, which began in 1969, were consecrated as the Network Working Group (NWG). Years later, in 1979, vestiges of Crocker’s NWG were reunited as the Internetworking Conference Control Board (ICCB). The ICCB was reconstituted in 1983 as the Internet Activities Board (IAB). The IAB, in turn, spawned the venerable Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which remains the primary venue for development of the Internet protocol suite. While still a graduate student, Crocker launched a documentation process for the NWG that eventually became the formal basis for modern Internet standards. That process

George Johnson, “From Two Small Nodes, a Mighty W eb Has Grown,” New York Times, October 12, 1999, D1. For a photo of the entry, see “The Day the Infant Internet Uttered its First W ords,”


63 endures to this day. He titled the series “Request For Comments,” a humble name that understates its impact. Over 3500 RFCs have been published since Crocker put out the first one in April 1969.56 Postel, up until his death in 1998, authored (or co-authored) more RFCs than any other individual. In 1978 he and Cerf (along with Danny Cohen) presented a major improvement to the Transmission Control Protocol that Cerf and Kahn had introduced four years earlier. The revision, known as the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) became the elegant platform from which the Internet blossomed beyond all expectation. Postel helped manage the conversion of the

and other attached

networks from the predecessor Network Control Protocol (NCP) to TCP/IP between 1981 and 1983. He also authored the specifications for the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) in 1982. It is the basis for relaying email across the Internet’s diverse networks. These are all huge achievements, but Postel is most famous for something else. When he was a student at UCLA, one of his dissertation advisors, Dave Farber, volunteered him to begin recording the various numbers, addresses, and technical parameters that were being assigned and reserved as the ARAPANET phenomenon grew. Alex McKenzie at BBN had been updating host table numbers and noting the changes via the RFC series, but there were many other types of assignments that needed to be tracked. Until then, the records were dispersed, and were at risk of becoming haphazard. One repository was a set of index cards that Bob Kahn carried in his shirt pocket. Postel took on the task of consolidating the information and ensuring it was kept in order, up to date, and publicly available. It turned out that he was very good at it. Postel became the reference point for people who needed information on how those parameters were being used, or who wanted new parameters allocated for specific uses they had in mind. He made sure that numbers which needed to be well-known were indeed wellknown. His real passion all along, he told me, was high speed, high performance computing. For most of his career, the tedious but important drudge work of recording and publishing

Several different series of documents, including Internet Engineering Notes, were used by that same community. “See Internet Archaeology: Documents from Early History,”

64 data assignments initially occupied only a moderate portion of his responsibilities. Nevertheless, those responsibilities kept accumulating. He had helped Crocker edit RFCs since the beginning, and took charge in late 1971 when Crocker left UCLA and went to work at ARPA. Postel ended up publishing not only technical standards in the RFC series, but records of best current practices, informational statements, and even some April Fool’s Day pranks. He became an institution. When the Hafner and Lyon book, Where the Wizards Stay Up Late, was published in 1996, they described Postel as an “unsung hero.” By remaining in a government-funded think-tank environment rather than moving to the private sector, he had passed up the chance to become as wealthy as his colleagues. Many had done quite well, making their fortunes at the leading edge of the Internet boom. Some had gone off to create their own companies, while others climbed high on the corporate ladder. The young wolves of the IMP era were now, for the most part, passing through a prosperous middle age together. They were also becoming celebrities. Cerf and Kahn were receiving numerous public awards, including perhaps more honorary Ph.D.s between them than any other two humans. They awkwardly shared the informal but respectful title, “Co-fathers of the Internet.” When Roberts also claimed to be the Internet’s father (perhaps rightfully), Cerf gracefully declared himself “midwife.” Kleinrock finessed the paternity question by touting himself as “Inventor.” Postel, however, was the subject of honorifics that were meant for him alone. He was best known as the Name and Numbers Czar. He was frequently called the God of the Internet, and sometimes even Supreme Being.57 As the Internet became an operational system, Postel became the eminence grise among the community’s greybeards. He was no unsung hero to people in the know. And that was about to become a much larger group. *** In mid 1997 Postel sat alone for a full page picture that ran inside the October issue of Internet World. Looking aged beyond his years, posing dourly behind a desk piled over by paperwork, his beard had grown long enough to be worthy of an unrepentant 60s radical.

Diane Krieger, "Heavenly Father of the Net: An Interview with Jon Postel," The Networker, 7.5, Summer 1997, http:/

65 But now the beard was very very gray. The magazine’s cover was all about him. It showed a picture of a gold bar, stamped www.$$$$.com. The headline trumpeted “...GOLD RUSH.... EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With the Man in the Center of the Domain-Name Battle, Jon Postel.” (Shown on page 56.) The wizard behind the curtain of the Internet ultimately become the most famous wizard of them all – not just a star, but the man of the hour. Postel was finally in the spotlight at center stage, fully eclipsing the old hands of the ARPANET , even Cerf. Now the world had found out who he was, raining down attention and demands ever more relentlessly with each turn of the Domain Name crisis. The smile was gone.



To understand how Postel earned his stature in the Internet community it helps to understand his diverse contributions to the creation of “internetting.” Most significantly was that, as things first got underway, it was Postel who meticulously tracked and published the assignment of the ARPANET ’s socket numbers. These numbers were loosely analogous to the local extensions that might be served by a single phone number. But sockets were ordered the same way on each host computer. It was as if every company with an internal phone system always used the same distinct set of extensions for every office, from the CEO to the mail-room. Everyone relied on Postel for the up-to-date directory. Constructed out of memory segments, sockets were virtual openings into a computer’s processes. Since they were only simplex (one-way) connections, they often had to be used in pairs. Odd numbers were typically used on the server side, and even numbers were used by the caller. Different socket numbers had to be reserved for specific server-side conversations, applications such as TELNET, FTP, FINGER, Date and Time, Short Text Messages, and so on. To play out the analogy, it was as if someone were obliged to dial out from a specific extension on his or her own computer to ask the time, and the computer that was called would send the answer from another specifically designated extension. Later on, the

66 invention of TCP opened the way for full duplex, two way connections across a single channel, called a port. In RFC 349, published in May 1972, Postel moved to formalize his role as both guide and gatekeeper for numeric assignments on the ARPANET : I propose that there be a czar (me ?) who hands out official socket numbers for use by standard protocols. This czar should also keep track of and publish a list of those socket numbers where host specific services can be obtained.58 Postel was acknowledged, ultimately, as the system’s “numbers czar,” a moniker which was, in those days at least, a term of endearment. As time passed and the Internet evolved out of the ARPANET , he remained in charge of the allocation of all “unique parameter values” used by the Internet engineering community, including IP numbers, port addresses, and the top of the domain name hierarchy. His control of that last resource made him the power behind the root. His knowledge of how the all the different protocols and assignments were interwoven and interdependent made him one of the few people on earth who could simultaneously envision both the big picture and the critical minutiae of how the Internet’s protocols worked. Cerf, Kahn, and others set the course, but Postel’s hand, perhaps more than any other, steadied the Internet’s symbolic rudder as it evolved from the ARPANET in the 1960s to an engine of global commerce at the turn of the millennium. Years later, he told a Congressional committee how his role in the early ARPANET experiments evolved into a job of such pivotal significance. Communication of data between computers required the creation of certain rules ("protocols") to interpret and to format the data. These protocols had multiple fields. Certain conventions were developed which would define the meaning of a particular symbol used in a particular field within a protocol. Collectively the set of conventions are the "protocol parameters." In a project like the ARPANET with the developers spread across the country, it was necessary to have coordination in assigning meaning to these protocol

Jon Postel, “RFC 349: Proposed Standard Socket Numbers,” May 30, 1972


67 parameters and keeping track of what they meant. I took on the task of doing that.59 In other words, Postel’s job was to keep people from stepping on each others’ toes. Internet growth depended upon technical interoperability across potentially enormous arrays of hardware and software. The rapidly expanding community required an explicit system for setting and referencing new codes and protocols. Fortunately, most of the numbers and symbolic values the engineers needed could be denoted in series, and allocated one after the other. To avoid chaos and conflict, the programming community needed a reliable point of contact where such numbers could be distributed and immediately recorded as taken. To sustain such a high pace of invention, that contact had to be responsive and accessible. Semantics had to be nailed down and published. The Internet needed a memory of what had already been said and a system for describing what had been meant by it. Only with such discipline could the curse of Babel be avoided. To simply assign a meaning makes one a guide, but as the designated enforcer of that discipline on behalf of a community – whether he was said to be coordinating, regulating or controlling the assignments – Postel held an office equivalent to lord high gatekeeper. Anyone intending to identify a new value knew that its official realization depended on Postel making the proper pronouncements. The only penalty for refusing to play the game with the czar’s numbers was the inability to play with the people already using the czar’s numbers. This was the paradoxical ambiguity of Postel’s power. Rules constrain, and rules enable. “Coordination in assigning meaning” was necessary if people intended to play nicely together. Within the game, the practical day to day act of coordinating meaning was essentially equivalent to regulation; Postel generally exercised the final word. But playing the game at all was considered a voluntary act. Outside of the game there was no formal effort by the players to compel compliance. They counted on markets to do that for them. “The phrase ‘let the market

See the prepared statement of Jon Postel Before the U.S. House of Representative, Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Basic Research, “Internet Domain Names , Part 1,” September 25, 1997. For hearing transcripts, see


68 decide’ used to be the watchword in the IETF,” wrote one well–known insider. “Our job is to do engineering, not make market decisions.”60 One’s relationship with the engineering community depended on proof of fealty. In later years, RFC authors started using words like “MUST” and “SHOULD” to express what it took to conform with an IETF standard. MUST indicated an “absolute requirement.”61 It was to be obeyed instantly and without question, not unlike a soldier hearing an order from a superior officer. The approach took firm hold within the IETF culture, though such directives had far lower standing beyond it. According to Harald Alvestrand, IETF chair in the early 2000s, “a MUST in an RFC has no enforcement mechanism whatsoever.” The most that can be said is something akin to “if you do the opposite of what these words say, and claim to be conformant to this RFC, we will laugh at you.”62 Within the parameters of the Internet standards game, there was no effective difference between the meaning of coordination and regulation. For people who loved the game of using and inventing Internet standards, there was no need to worry about the distinction. The players at the table needed a dealer, an enabler who would guarantee a fair turn. Postel made a career of performing that function. His standing was bound to increase as the Internet became the most important game in town.



Postel moved around a bit after completing his Ph.D. at UCLA in 1974, working for various defense contractors on
ARPANET -related

projects.63 The longest stint was at SRI,

Dave Crocker, “Re: Stopping independent publications (Re: Comments on IESG charter and guidelines drafts),” POISED March 4, 2003.


Scott Bradner, “RFC 2119: Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels,” March


Harald Alvestrand, “RE: Impending publication: draft-iab-considerations-02.txt” IETF September

8, 2002. Joe Touch prepared a Curriculum

V itae






69 where he worked with Doug Engelbart (standing in the third row of BBN’s commemorative picture) at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC). If the Internet had a spiritual birthplace, it was there. The ARC had been founded by another ARPA scientist and BBN engineer, the late J.C.R. Licklider. “Lick,” as he was known, was perhaps the most far thinking of them all, writing about intergalactic networks and human computer symbiosis when transistors were barely out of the laboratory. Licklider and Engelbart shared a vision of the computer as a device that would extend human communication and augment the human intellect. ARC is where the mouse and the concept of windows were invented. It was also the place where numerous researchers, Postel included, learned to think aggressively about how the use of computers could revolutionize human civilization. Since ARPA’s mission was to focus on leading-edge experimental projects, the

had to be turned over to a new home once it was up and running. Taylor tried to

convince AT&T that taking it would be a worthwhile commercial investment, but he was unsuccessful. Instead, responsibility was transferred to the Defense Communications Agency (DCA), a military operations group which was developing its own IMP network with BBN’s help.64 Postel was still working at SRI at that time. With the shift, work on the ARPANET system took on the sensibilities of a routine mission. The new, more practical orientation undercut the earlier trail-blazing feel. By this time ARPA had been renamed as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The addition of the word “defense” didn’t undermine the agency’s commitment to cutting-edge, avant-garde research, nor its ability to tolerate an intellectually open environment that had room for relatively nontraditional and nonconformist personalities. In 1977 Postel began working at a DARPA-funded “think-tank” – the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). He eventually become ISI’s Associate Director for Networking.65 ISI was far removed from USC’s campus and academic life, leaving Postel largely free of the teaching requirements that can preoccupy


Hafner and Lyon (1996: 232-3). Postel’s Curriculum Vitae,


70 faculty members. People who needed number or parameter assignments knew to contact him there. Over time the contact point for those resources came to be known as the IANA – the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. DARPA contracts tended to be rather generalized, conglomerating the work that ultimately constituted the RFC Editor, IANA and other tasks. That precedent was set by Cerf during the years he was in charge at DARPA.“In all the time that I was writing and managing the ISI R&D activity,” Cerf recalled, “I don’t believe we ever used the term IANA. But what we did was to write very broad language about the areas in which we expected research to be done.”66 The convention was followed by Cerf’s successors. The term IANA did not even appear in DARPA budget documentation until 1993, and then only buried within the contract for the Teranode High Performance Computing Project. IANA’s emergence as a named institution occurred gradually. Because of this, and because of its close identification with Postel as an individual, its rise has been the subject of extended controversy.67 For insiders IANA was Jon. For outsiders it was an official agency with real standing. Even if the confusion wasn’t intentional, little was done to correct it. “Jon’s position as IANA was always a little ambiguous,” Cerf admitted, “and we always kind of left that way.”68 IANA was finally made the subject of a contract between the Department of Commerce and ICANN in February 2000.69 IANA’s enduring authority stemmed from a web of self-referential, and similarly quasi-official relationships that had operated within the Internet engineering community since the earliest ARPANET days. Even though US Government funding sustained Postel’s


Personal interview with Vint Cerf, November 15, 2001. Rony and Rony. (1998: 122-3.) Cerf interview, November 15, 2001.



“Contract Between ICANN and the United States Government for Performance of the IANA Function, US Dept. of Commerce Order Number 40SBNT067020,” See also Brian Carpenter, Fred Baker, Mike Roberts, “RFC 2860: Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Technical W ork of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority,” June 2000.


71 activities at ISI for many years, his long-run potency as a community leader attested to a broader social foundation. Members of the Internet engineering community established standards of merit by conferring recognizable distinctions on each other. Any anthropologist or sociologist would recognize the process. In this case, the engineers were building up multifaceted stocks of culture – a legacy of titles, stories of achievement, citations in RFCs, the binding ties that result from participation in contracts and agreements, and so on. There was even a selfreferential style of etiquette called “netiquette.” These social inventories served to bootstrap status relations as the community expanded. Over time, certain patterns of respect took hold and deepened. Knowledge of those patterns, such as who had the highest status, was essential for anyone seeking membership in the community. The ability to identify high status insiders – and, even better, get close to them – was especially useful for those who desired to climb the ranks. There is an expression, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.” That was how authority worked on the Internet. People had, with good reason, gotten into the habit of saluting flags raised by Cerf, Postel and any others who could regularly demonstrate expertise in specific domains and convey that expertise with strong communication skills. That was a pragmatic basis for getting real work done. Newcomers were generally quite willing to adopt those deferential habits and even promote them. Anyone who made a valid goal-oriented demonstration of expertise and competency could be elevated by grants of doctrinal respect. Those displays took on a life of their own. To get along, one had to adopt the prevailing manner. There was little patience for puffery and lack of acuity. The heralded openness of the Internet Engineering community implicitly contained an invitation to snobbery. Bob Braden, a long-time colleague of Postel’s at ISI, fondly recounted an incident that makes the case. Braden had challenged the style of endnote references that RFC authors were required to follow. Postel’s response, recalled Braden, “was equivalent to ‘Get used to

72 it!’”70 Braden did, and for years thereafter, urged others to do the same. He had decided that habits that worked well enough over a long time deserved a standing beyond a fashion of manners – they were imbued with legitimacy. This entrenchment of particular styles, manners, and habits of obedience is a mechanism by which particular societies come to recognize themselves as such. Not all people are fully aware of how their own individual deeds underlie and reproduce social conceptions of legitimacy. Background conceptions, after all, are often mistakenly taken as pre-existing and historically absolute. Nevertheless, Braden’s recollection reflects the way in which many people do acquire some hazy self-consciousness of their social agency. They are enlightened enough to affirm their actions as constitutive, insisting that certain behaviors be upheld as virtuous by their very constitutiveness. As in any society, the dogma of reputation took on a life of its own. The IANA was as much a cultural phenomenon as it was a formalistic vestige of the Internet’s routinization. *** In fact, the IANA function performed at ISI was a steady reification of the work Postel had been doing since he started organizing the entries in IMP logbook. Postel was always around, policing records and keeping things tidy. An early sign of what was to come institutionally, even before he volunteered to be Czar, is found in RFC 204, “Sockets in use” which he published in August 1971. I would like to collect information on the use of socket numbers for "standard" service programs. For example Loggers (telnet servers) Listen on socket 1. What sockets at your host are Listened to by what programs? Recently Dick Watson suggested assigning socket 5 for use by a mail-box protocol (RFC196). Does any one object ? Are there any suggestions for a method of assigning sockets to standard programs? Should a subset of the socket numbers be reserved for use by future standard protocols?71


Bob Braden, “Re: rfc-ed reference style,” IETF March 21, 2003. Jon Postel, “RFC 204: Sockets in use,” August, 1971.


73 Postel asked that comments be sent to him via “The SPADE Group” at UCLA’s Boelter Hall. The name hinted at the groundbreaking work the engineering students there believed they had undertaken. The socket table was updated periodically through the seventies. Other lists such as “Link Numbers” were added in along the way. The title changed over time, but stabilized as “Assigned Numbers” in RFC 739, which Postel published in November 1977. Each RFC in the Assigned Numbers series included a politely phrased directive, “If you are developing a protocol or application that will require the use of a link, socket, etc. please contact Jon to receive a number assignment.” That state of affairs persisted until RFC 870 was published in October 1983, the same year TCP/IP became the official protocol of the

The RFC Editor and parameter assignment tasks had grown demanding

enough to justify assistance from another ISI staff member, Joyce Reynolds, who had been working there since 1979. Starting with RFC 870, Reynolds was named as the primary author and contact. Postel remained on as coauthor and continued to drive the task of organizing parameter lists and making assignments. Though Postel was the better known personality in the assigned numbers business, the importance of Reynolds’ contribution and the depth of their collaboration was not well understood outside the immediate community.72 Five years later, with the publication of RFC 1083 in December 1988, the “Internet Assigned Numbers Authority” was finally referenced in print.73 The term also appears in a lower numbered RFC, 1060, but that RFC shows a publication date out of sequence, in March 1990. In any case, by the end of the decade the use of the term IANA was coming in

She described their 15 ½ year long working relationship this way: My fondest "story" about how the world looked at Postel & Reynolds as IANA and RFC Editor came from one of our Internet friends/colleagues. This person sent an email message to Jon and I one day stating, "Please don't take this as an insult, but you two work so seamlessly together I can't tell who is the IANA and who is the RFC Editor? So, who does what? W hich one of you administers IANA? W ho works on the RFCs?" Jon and I were sitting side by side as usual, reading this email together. Jon turned and looked at me with a big grin on his face, turned back to the keyboard and started typing a reply. It was one word, "Yes." To this day, I took his response as a wonderful compliment of how he felt about our work together. See Internet Architecture Board, “RFC 1083, IAB Official Protocol Standards 1, Internet Engineering Task Force,” December 1, 1988.


74 to vogue at ISI and across the Internet. The “assignment of meaning” had acquired an organizational home. Reynolds couldn’t recall precisely when she first heard the term IANA used as an acronym. “One day Jon just said, ‘Instead of telling people, ‘Call Jon, or call Joyce for a number,’ they’ll be told to call the IANA.’”74 Perhaps the renegotiation of the DARPA contract in 1988 prompted a decision to adopt a more distinctly institutional look for this aspect of their work at ISI.75 In any case, the acronym turned out to be an apt if inadvertent play on the suffix which means “little bits of things,” as in Floridiana, or Americana. If there is no pivotal moment of IANA’s inception to point out, it is because the long running continuity of the assignment activity was so much more important to the members of the burgeoning engineering community than commemorating a date of denomination.



Postel’s dual role as guide and gatekeeper for the community was confirmed with the development and implementation of TCP/IP. He was not only an outspoken and influential advocate of its design principles, he managed the initial allocation of shares in the IP address space, and he exercised authority over allocations of the remaining space for more than a decade. A key factor in his rise to power was TCP/IP’s great success within commercial and academic enterprises, first in the United States, and then overseas. Its widespread adoption reduced the relative influence and authority of the U.S. Department of Defense within the TCP/IP using community. As TCP/IP became the networking protocol of choice, the needs of a diversifying user base went far beyond the limits of the provisioning charters that the US Government’s program managers were legally bound to follow. Postel had the latitude and the skill to step


Phone interview with Joyce Reynolds.

Mueller( 2002: 93). A slide from Rutkowski, “History of Supporting Names and Numbers,” includes the text “ISI denominates Postel DARPA role as IANA (1988). See also Rutkowski’s “US DOD [Internet] Assigned Numbers [Authority]*, Network Information Centers (NICs), Contractors, and Activities: known detailed history,”


75 up, demonstrating both leadership in the statement of the Internet’s principles, and responsibility over the distribution of its resources. He was certainly not alone in this. Cerf and others played undeniably important parts in laying out the design of the system and building it. But the growing prominence of TCP/IP suite funneled a remarkable mix of rulemaking powers into Postel’s hands. Though early development of what would become TCP/IP was funded by DARPA, the work was initially considered to be distinct from the ARPANET effort.76 In 1977, shortly after Postel arrived at ISI, an RFC-like publication dedicated to TCP-related communications was started up. The series, called Internet Engineering Notes, often overlapped with the RFC series and finally merged into it several years later, when the ARPANET ’s NCP gave way to TCP/IP. Postel published IEN-2 in August 1977, starting with a sharp admonition: “We are screwing up in our design of internet protocols by violating the principle of layering.”77 He went on to sketch out what he called a “cleaner,” simpler field layout for a proposed “internet protocol message format.” The purpose of the layering principle, he reminded his readers, was to distinguish the “hop to hop” packaging and routing aspect of the protocol from the “end to end control of the conversation.” TCP was then at version 2. Layering was one of the metaphors that would carry the community into the future, and he didn’t want anyone to forget it. Only months before, Cerf, Postel, and Danny Cohen had sketched out a new version of the protocol, presenting a new architectural vision that would open the door to the “end-toend” principle.78 Much of the credit belongs to Cohen, an ISI employee who was working on packet-based transmission suitable for realtime voice and video applications. Cohen believed that problems such as error handling and flow control did not need to be managed inside the


Dave Crocker, “The Standards Process That W asn’t,”in Lynch and Rose (1993).

Jon Postel, “Comments on Internet Protocol and TCP,” Internet Engineering Notes August 15, 1977.


Hafner and Lyon describe the seminal sketch as the result of a hallway conversation (1996: 236).


Reliable Unreliable Communication Communication | | | +-------+-------+ | | unreliability | | | injection | | +-------+-------+ | | +-----+----------------+-----+ | Reliability | The original TCP +----------------------------+ | Internet Handling | +-------------+--------------+ | | +----+----+ ----+ Network +---+---------+

Reliable Unreliable Communication Communication | | +------+------+ | The new TCP | Reliability | | +------+------+ | | | +-----+----------------+-----+ The new IP | Internet Handling | +-------------+--------------+ | | +----+----+ ----+ Network +---+---------+

Figure 7 Danny Cohen’s proposal for TCP/IP, circa 1977.

network, and that it would be a mistake to lock in the extra costs and excessive delays of having to provide for reliable delivery. His team had already figured out ways of dealing with packet losses and out-of-order delivery. As Cohen saw it, incurring the extra overhead would actually inject factors unreliability factors into realtime applications. He had spent months trying persuade Cerf that allowance for a loss-tolerant approach, which later came to be called “best effort,” could work for everyone. The trick, illustrated in Figure 5, was to separate out different features of the protocol so that various applications and network

77 functions could precisely locate the pieces of information they needed from within the bits of a packet, ignoring the rest.79 Layering became a key metaphor of the new design. One layer of a transmitted packet would contain the elements that were of interest only to the sender and the receiver. The other layer would hold the elements needed by the machines responsible for routing packets across networks. Some engineers later portrayed the conception as an hourglass, with IP functioning as a bearer service in the middle, between media and application components of the network. Once the distinction was understood and reinforced as rule, a clean design of the fields within the packet would always reflect that separation. By wrapping technical solutions in the language of overarching principles, it was easier to communicate these design assumptions to other computer scientists. Postel’s announcement, “We are screwing up,” used a coarse vernacular as an intensifier to assert what was considered good in opposition to what was considered bad. His words underscored a normative stance that rose above technical comment. Postel was quiet, but not shy. The utility of the layering principle was to delegate responsibility for accomplishing distinct technical tasks in the movement of packets. This was something Postel cared about so much that he wanted all the collaborating engineers to care about it also. In 1977, however, adoption the layering principle could not be mandated or issued as a command. It was still more than decade before words such as MUST and SHOULD would be established as directives within the context of the RFC series, or before the ubiquity of the Internet protocol suite in markets and infrastructures would give the RFC imprimatur meaningful gravity. Postel’s assertions could only mean that anyone who cared to build ties within the Internet community via the shared ideal of “good” would have to prove loyalty to particular principles, especially layering and “end to end.” Over time, the advocacy and restatement of these principles took on a religious flavor. Caring about the success of the Internet went far

This is recounted in a personal email from Danny Cohen to Vint Cerf dated N ovember 28, 1998, which Cerf forwarded to me on November 29, 1998.

78 beyond concern for adherence to the format of datagrams. As principles like “Connectivity is its own reward,” came into vogue, the engineering community’s culture would become unmoored from its roots in the US military’s bureaucracy.80 *** Though the initial research on TCP/IP continued to reflect an orientation toward military interests, development of the Internet was very much unlike that of the ARPANET . Most importantly, the Internet’s test bed was international from the start. One of the first three nodes using TCP/IP was based at University College in London. Much of the early work was linked with the Atlantic Packet Satellite Network (SATNET), a project that involved several European NATO allies, predominantly Norway and the UK. By 1981, TCP/IP had matured sufficiently that the ARPANET program managers decided to abandon the legacy NCP completely. January 1, 1983 was set as the cutover target. The

had already evolved into a widely-used operational network.

Consequently, the cutover to TCP/IP was a complicated, protracted, and painful endeavor. Meeting the deadline became a major preoccupation of 1982. The cutover was ordered by the military, which still controlled the core of the network, so everyone on the civilian side had to follow. Much of the logistical effort was coordinated by Dan Lynch, who was then running the computer center at ISI. The “mad rush” at the end kept dozens of system managers busy on New Year’s Eve, an experience memorialized by a shirt-button slogan, “I Survived the TCP Transition.”81 At that time the US military did not depend on the network for classified communications. Shortly after the military’s program managers mandated the switch to TCP/IP, however, they decided to enhance the security of their nodes by isolating them on a distinct infrastructure. This would require partitioning the network into two sides. The

Examples in which the phrase is given prominence include, Christian Huitema (2000), Routing in the Internet; Brian Carpenter, “RFC 1958: Architectural Principles of the Internet,” June 1996, and; “All about ISOC - ISOC: Mission Principles,” Abatte (2000: 140-2). See also Bernard Aboba, “How the Internet Came to Be, Part 2"


79 military’s operational portion – designated MILNET – came into use in early 1983, even before the aftershocks of the TCP/IP cutover had subsided. The legacy research platform was now called “ARPA-Internet.” ARPA was a military agency, of course, but its network had a distinctly open character that did not fit with the needs of the armed services. The ARPAInternet was set further apart after a civilian agency, the National Science Foundation (NSF), began to subsidize its connectivity expenses.82 It was in the interest of the Defense Department to shed the cost of maintaining the non-military components of the research network. But it also had an interest in promoting the network’s continuing growth. Over the long run, the success of a civilian Internet promised to advance the development of relatively inexpensive hardware and software. The ability to purchase equipment cheaply through commercial channels would further drive down costs. This strategy, referred to as “commercial off the shelf” or COTS, paid off quite handsomely. In fact, things turned out so well, that the military leadership had every reason to feel delighted. One can imagine a uniformed General standing in the checkout lane of a computer superstore, pushing a cart filled to the brim with routers and high speed digital cables, smiling with delight at the bargains his careful plans had wrought. *** Since the IP portion of TCP/IP used a 32 bit address space, the entire Internet could theoretically include about 4½ billion unique connections. The practical number of connections was considerably smaller, however, because of the limited capacities of administrative systems and routing technology. When testing was well underway in the late 1970s, the IP address space followed a regime that allowed for only 256 network connections; about two dozen were actually assigned by 1979.83 The allocation policy received a major overhaul in 1981, and the IP address space was segmented into three new subdivisions. Half the space was put aside for just 128 Class A addresses, each large enough to host 16,777,216 devices. The next twenty five percent was
This was approximately $1,000,000 annually in the mid-1980s. Interview with Don Mitchell, February 10, 2003.
83 82

See “RFC 755: Assigned Numbers” (also cataloged as “IEN 93"), May 3, 1979.

80 allocated to 16,383 Class B addresses, each with room for 65,536 hosts. A twelve percent portion was reserved for 2,097,152 Class C networks, each allowing for only 256 hosts. The wildly disparate sizes of the classes in the new allocation regime reflected the technical simplicity of the approach that was taken, subordinating the first three bits of the 32 bit IP datagram. All addresses starting with binary 0 went into Class A. All prefixed with binary 10 went into Class B, and all leading with binary 110 went into Class C.
Table 1 Reclassification of the IP address space. September 1981. RFC 790.
Class Blocks/Hosts Datagram layout 1 2 3 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ |0| NETWORK | Local Address | +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ |1 0| NETWORK | Local Address | +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ |1 1 0| NETWORK | Local Address | +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+


128/16,777,216 16,383/65,536 2,097,152/256

Instead of spelling out the addresses in the form of 32 binary digits, Postel used a more readable syntax called the “dotted quad.” The IP string was divided into four 8 bit segments, and each segment was converted into a decimal equivalent. Since 2 to the 8th power is 256, and since computer technologists conventionally start counting at 0, the highest number in each quad could be 255. Consequently, a valid address in the Class A space could take the form The new policy was promulgated in the “Assigned Numbers”list for September 1981 – RFC 790. Forty one of those Class A blocks were already allocated. The Class B and C addresses were listed as reserved, with Postel as the designated contact. According to RFC 900, published in June 1984, Postel had recovered nearly two dozen of the Class A addresses. They were now listed as “unassigned.” Meanwhile, over 50 Class B connections and hundreds of Class C connections had been allocated, amounting to 902 networks within the combined ARPA-Internet and MILNET (which Postel had begun calling the DDNInternet). But there were also a growing number of allocations for “Independent Uses” being tracked and registered, many of which were for civilian entities such as universities, though there were evidently commercial participants as well. These raised the total to 2464.

81 By March 1987 the list of network numbers and associated references was forty two pages long. The job of maintaining it had become routine and increasingly time consuming. The main problem, however, was that ISI’s funding depended on DARPA, an agency whose advanced research mission was specifically intended for inherently non-routine, leading edge, experimental projects. In November Postel agreed to move responsibility for the registry operations to the Defense Data Network’s Network Information Center (DDN-NIC), an SRI-based project underwritten by the Defense Communication Agency (DCA).84 The DCA – the official sponsor of the MILNET – had been the primary funding source of the DDN-NIC since taking over responsibility for ARPANET management operations in 1975. The switch of the numbering operations to the DDN-NIC further exposed just how many connections were being used by hosts not subject to federal oversight. Since the military was not authorized to fund civilian activities of this sort, its managers had to find a way to terminate that activity altogether or at least spin off the funding responsibility so that it could be allowed to run under the same roof. A model for that was already in place. The National Science Foundation had been subsidizing non-military domain name registrations at the DDN-NIC for several years already, beginning shortly after the MILNET separated from the ARPA-Internet. There was apparently at least once incident in which a DDN-NIC contract manager tried to impose funding discipline to the detriment of extraterritorial connections. The occasion for this arose after a renegotiation of the DDN-NIC contract, shortly after the DCA was renamed the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). SRI was ordered to remove the entries which provided connectivity to various European and Asian-based hosts. The shutdown was brief but effective. The NSF, which had been chipping in some funds ever


Mary Stahl, S. Romano, “RFC 1020: Network Numbers,” November, 1987.

82 since ARPANET had been split into the MILNET and the ARPA-Internet, stepped in with yet more funds to subsidize the ongoing non-military activity.85 *** As the Internet grew, and as the interests of its military and civilian portions diverged, increasing attention was given to coordination issues, not only for the sake of providing steady funds, but also to clarify the standards creation process. In July 1984 Postel and Reynolds issued a “policy statement” as RFC 902 (ARPA-Internet Protocol Policy) defining authority relationships in the two “worlds” – DARPA and DDN – that constituted the research community and the operational military network. According to the RFC, “the DARPA World,” was “headed up by the DARPA office,” but relied on the Internet Configuration Control Board (ICCB) to “help manage” the Internet program. Kahn had created the ICCB in 1979 when he was still running the

program. Worried that too much of the decision-making process in the TCP/IP development work depended on Cerf alone, he wanted to foster the growth of institutional memory by getting other specialists involved at a high level.86 The ICCB started out as Cerf’s “kitchen cabinet” and included close colleagues like Postel, Bob Braden, Dave Clark. It persisted on after Cerf left DARPA for private industry in 1984. Now Clark was the ICCB chair and Postel was assistant chairman. RFC 902, by the way, granted Clark and Postel titles which were considerably more illustrious: “Internet Architect” and “Deputy Internet Architect.” DARPA was for the research world, the military had its own. “The DDN World” relied on the DDN’s Project Management Office and various technical groups, most notably the Protocol Standard Steering Group (PSSG), which took the lead for that side. A few individuals sat on both the ICCB and the DDN committees to ensure cooperation between

“W e continued to give a little bit of money to SRI so that the non-military registration stuff wouldn’t fall through the cracks.” Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 10, 2003. I qualified the story with the word “apparently” because I was not able to find any corroboration of a European cutoff, though one supposes it would have been rather memorable experience for those involved. Robert Kahn, “The Role of Government in the Evolution of the Internet,” in National Academy of Sciences (1994), Revolution in the U.S. Information Infrastructure,


83 the two groups. For example, important protocols which were published as RFCs for the DARPA community also had to be published within the Military Standard series used by the DDN. RFC 902 also presented a remarkably brief scenario describing the “typical chain of events” people followed when developing protocol standards. Discussions among “random people” would lead to “someone” writing a draft which would be passed around to “interested” people, and ultimately to the RFC Editor. The RFC Editor would pass the draft around to yet “other people who might also be interested in the problem.” Members of that “selected informal group” might revise the draft “until the process stabilizes,” at which time “the protocol draft is sent out as an RFC, identified as a draft proposal of a protocol that may become an official protocol.” That was it. RFC 902 concluded rather abruptly with a section titled, “The Bottom Line.” For the ARPA-Internet and the DARPA research community, DARPA is in charge. DARPA delegates the authority for protocol standards to the ICCB. The ICCB delegates the actual administration of the protocol standards to the Deputy Internet Architect.87 Clarifying the chains of authority was a timely move. It would prove quite useful to the research community as the Internet’s next phase of growth got underway, accelerating the system’s reach beyond its military origins. Designating Postel as the ICCB’s Deputy Architect established his authority in ways that made his powers seem considerably more concrete in the science-oriented DARPA world, yet independent from direct military oversight.


Commercialization and Privatization, Round 1

The expression “Tipping Point” has become a fashionable way to describe the moment at which a once-minor social trend becomes so popular that its future dominance is assured. Malcolm Gladwell glamorized the expression by devoting a book to the topic. Many academics have written about the phenomenon, using terms like strategic interdependence,


Jon Postel, Joyce Reynolds, “RFC 902: ARPA-Internet Protocol Policy,” July 1984.

84 strategic interaction or collective action. The point is that ideas can spread like epidemics. The challenge is to understand how they propagate. The conventional approach is to identify inflection points at which members of a society rapidly adopt a new skilled practice. The classic examples of strategic interaction – demographic shifts like white flight or gentrification – indicate whether people of a certain ethnicity or economic status consider it desirable or not live in a particular neighborhood. But tipping points can also reflect adopted practices such as clothing fashions, political preferences, and, of course, the deployment of new technology. The Internet had at least two tipping points, the best-known being the rise of the Web in the mid-1990s. The shift to TCP/IP that occurred around 1985 was arguably far more significant, however. The consequence of that tip was the enduring success of TCP/IP as a widely available, non-proprietary network protocol, and perhaps as the foundation for the future of global telecommunication. An essential factor behind the move to TCP/IP was an intentional decision to cultivate the ground for it and plant the seeds that would promote its growth. In 1983
ARPANET ’s managers provided $20 million in funding to support implementation of TCP/IP

on the UNIX platform. That software was quickly ported to a widely-used version known as the Berkeley Software Distribution – BSD UNIX. Derived from the proprietary version created by AT&T’s Bell Labs, BSD development was sponsored by the University of California. Much of the coding was done by Bill Joy, who went on to found SUN Microsystems. SUN workstations later became an overwhelmingly popular platform for Internet hosts and DNS servers, including those used in the root constellation. Another factor in the tip to TCP/IP bears out Gladwell’s hypothesis that respected Mavens, sociable Connectors, and persuasive Salesman are critical to the successful transmission of information. Cerf was all three, and he found others to help him. He was avidly been preaching TCP/IP’s advantages before groups of computer scientists and engineers within the US and overseas when he met Larry Landweber, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin. This was 1980, just as Landweber was taking the initial steps to build the research network eventually known as CSNET.

85 Conceived as a parallel system for computer science departments at universities not connected to the ARPANET , CSNET was the first major network beyond the ARPANET that was specifically designed to run TCP/IP. There were other protocols to choose from at the time, such as OSI, X.25, and DECNET, so Landweber’s conversion had far-reaching implications. For example, building a gateway between the ARPANET and CSNET turned out to be a relatively simple endeavor. Compatibility was guaranteed. The move clearly augmented the utility of both networks. Parenthetically, CSNET ultimately merged with another regional academic network, the New England-based BITNET, to form a national system under the auspices of the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking. CREN was headed by Mike Roberts (distinct from the ARPANET ’s Larry Roberts), whose career had focused on building advanced networks in academic settings, starting at Stanford University. Mike Roberts later became a major figure in Internet governance history, joining the inner circle around Cerf in the 1990s and ultimately serving as ICANN’s first CEO. Landweber’s selection of TCP/IP also set the stage for one of the most decisive moves to come. In the early 1980s, amid widespread concern that US competence in science and engineering was falling behind Japan and Europe, there was pressure to boost US competitiveness by giving researchers in academic institutions better access to supercomputers. Just as plans for the National Science Foundation’s national computer networking backbone were reaching fruition, Dennis Jennings, the NSF’s Program Director for Networking who just happened to be a close colleague of Landweber’s, insisted on using TCP/IP.88 That 1985 decision “broke the camel’s back,” because it meant thousands of institutions would be involved.89 The choice signaled manufacturers that investment in mass production of TCP/IP-enabled devices was becoming a safe bet. Over time, the growing supply of those devices and the rise in familiarity with the technology stimulated promotional activity among vendors and ever more demand among buyers. When the market finally

See Malamud (1993), also online at

The quote is from Don Mitchell. See also SRI Policy Division, The Role of NSF's Support of Engineering in Enabling Technological Innovation,


86 moved overwhelmingly toward TCP/IP, the outcome may have seemed inevitable, but it was built on key purchase decisions from those early days. *** These decisions further empowered the people behind them, with direct implications for the globalization of the Internet. Landweber had begun working in 1982 to set up Internet gateways between networks in the US, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. The following year he began putting on workshops that focused on spreading the use of Internet technologies throughout the developing world. These meetings were initially known as the International Academic Networking Workshops (IANW). In 1987 a few of IANW members meeting in Princeton started a new group, the Necessary Ad Hoc Coordinating Committee (NACC) to focus on the problems of developing an infrastructure to coordinate their far flung activities. It was co-chaired by an American, Bill Bostwick from the US Department of Energy, and James Hutton, Secretary General of RARE, the leading European networking association. NACC soon transformed itself into the much better known Coordinating Committee for Intercontinental Research Networks (CCIRN), dedicated to the goal of “global networking.”90 Amid the expansion of the civilian Internet inside and outside the United States, managers in the Department of Defense were even more keen to transfer the responsibility for maintaining registration functions over to other agencies or entities. The great challenge was to do so without causing unnecessary interruption of service. The emergence of CCIRN helped accelerate movement toward a solution. Prompted by CCIRN’s European members, Bostwick launched a Federal Research Internet Coordinating Committee (FRICC) within the US Government, where Division Directors from various agencies including DOE, NSF, and DoD could coordinate long-range planning and stopgap funding. In 1990 FRICC evolved into the more enduring Federal Network Council (FNC), a US Government super-committee that brought together an even larger assortment of Division Directors (adding NASA and the FCC) in a more formal setting.91 As before, its purpose was


Barry M. Leiner, “Globalization of the Internet,” in Lynch and Rose (1993: 31-2). See Mueller (2002: 99-100). See also Vint Cerf, “RFC 1600: Internet Activities Board,” May 1990.


87 to provide a mechanism by which a growing assortment of government bureaucracies could coordinate their oversight and funding of internetworking research as their particular interests waxed and waned. The FNC became a venue through which they could manage their shifting investments, ensuring no plugs were pulled on running systems before new funding sources were in line. DoD and NSF remained the biggest players. The FNC also met with an advisory committee of distinguished individuals – academics and business people – who had been enduring proponents of internetworking research. The Defense Department’s involvement in support of internetworking research decreased rapidly in the mid and late1980s. Still, DARPA remained the primary sponsor of Postel’s shop at ISI and continued to fund the various meetings at which Internet standards were being developed. These were relatively small investments compared to what the NSF was doing to advance the use of high speed network technology and the civilian Internet under the aegis of the NSF’s National Research and Education Network (NREN). NREN’s design was ambitious and far-reaching, with significant long-term implications. From the beginning, the NSF planners led by Steve Wolff had contemplated strategies for spinning off significant pieces of the system to the private sector. His ideas were sensible enough, in light of NREN’s goals. But the circumstance of the largest spinoff generated an unhappy controversy, foreshadowing the kinds of battles that would erupt agian during the commercialization of domain name registration industry later in the decade. *** Through the mid and late 1980s the NSF invested millions of dollars to fund university supercomputer centers and to build the digital backbone which would connect them. Like the CSNET, the NSFNET used TCP/IP and hooked into the Internet via the backbone provided by DARPA’s ARPANET . The first generation of the NSFNET backbone transmitted data at 56 kilobits per second, about the maximum speed supported by the analog modems used in home computers. The second generation of the backbone was an outgrowth of the Michigan Educational Research Information Triad (MERIT), a regional university

88 network that had entered into an aggressive partnership with IBM and MCI.92 By 1989 Merit’s part of the backbone reached T1 speed – 1.5 megabits pers second (...equivalent to a medium-speed DSL modem circa 2005). When the ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990, the NSFNET backbone was fully prepared to handle the load. Numerous regional educational and research networks had sprung up by then, and were highly dependent on the availability of a reliable national carrier. The switch was virtually seamless. In 1991 the NSF was funding MERIT’s next upgrade of the backbone, this time to T3 speed – 45 megabits per second. Wolff, Director of NSF’s Networking Division during most of that period, pumped up the number of connected sites through a remarkably cost effective program that provided seed money to universities which wanted to tap into the NSFNET. The Internet as a whole surpassed 5,000 sites that year. From the beginning, Wolff had taken a farsighted approach. He was thinking about how to decommission and move beyond the NSFNET even before the ARPANET was shut down.93 His strategy included a plan bring about privatization of the NSFNET’s

infrastructure as soon as possible. This was necessary for opening the Internet to business activity. Use of the Internet was strictly non-commercial at that time, and would remain so by law, as long as the NSF was directly in charge. Any regional network that connected to the Internet via NSF’s backbone was subject to a cumbersome Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that virtually precluded the transmission of commercial content.94 The AUP was designed to prevent for-profit ventures from exploiting government-funded infrastructures. The intent of that policy was fairness, but it was also beginning to fetter Internet growth. It stifled the users of emerging private regional networks like UUNET and PSINET, and deterred others

MERIT, “The NSFNET Backbone Project, 1987 - 1995,” nsfnet/ See also, Susan R. Harris, Ph.D., and Elise Gerich, “Retiring the NSFNET Backbone Service: Chronicling the End of an Era,” ConneXions, 10,4, April 1996, archive/nsfnet/retire.connexions.html. See discussion by W olff in Brian Kahin ed. “RFC 1192: Commercialization of the Internet,” November 1990. “The NSFNet Backbone Services Acceptable Use Policy,” June 1992, archive/nsfnet/acceptable.use.policy.
94 93


89 who might have been interested in the Internet as a long-haul carrier for straightforward business purposes. Stimulating private investment in the Internet, therefore, seemed to depend on freeing the NSFNET from the AUP’s restrictions promised. To accomplish this, Wolff allowed the operators of the MERIT Network to take over the NSFNET backbone under the aegis of a new company formed expressly for that purpose. This not-for-profit entity, called Advanced Network Services (ANS), could sell services back to the government. ANS became the NSF’s ISP. Right away, there was controversy. ANS was also allowed to spawn a for-profit subsidiary – ANS CO+RE – unencumbered by the AUP. The subsidiary sold bandwidth on the same lines used by the NSFNET, a practice that a rising crop of competitors considered highly unfair. ANS leveraged its advantage to attract commercial clients seeking access to the NSFNET, a service no other commercial provider could offer. Critics charged that the ANS backbone was a quasi-monopoly built on NSF subsidies, arguing that the ability to apportion part of the backbone for private purposes unfairly tilted the playing field against aspiring commercial ISPs who had to build entire infrastructures with private funds. As an analogy, imagine that you had been paid to build a railroad track and a four-car train. You built the track as agreed, but built an eight car-train instead, and rented out the four extra cars for your own profit. Yet no one else was allowed to use the tracks. Adding insult to injury, officials at the NSF had known far ahead of time what ANS planned to do, but the NSF never announced its decision to permit ANS CO+RE to be run this way. Critics denounced the arrangement as a “backroom deal.”95 Some of the aspiring ISPs formed their own consortium, calling it the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX), The group was led by Mitchell Kapor, the co-creator of Lotus 1-2-3, the original “killer app” of the personal computer industry. Kapor had gone on to create the Electronic Frontier Foundation and was involved in numerous projects that sought
Jay P. Kesan and Rajiv C. Shah (2001), “Fool Us Once Shame on You – Fool Us Twice Shame on Us: W hat W e Can Learn From the Privatization of the Internet Backbone Network and the Domain Name System,” February 2001, University of Illinois College of Law W orking Paper No, 00-18,

90 to engage the computer industry with social activism. He was also a founding investor of UUNET, a key member of the CIX consortium. One of the most remarkable and innovative aspects of the CIX arrangement was its peering policy. Rather than deal with the overhead of negotiating, calculating and redeeming settlements for the exchange of data, participants simply carried each other’s traffic without charge In late 1991 CIX sought to connect to the ANS CO+RE backbone, but ANS refused, evidently seeking to reap the harvest of its monopoly as long as it could. In due course ANS was subjected to government investigations, Congressional hearings, and a steady onslaught of public criticism. In June 1992, the ANS directors finally yielded to pressure, and allowed CIX to interconnect. *** ANS’s move to take advantage of its position and shut out potential competitors naturally led to charges of insider dealing and monopolistic abuse. Those criticisms would echo when DNS privatization got underway three years later. For the time being, however, the spectacular success of the backbone privatization squelched nagging questions about the preferences granted to ANS. In the end, no single private or public entity could exercise monopolistic control over the Internet’s main data lines. This was a headline-grabbing, universally-lauded result. Operators of the various networks that made up the Internet had become true peers, establishing a new culture of collaboration. By 1994, even ANS had joined the CIX peering arrangement. The task of exercising power over the Internet had moved far beyond the level controlling its hardware. Now there was no center to its physical nervous system, no single point of failure, no way for one person to pull the plug. This aspect of the Internet was a fulfillment of the ARPANET ’S fundamental design imperatives – especially survivability and resource sharing. But the trump card was scalable architecture. That feature had facilitated astonishingly rapid growth, enabling the system to transcend its test-bed origins and spawn

91 a global network of networks. By April 1995, over 40 percent of the Internet’s nodes were outside the United States.96 The undeniable triumph of TCP/IP and the end-to-end principle buttressed the perception that both the Internet and the people who used it were characterized by a definite set of progressive norms... openness, autonomy, consensus-driven decision-making, and freedom from political control by governments. The notion that no one owned the Internet provided an opening for amplification and articulations. But visionary pronouncements needed “visionaries” to pronounce them. One prominent voice in this context was Einar Stefferud, a friend and colleague of Farber’s and Postel’s since the ARPANET days. Stefferud had made a variety of contributions to the management of the ARPANET email list, including identification of the first spam – a 1978 unsolicited commercial message set by a DEC marketing representative.97 He later helped write an IETF standards for cross-platform email attachments.98 By the mid-1990s, “Stef,” as he called himself, had positioned himself as a management consultant conversant on “big-picture” issues such as technology convergence. He began to speak up nearly any time a discussion about what he called the “Internet paradigm” turned philosophical. As Stefferud saw it, thanks to the backbone privatization, the Internet had become “edge-controlled...” a society of “bounded chaos...” impossible to regulate because it was constituted by free agents. Great consequences would follow, he predicted, such as a huge leap forward in the way people worked together. Up-and-coming Internet-enabled forms of collaboration would relegate proponents of central authority (not just governments, but telephone monopolies and other unreformed corporations) to history’s ash heap. Propelled by this logic, Stefferud came to believe that the IANA had become a shackle on the Internet’s capacity for innovation. Predicting that the Internet’s naming and


Abbate (2000: 210).

See Brad Templeton, “Reaction to the DEC Spam of 1978,” brad/spamreact.html. John Klensin, Einar Stefferud, et al, “RFC 1426: SM TP Service Extension for 8bit-MIME Transport,” February 1993.


92 numbering authority suffer the fate of all outmoded relics, he ultimately took a leading role in a campaign to make that happen as soon as possible. Things got personal later, after the DNS War was well underway. Stefferud’s rhetoric rose to diatribe when he denounced IANA as “this last remaining vestigial tail of the ARPANET .”99 Postel stopped speaking to him. Their public split reflected the deepening rift in the community. By the latter half of the 1990s old friends were breaking off into opposed camps. *** At issue, ultimately, was whether commercialization and privatization was itself the most fundamental spring of innovation on the Internet, or whether some form of eggbreaking, omelette-making enlightened stewardship was sometimes appropriate and even necessary. Wolff’s approach had been to prime the engines of the private sector, injecting various businesses with a series of market-seeding gambles, supplemented by a few large market-steering investments. The most critical investment of all – the ANS matter – inevitably raised hackles for its strategic corner cutting, but things turned out so well so quickly for so many ISPs that the episode was soon relegated to the annals of tedious old trivia. Perhaps Wolff’s could have made some better choices here and there. Nevertheless, he had a vision for backbone privatization, he turned it into a plan, and he executed that plan effectively. If he tilted too far in favor of ANS, at least the tilt was correctable and didn’t produce a lasting injustice in the form of an entrenched monopoly. As one defender put it, “How often do you hear the word ANS today? Are they big telecom giants? Do they control the whole world? No.”100 On the other hand, no one in a leadership role expressed a similar long-term vision for moving the Internet’s name and number administration out of the government’s hands.

See Stefferud’s testimony in “Before the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration: In the Matter of Registration and Administration of Internet Domain Names, Docket No. 970613137-7137-01,"July 1997, stef/noi/.


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003.

93 This was largely because the community was caught off guard by the Internet’s spectacular success, especially the inception of domain name-hungry World Wide Web services. When the 1980s closed, Wolff had already well put things well on the way toward backbone privatization. He had acted in a farsighted manner, and he had acted quickly enough to meet the circumstances, but he had also been lucky in that the need for backbone privatization was long foreseen. With domain names, the story was different. Technical and policy innovations had outpaced the ability to anticipate the extent to which the sheer demand for names and numbers would explode. This put Jon Postel in a difficult position. Possessing so much a prestige and competence, it seemed logical that the initiative would fall to him. Yet the circumstances severely compressed the amount of time available in which he could formulate a vision, put it into action, and find a way to manage the inevitable complaints.

Chronology 2 Early Infrastructural Development Date During 1994 June 1992 During 1991 During 1990 December 1988 During 1987 November 1987 During 1985 July 1984 October 1983 Event ANS adopts CIX collaborative peering arrangement. ANS yields to CIX demands for right to interconnect. MERIT is allowed to form ANS, becoming NSF’s ISP. Federal Networking Council (FNC) begins meeting. First explicit reference to “Internet Assigned Numbers Authority”, RFC 1083. NSF contracts with MERIT (including IBM and MCI) to develop NSFNET backbone. IP Registry operations moved from ISI to DDN-NIC at SRI. Dennis Jennings of NSF selects TCP/IP for national backbone. RFC 902 describes administrative relations between research and military networks. Joyce Reynolds joins Postel as assignment contact, IP segments organized into class-based structure, Assigned Numbers, RFC 870. During 1983 During 1983 Early 1983 January 1, 1983 August 1982 September 1981 During 1980 During 1979 May 1979 During 1977 May 1974 During 1972 May 1972 March 1972 August 1971 July 13, 1970 December 1969 October 29, 1969 April 7, 1969 Early 1969 During 1968 Late 1966 August 1962 March 1960 July 1945

program managers promote UNIX implementation of TCP/IP.

Gateway built linking CSNET and ARPANET. MILNET splits from ARPANET. Deadline for transition from NCP to TCP/IP. Postel publishes Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) ,RFC 821. Postel publishes Internet Protocol, RFC 791. CSNET incorporates TCP/IP. NWG reunites as Internetworking Conference Control Board (ICCB). First allocation of IP address segments, Assigned Numbers, RFC 755. Postel begins work at USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). Cerf and Kahn, A Protocol for Packet Network InterCommunications – basis of TCP. Robert Kahn leaves BBN for ARPA, to focus on designs for peering technology. Jon Postel proposes himself as numbers “czar”, RFC 349. Ray Tomlinson of BBN inaugurates use of @ symbol in email. Postel begins taking responsibility for number assignments, Sockets in Use, RFC 204. Kalin publishes A simplified NCP Protocol, RFC 60. First four nodes of ARPANET are connected via IMPs. First host to host message, sent by Charley Kline, from UCLA to SRI. Steve Crocker publishes Host Software, RFC 1. Meetings of the Network Working Group (NWG) begin. BBN awarded contract to build first IMP. Robert Taylor hires Larry Roberts to plan and launch the ARPANET. Paul Baran publishes On Distributed Computer Networks. J.C.R. Licklider publishes Man-Computer Symbiois. Vannevar Bush publishes As We May Think.

You wanted to be a standards organization. Now live with it. Stev Knowles Internet Engineering Steering Group


a. Open Culture In 1977, Postel moved to ISI, where he worked until the end of his life. Most of his

projects were funded by the US Government’s Department of Defense, via DARPA. Ironically, the main client for the parameter assignments and documents Postel produced was not the US military, but an exceptional group of avowedly anti-authoritarian civilians, the membership of Internet Engineering Task Force – the IETF. It was the institutional legacy of the Network Working Group, the team that Steve Crocker had organized in the late 1960s starting with a handful of students UCLA’s Boelter Hall. Though the original NWG had long ceased to exist as an ongoing entity, Postel saw to it that those three words – Network Working Group – headed every RFC he published. This was more than just a bow to sentiment and tradition. By the early 1990s the most prolific source of documents submitted to the RFC editor was the IETF, which, for all practical purposes, was the NWG’s rightful successor. The core of the IETF is a notoriously casual and clubbish group of people whose sense of community predates their organizational identity. Many members can trace their lineage back to the ARPANET days and can boast a very few degrees of personal separation between Crocker and his NWG colleagues.101 Crocker’s initiative at UCLA had spawned multitudes of Internet-focused working groups and technical committees. The first apparition of the IETF was simply one among many of those groups. It was officially launched on January 17, 1986, descended from a working group called Gateway Algorithms and Data Structures (GADS).

For a thorough listing of leaders in the IETF engineering community over an extended period, see Abdul Latip, “Trivia IETF,”



96 GADS had first met in 1985 and after only a couple meetings was split in two to account for emerging distinctions in architecture and engineering.102 Some members were primarily interested in “blue sky” design, while the others wanted to focus on solving immediate operational problems. The latter was designated Internet Engineering – INENG. Twenty-one participants attended the first INENG meeting in San Diego, chaired by Mike Corrigan, the DDN’s Pentagon-based technical manager. The acronym was soon changed to IETF. Though the first gathering included participants as diverse as Lixia Zhang, an MIT grad student, early meetings generally included consisted of individuals credentialed by the Defense Department. The military connection was palpable. One meeting at Moffet Field was interrupted by the noisy takeoff of a U-2 spy plane. The culture shifted at the end of 1987 when Corrigan was persuaded to open the door to participants from the National Science Foundation.103 By that time the NSF’s sponsorship of an educationally-oriented national telecommunications backbone had made it a major force in networking. Despite the radically different missions of the parent bureaucracies, NSF’s experts were kindred spirits who hoped to improve of their own TCP/IP networks. It made sense for the military to grant access. With that, the IETF was no longer a “Pentagon thing.”104 The move immediately opened the way for the unrestricted entry by non-governmental participants and private vendors. As more people entered, even more wanted in. Participants felt they were truly on the “ground floor” of the burgeoning Internet, and didn’t want to miss a thing. Attendance at IETF meetings grew steadily, breaking 100 in 1987. A sweeping reform of the Internet standards-making process in 1989 recast the IETF as the overarching venue for a wide array of working groups. The IETF consequently became the hub of

Internet Architecture Board, Henning Schulzrinne, ed. A Brief History of the Internet Advisory / Activities / Architecture Board, See also, “Interview with Lixia Zhang,” IETF Journal 2.1, Spring 2006, See letter from Rahmat M. Samik-Ibrahim recounting a conversations between Corrigan and HansW erner Braun, Hans W erner Braun, “Re: IETF as a Pentagon Thing,” IH internet-history/2001-October/000064.html.
104 103

97 Internet-related standards development, and thus the rightful heir to the spirit of the NWG. Meeting attendance grew rapidly thereafter, reaching 500 in1992, 1000 in 1995, and 2000 in 1998, with a drop to around 1600 after the end of the Internet boom.105 The IETF’s processes have remained remarkably open since the 1989 reform.106 Much of the work of thrashing out the details of new Internet standards is done through participation on online email distribution lists. Anyone can join an IETF Working Group – over one hundred are presently active – simply by subscribing to the appropriate list.107 Most groups take a particular standard, or a carefully limited set of standards, as their finite mission. One senior member, John Klensin (formerly of MCI) described the process this way: [T]he fact that we generally close WGs that have finished their work, rather than encouraging them to find new things to keep them busy has, I believe, been very important in keeping us from developing many standards that no one wants and that are out of touch with reality.108 The working groups are overseen by a superset of Area Directors who constitute the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) – the IETF’s de facto oversight body. The IESG is not considered to be a free standing group. It is a management function of the IETF. New Working Groups can be called into existence by the IAB or the IESG, or the membership can self-organize under a provisional status called “Birds of a Feather” (BOF). The BOF designation was once very much a part of the IETF culture – cute and cutting edge. RFCs and related publications are provided free of charge over the Internet, as are the minutes of all meetings, including Working Group, and BOF sessions (that is, when someone bothers to write them up). A key motive for this open culture was that the IETF’s early members tended to resent the closed procedures and expensive charges for publications that


“Past Meetings of the IETF,” Froomkin (2003). “Overview of the IETF,” John Klensin, “Re: [ISDF] RE:,” IETF January 10, 2004.




98 were de rigor in most other standards organizations. They wanted their community to stand as an alternative. Steve Crocker had confirmed that principle early on. While serving as DARPA program manager he used his leverage to ensure that BBN would release the IMP source code to anyone who requested it.109 This reinforced the sentiment within the community that the benefits of work performed for the public should not be appropriated by private parties or sequestered within a government bureaucracy. The IETF’s celebrated traditions stem from that and numerous like-minded decisions to build an open and inclusive community. The graduate students and young professors of the NWG had come to power in the

environment, and that cultural experience

inscribed an unmistakable influence in their lives. The ARPANET , like most military projects, placed little priority on commercial imperatives like recovering the cost of investment. But it was unusual in that it was unclassified. The system embedded the values of what some considered to be the “golden age” of American science. Just as the commercial aerospace and satellite industries benefitted from spinoffs of Cold War arms programs, the Internet’s founders had been “utilizing the resources of the military to advance the state of the art in their field.”110 Government funding was generous during that era, its oversight was unobtrusive, and the recipients generated one useful discovery after another. Yet Cold War-styled secrecy and skulduggery was anathema in the Internet engineering culture. The NWG’s legacy of openness to grassroots participation bloomed again within the IETF’s culture, instilling a fresh mood of frontier idealism. The Internet’s newcomers – both engineers and users alike – inhaled a rich, heady atmosphere of open interaction that induced an uncompromising passion for unrestricted access to information. As a senior IETF member, Harvard-based Scott Bradner, put it, “It is a matter of pride and


Hafner and Lyon (1996: 235-5).

Andrew L. Russell (2002), “From ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ to ‘Constitutional Crisis’: the Politics of Internet Standards, 1973-1992.” See also his (2001), "Ideological and Policy Origins of the Internet, 1957-1965."


99 honor in the IETF that all documents are public documents available for free over the net. We used the paradigm to develop the paradigm.”111 This is one of the clearest and simplest examples of how computer engineers behaved as social engineers. The spirit of the net’s culture was to share information about the net’s design. It was a potent alignment of means and ends, values and goals. But the luxury of ignoring commercial imperatives for the sake of avant garde innovation would have long-term ramifications. It would draw many of the IETF’s leaders into direct confrontation with business managers whose livelihood depended on the exclusive control of information. The growth of the Internet ultimately would produce an epochal challenge to the business models of many important industries in the United States. It was particularly disrupting to the news media and recorded entertainment industries. *** Entry to the IETF’s week long, tri-yearly meetings is open to anyone. Admission fees were nominal until the late-1990s when government sponsorship finally phased out. That funding had peaked in 1995 at about $1,000,000 per year. To offset the lost subsidy, the cost of admission to the meetings rose steadily, reaching a fairly reasonable $450 in 2002... less for students. Participants meet in open sessions and work online, using a generously endowed computing and connectivity facility called the “terminal room,” feasting throughout the week on free snacks and coffee. (During the Memphis meeting I attended in 1997, the IETF’s Chair, Fred Baker, bragged that the entire city had run out of cookies because of the members’ insatiable appetites.) Contributions to the group’s work are considered voluntary, except for the tasks performed by a small secretariat. Despite the wide open atmosphere and exceptionally casual dress code, the behavior of the members reflects a highly disciplined blend of clique and meritocracy. Long-term participants have a strong cultural commitment to preserving the IETF’s manners and historical memory. One could even argue that the behavior of Internet engineers reflects a modern version of the guild mentality that characterized artisan societies several centuries


“Testimony of Scott Bradner,”

100 ago.112 The organization welcomes newcomers and their useful work, but insists that anyone seeking to publish a standard conform to a very carefully delineated style of communication. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Postel, as RFC Editor, was not only the final arbiter of the acceptable style, he was the master and model of it. To read the RFCs that he wrote, or to witness one of his live presentations, was to experience a demonstration of prolific clarity. His words were eminently constructive, a palpable example of how, in philosophical terms, speaking is doing. His style of communication also set a standard for making standards, a constraint that served as a critical enablement. Working Groups meetings tended to be fast and challenging. Many groups would have foundered if the members had not been presented with such an exquisite example of how to work well. Postel had his own pithy take on the ethic of openness, distilled into the aphorism, “Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.” The text from which the maxim was drawn was utterly pragmatic: The implementation of a protocol must be robust. Each implementation must expect to interoperate with others created by different individuals. While the goal of this specification is to be explicit about the protocol there is the possibility of differing interpretations. In general, an implementation must be conservative in its sending behavior, and liberal in its receiving behavior. That is, it must be careful to send well-formed datagrams, but must accept any datagram that it can interpret (e.g., not object to technical errors where the meaning is still clear). 113 Much could be inferred from that, far beyond the architecture of the Internet Protocol. The point of openness is not to unleash a flood of data, but to foster the communication of useful information. The point of a rule is not to insist on strict conformance to the rule, but


The first person I heard entertain this idea was Milton Mueller.

See Jon Postel, “RFC 791: Internet Protocol,” September 1981. Bob Braden highlighted the citation and provided its better-known phrasing in “RFC 1122: Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Communication Layers,” October 1989. See Braden’s comments on this in, “Re: Be: liberal...” IETF November 1, 1999,


101 to help accomplish the tasks that the rule makers hoped to facilitate. Appreciation for the wisdom in that statement is what made Postel a guide, and not just a gatekeeper.


The Rise of the IAB

Cerf’s career had briefly drawn him away from the commanding heights of Internet in the mid 1980s, when he left his position as Network Program Manager at DARPA to become Vice President of Digital Information Services at MCI. He started there in 1982, focusing on the development of the first major commercial email system – MCI Mail. It was not even a TCP/IP-based project. Still, the absence wasn’t long, plus the private sector experience and contacts it opened were bound to be valuable. After MCIMail was well underway, Cerf was free to resume high level involvement in the Internet standards process. This time around he would be as much an impresario as a developer. His new goal was to promote unabated expansion of the system. What was good for the Internet was good for MCI. The strategy took shape as he moved to consolidate the Internet’s planning, standards making, research coordination, education and publications activities under an organizational umbrella beyond the reach of government control. The pieces started coming into place in 1986 when Cerf joined TCP co-developer Robert Kahn, and ISI’s founder, Keith W. Uncapher, in creating the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI). It was a kind of “sand box” in which advanced technical ideas related to internetworking could be investigated and developed. Kahn was the primary mover, serving as Chairman, President, and CEO. One of CNRI’s first projects involved linking MCI’s mail system with Internet mail. MCI was among CNRI’s key corporate sponsors, which included IBM, Xerox, Bell Atlantic, Digital Equipment Corporation, and other large corporations with interests in the data telecommunication industry. CNRI began hosting the IETF’s new secretariat, a small operation which performed tasks such as scheduling meetings, accepting registrations, responding to inquiries, and so on. The secretariat was initially headed by IETF Chair Phil Gross, who was simultaneously working on other projects at CNRI. When Gross left CNRI in 1991 to become Executive Director of ANS (the NSFNET’s backbone provider), Steve Coya, who had been at MCI and

102 worked with Cerf on the MCIMail/Internet linking project, was hired to run the Secretariat full time. The progeny of the NWG had not been floating aimlessly after Cerf left DARPA in 1982. His successor as Network Program Manager, Barry Leiner, eliminated the Internet Configuration Control Board (ICCB) of the

era, replacing it with the Internet

Activities Board (IAB). Though the IAB was larger, the core membership and the leadership within the two groups was essentially identical. The transition could just as well have been considered a renaming. The IAB’s first chair was Dave Clark, a Research Scientist at MIT. Clark, the reader may recall, would go on to herald the IETF as an organization which rejected “kings, presidents, and voting” in favor of “rough consensus and running code.” In addition to serving as IAB Chair, Clark was also known during this period as Chief Protocol Architect, a title evidently intended to confer a status equivalent to Cerf’s during his own inventive heyday. Clark’s many contributions to Internet development included a series of papers that carefully described and rationalized its architectural principles – particularly the “end-to-end” and “fate-sharing” ideas whose implementation greatly eased the task of moving signals across its networks.114 The overarching motivation, in keeping with the notions of open architecture Kahn envisioned for TCP, was to keep the lowest levels of the protocol unencumbered by requirements that could be handled elsewhere. No information about the content of packets would be retained by the routers and gateways that moved them around, a condition called “statelessness.” These ingenious principles assured the TCP/IP protocol suite would remain open to further extension in many directions. The proof of their virtue was the later emergence of popular applications like the World Wide Web and realtime chatting. Clark also wrote the earliest implementation of software that made various Internet services accessible from DOS-based desktop computers. And he made it his business to call for a system of distributed “name servers,” thus prompting the development of the modern domain name system.

A list of his publications may be found at, “Clark, David D.,”

103 Leiner and Kahn both left DARPA in 1985, just as the agency was beginning to scale back its involvement in networking research. This left the IAB without a sponsor in the government. The IAB’s membership remained active, however, and the group was able to take on a mantle of independent leadership in Internet-related matters.115 As a committee of technical luminaries whose pedigree traced back directly to the founding fathers, the IAB began to speak as if it were the official voice of the Internet. The presumption of eminence was especially useful when circumstances called for gravitas. Clark remained on the IAB when Cerf became its chair in 1988. In 1989, with CNRI already in place and ready to sponsor the IETF’s secretariat, Cerf presided over a major overhaul of the engineering community’s growing constellation of interests. At that point, Internet Engineering was still just one of many task forces and working groups that had emerged in the wake of the ARPANET and Crocker’s NWG. Other significant working groups included Interoperability, Applications Architecture; Security, and End-to-End Services. Overcrowded meetings had already generated spontaneous attempts at selforganization into specialized groups, but now everything was consolidated into two task forces, reconstituted as arms of the IAB. Nearly all the activity was subsumed under the IETF. The rest went to the much smaller Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), – eventually headed by Postel. Each task force consisted of an array of working groups organized into Areas, headed by two Area Directors. Those directors constituted an overarching Steering Group. The IETF had its Internet Engineering Steering Group (called IESG), and the IRTF had an Internet Research Steering Group (called IRSG). *** Careful adjustments were being made in the overarching structure of the RFC series during this period. The complexity and diversity of the contributions necessitated a better classification of the kinds of work that were being published, and a clearer description of what it took to get an RFC published.


Leiner, et al, “A Brief History of the Internet,”

104 When Steve Crocker started the RFC series he occasionally inserted RFCs titled “Documentation Conventions.” These laid out the basic form for the notes in the series. (Since there was no email yet, each of those very early RFCs also included a distribution list with the recipients’ ground addresses.)116 In April 1983 Postel began inserting RFCs identifying “the documents specifying the official protocols used in the Internet.” These RFCs were like catalogs of the essential RFCs and would serve to address the widespread interest in seeing a clear statement of what the Internet protocol suite actually required for a compliant implementation. He initially titled this series “Official Protocols,” later changing it to “Official ARPA-Internet Protocols.” That title was still in use just before the IETF was reorganized. The growth of the Internet in the 1980s brought with it a growing desire among newcomers to understand the process underlying the creation of a standard. When Postel and Reynolds published RFC 902 in 1984, describing the DDN and DARPA worlds and the “Typical Chain of Events” leading to the publication of an RFC, it was an important, if only nominal step forward. Their rendition of the process was far too airy and informal to endure for long. In 1988 DARPA’s program managers pushed the members of the Internet Activities Board to insert more rigor into the publication process.117 This was a timely recommendation. The explosion of interest in the IETF presaged a formidable increase in the workload shouldered by Reynolds and Postel. IAB members pitched in with the goal of establishing and refining an official “standards track” that would distinguish formally endorsed standards from the informational documents that anyone could submit in accordance with the traditional ethos of openness. Postel renamed the protocol series to “IAB Official Protocol Standards,” promulgating two independent categories of classification, each with its own process of maturation


See for example, “RFC 30: Documentation Conventions,” February, 4, 1970. See Bob Braden, “IH Re :Common Questions, RFC-Compliant Architecture,” IH September 6,



105 The first is the state of standardization which is one of "standard", "draft standard", "proposed", "experimental", or "historic". The second is the status of this protocol which is one of "required", "recommended", "elective", or "not recommended". One could expect a particular protocol to move along the scale of status from elective to required at the same time as it moves along the scale of standardization from proposed to standard.118 After the reorganization of the IETF, IAB and IESG members continued to work on firming up the RFC publication process. The next pivotal step came in 1992, under the authorship of Lyman Chapin, who had succeeded Cerf as Chair of the IAB that same year. Subsequent refinements were overseen by Scott Bradner, whose primary base of activity at that time was closer to the IETF working groups and the IESG.119 The classification system began with a set of basic definitions. [A]n Internet Standard is a specification that is stable and well-understood, is technically competent, has multiple, independent, and interoperable implementations with operational experience, enjoys significant public support, and is recognizably useful in some or all parts of the Internet.120 The document representing an Internet Standard had to advance through levels of maturation – Proposed Standard, Draft Standard, and Internet Standard. Time would be allowed for peer review from within the working group as well as comment from IANA and the appropriate IESG Area Directors. In Chapin’s version, final approval depended on the IAB at the top the chain. While all types of documents were still included in the RFC series, an official Internet Standard would now receive a second designation. For example, RFC 1157 – the Simple Network Management Protocol – was also denominated as STD0015. The close of the 1980s was not only an extremely productive period for the Internet engineering community, people remember it as a wild time – exciting, fun, and full of surprises. Plus, it was becoming clear that before long a lot of money would be made. As a group of individuals, they were few enough and well-connected enough that many could still


Internet Activities Board, “RFC 1083: IAB Official Protocol Standards,” December 1988 See RFCs 1310, March 1992; 1602, March 1994, and; 2026 October 1996. From Lyman Chapin, “RFC 1310: The Internet Standards Process”, March 1992.



106 get to know each other personally. The investment of time and planning from earlier in the decade was beginning to bear fruit in the form of a useful, wide-reaching network, fostering a breathtaking new era of online interaction and collaboration. Moreover, there were growing signs of DARPA’s retreat from direct sponsorship of the standards process, giving weight to the idea that the IAB had been left in a position of authority. This was not necessarily true, but for those who dreamed of new worlds in cyberspace, it was beginning to seem as if the Internet could fulfill that promise.


Discretionary Authority

Just as Wolff had started early, putting ducks in a row to prepare the way for backbone privatization, so had Cerf, who began to remake himself as a policy innovator. At that time the conduct of private activity on the Internet was still a novel and touchy issue. Seeking to “bust” through the anti-business “policy logjam” favored by academics who harbored a disdain for corporate “money-grubbers,” Cerf took what he would later describe as “a very deliberate step.” He believed that the Internet couldn't possibly expand to its full capacity “without having an economic engine running underneath it," so he persuaded the members of the Federal Networking Council to allow MCI Mail, the first commercial email package, to be tied in.121 Not coincidentally, he had been working for MCI over the previous few years. Another carefully prepared step was the August 1990 publication of RFC 1174. Promulgated as the official position of the IAB, it was framed as a policy recommendation to the FNC’s Chairman about how to deal with the burgeoning Internet. Cerf wanted to break another logjam, and had every reason to expect the FNC’s members would again accept his suggestions. He clearly had an ambitious agenda. His threefold purpose in writing RFC 1174 was: 1) To promote retention of a centralized IANA; 2) To ratify IANA’s authority to “delegate” or “lodge” various assignment tasks with a third
See his interviews with Tony Perkins, Red Herring, “The W eaving of the W eb,” January 26, 2000, See also David Hochfelder, “Vint Cerf Oral History,” M ay 17, 1999, cerf.html.

107 party Internet Registry, which at that time was still based at SRI in the DISA-NIC, and; 3) To explicitly urge termination of certain requirements by which new networks and service providers were allowed to connect to the system. RFC 1174 greatly boosted IANA’s prominence, giving it the semblance of a formal life. Though references to the “Internet Assigned Numbers Authority” had begun to appear in 1988, RFC 1174 appears to be the earliest documented invocation of IANA as an acronym, and the first description of it as an institution, rather than simply the address of the place where new numbers could be obtained. That description asserted IANA’s centrality in the management of the Internet’s increasingly complicated number assignments. Though not explicitly mentioned in the text, a key motivation behind the overhaul was to expedite the growth of the Internet in Europe. The ratification of IANA’s delegation authority would formally allow Postel to distribute a large block of IP numbers to a WestEuropean consortium of networks coordinated by Alex Karrenberg in Amsterdam. Another block would be delegated to an Asian registry as well. The changes in connection policy described in RFC 1174 would reduce administrative overhead and radically streamline the process by which the Europeans and others could hook new networks into the Internet. But it would also mean that huge chunks of IP space were being delegated outside of American jurisdiction. Though taking SRI out of the loop was intended to open up the connection process, the goal was streamlining, not anarchy. There was every reason to expect that some responsible party would be called upon to provide oversight and coordination (“sanity checks”) as the system grew... no longer on a case by case basis for every new network, but at least for the largest networks and backbone providers. When CCIRN was created, there was evidently some hope that it might ultimately be able to step and up and do that job, providing the sort of global infrastructural coordination needed to “make the Internet work.” Paradoxically, however, increasing levels of participation handicapped the group. In the view of one member, CCIRN had devolved into a “dinner club” unable to offer much more than

108 a venue for socializing and “prolonged show-and-tells.”122 In 1990 CCIRN’s leaders set up a smaller and better focused Intercontinental Engineering Planning Group (IEPG) to fulfill the mission of infrastructural coordination.123 A parallel Federal Engineering Planning Group (FEPG) had been created in the US by an FNC subcommittee co-chaired by Phil Dykstra of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and Dick desJardins of NASA. The FEPG was instrumental in coordinating the creation of two Federal Interagency Exchanges – FIX East at College Park Maryland and and FIX West in California. These became the prototypes for the Network Access Points (NAPs) that are essential for the movement of Internet traffic today. The FEPG remained active through the mid-1990s. The original IEPG was rechartered in 1994 as the Internet Engineering Planning Group, keeping the same acronym.124 The IEPG’s membership tended to be particularly close to Postel. The first chair was Phil Gross, a high-profile leader in the standards community. Another key member was Bill Manning, a long time staffer at ISI, who also participated in a related project called the Routing Arbiter. The IEPG’s members were in no position to assume the level of gatekeeping authority that SRI had provided, but neither did they want to. Their general goal was to liaison with other Internet operators to provide technical coordination. Routing issues were not directly under Postel’s purview as Name and Number’s Czar, but those operations were directly affected by the assignment of IP addresses. Routing could not take place unless there were numbers to route, so he had to be kept in the loop. Now that a vast worldwide build-out of digital telecommunications was underway, putting physical control of the Internet’s infrastructure increasingly beyond the grip of the U.S.

Personal email from Steve Goldstein, former NSF program director for Interagency and International Networking Coordination. February 18, 2003. See the initial IEPG charter in Barry Leiner, “Globalization of the Internet” in Lynch and Rose (1993: 33-4). Geoff Huston, “ RFC 1690: Introducing the Internet Engineering and Planning Group (IEPG),” August 1994.
124 123


109 Government, the importance of getting access to the system by insuring a presence within its array of names and number identifiers became that much more obvious. And here, IANA was still the top of the chain. *** An important assumption that informed the writing of RFC 1174 was the belief SRI’s role as an Internet Registry would soon end. As the home of the legendary Augmentation Research Center, and the second site of the

SRI had received considerable

amounts of government funding to manage related projects. It had been functioning as the internetworking information center for nearly two decades. Even the RFC series was distributed via SRI’s online services. Many of the lists and tables of records that were presumed to be under Postel’s stewardship were in fact being managed at SRI on a day to day basis. Among the most of important of these were the delegation of IP numbers and second level domain names. This was about to change. As a consequence of the NSF’s successes, interest among academics had reached a self-sustaining critical mass. With the military’s relative investment in rapid decline, it was clear that the databases would soon be moved to another location and sustained by new sources of funding. Cerf wanted to be sure that he, Postel, and other internetworking insiders would continue to have strong influence and perhaps even the final in the expected redelegation. IANA would provide the venue for this gatekeeping power. Though the name and the acronym had only recently come into use, Cerf portrayed IANA as an organization that was as old as the Internet itself: Throughout its entire history, the Internet system has employed a central Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for the allocation and assignment of various numeric identifiers needed for the operation of the Internet. The IANA function is performed by USC Information Sciences Institute. The IANA has the discretionary authority to delegate portions of this responsibility...125

Vint Cerf, “RFC 1174: IAB Recommended Policy on Distributing Internet Identifier Assignment and IAB Recommended Policy Change to Internet ‘Connected’ Status,” August 1990.


110 Asserting the IANA’s “discretionary authority to delegate,” stood as a claim that Postel’s IANA had the final say over the allocation of critical Internet resources. With this statement, Cerf asserted the right of the IANA to add and change elements in the constellation of machines that made up the root of the Domain Name System, and to distribute blocks of the IP address space. He also asserted the right to assign those tasks to subordinate agents. Postel had been doing such things all along, of course, but now some of those subordinates would be overseas. No objection came from any government agency. The new regime was allowed to stand. Perhaps even more importantly, the wording expressed a crucial distinction which would have enduring ramifications. Even though Postel’s employer was ISI, whose employer was, in turn, the Department of Defense, IANA’s employer was described in RFC 1174 as the Internet system. IANA’s power – its authority to act – was thus posed as stemming from its institutional subordination to that system, rather than from contractual duties performed by individuals at the behest of the US government. If what was true for the IANA was true for Postel, this is an early indicator that he was serving two masters. In 1990 that did not present a hint of a problem, but by the end of the decade his loyalties would be put to the test. And who, if anyone, could speak for the Internet system? This would be debated as well.


ISOC Underway

Computerization rapidly accelerated in American society during the 1980s as the technology became more affordable and more accessible. While Internet access spread among colleges and universities, non-networked personal computers become pervasive, if not ubiquitous. When the decade began, the Tandy TRS-80 was approaching the peak of its popularity. The open architecture, Intel-based IBM PC was introduced in the summer of 1981. At the start of 1983 Time Magazine anointed the PC “Machine of the Year.” Twelve months later, Apple’s “1984" ad aired during the Superbowl. The IBM AT reached the market that same year. By the end of the decade, the Intel 386 series microprocessor was

111 dominant, IBM faced strong competitors like Compaq, the PC clone market was going strong, and Microsoft DOS was the ascendant PC operating system. The first significant DOS-oriented software virus – (c)brain – appeared in 1986. Also known as the Pakistani Flu, it was written by two brothers in Lahore who were trying to make a software piracy detection device. Other, more intentionally malevolent viruses followed, provoking fears of computer-based threats and crimes.126 The Internet’s vulnerability to attack became apparent in November 1988 when Robert Morris, Jr., a 23 year old doctoral student at Cornell University, in an experiment gone awry, created the first software worm. Whereas a virus was typically transmitted via diskette and activated when an unaware user booted a computer with an infected disk was present in one of its drives a worm was considerably more animate. A worm replicated itself by moving across open network connections, actively looking for new hosts to infect. The US General Accounting Office estimated that Moriss’s Internet Worm caused as much as $100 million in damage. That event raised awareness of vulnerabilities in the Internet, not just within its code base, but in its oversight systems. Just as the Internet’s machinery would need better protection to keep operating, the standards makers felt they needed better protection for themselves and their organizations. The effort to provide for their own collective security inspired new thinking about their collective goals. To have a legal identity deserving of a new security apparatus, they found they also needed a shared mission – a civic personality with which they could identify. Identification with that mission quickly took on a life of its own. Several threads of activity combined to bring about this result. Shortly after the Internet Worm event, Scott Bradner discovered an unrelated but serious flaw in the password function of the UNIX operating system. When he reported the bug to the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) based at Carnegie Mellon University, he was dismayed to find out how difficult it was to get CERT to acknowledge the problem and take action that might fix it. Bradner was soon venting about CERT’s


Bloombecker (1990).

112 shortcomings to some colleagues in the IETF. One of them, IESG-member Noel Chiappa, offered to hire an attorney to see what could be done.127 Chiappa had become a leader in the TCP/IP community in 1977, while a Research Associate at MIT. In the mid-1980s he worked with Proteon, Inc. on Boston’s Technology Drive, the East Coast’s answer to Silicon Valley. Proteon helped launch the commercial router industry. A thoughtful person who likes to collect aphorisms, he claimed to have coined one that has since become quite well known: “Fast, Cheap, Good - Pick Any Two.” Flush with cash from his successes at Proteon, Chiappa’s offer to fund the exploration of the IETF’s options may have indeed been altruistic, but he had a valid ulterior motive – getting a clear sense of his own vulnerability as a participant in the standards making process. Ever more money was at stake in the development of standards, and it was hypothetically conceivable that the “loser” in a standards battle – perhaps a vendor who had bet on the wrong horse, so to speak – might be motivated to take legal action against the people who had picked the winner. CNRI’s offices were made available to host periodic discussions between a small circle of IETF members and a pair of attorneys from the law firm Hale and Dore. The IETF regulars included Cerf, Bradner, Chiappa, MIT’s Jeff Schiller, and IETF/IESG Chair Phil Gross. The initial goal, as Bradner recalled, was to “come up with legal constructs that CERT could use to indicate there is liability for vendors who do not fix security problems.”128 The group met every few months. The lawyers had been asked to investigate wideranging questions about the liability of computer centers and individuals that didn’t update their software. After failing in their effort to “provide a stick to CERT,” they were also asked to look for problems in the standards process. Were there vulnerabilities related to intellectual property rights or anti-trust? This was in early 1990. The disconcerting report came back that Cerf, Gross, and others in the IETF who were ostensibly identifiable as “responsible parties” could indeed be held personally liable for things that went wrong in the


Personal interview with Scott Bradner, July 11, 2002. Ibid.


113 process. An instrument known as Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance would normally be used to protect people in their position, but since none of the groups immediately involved in the Internet standards-making constellation had ever been incorporated, its responsible parties were ineligible for such coverage. Despite all the assistance it was providing to the IETF, CNRI could not also provide the requisite legal standing. It had no organizational involvement with the execution of decisions in the standards-making process. This was unlikely to change. Kahn wanted CNRI to stay true to its original mission of developing new ideas. A key role of a standards body, however, was to anoint ideas with an official status, and he wanted no part of that or the legal battles such responsibility might bring. Moreover, CNRI’s funding at the time depended on large corporate sponsors, and there was a strong desire to keep the IETF’s activities relatively free from fund-raising obligations and possible dependence on a small basket of corporate venders. For the time being, IETF participants could continue on doing what they were doing, but it was clear that some new entity would have to be constructed as the locus of responsibility for holding the standards. This perceived need for an independently funded, benevolent legal umbrella prompted the creation of the Internet Society (ISOC).129 In fact, the idea of having an organized membership seemed like a potential solution to a large mix of concerns – educational outreach, public relations, bureaucratic stability, and host of other base-broadening and foundation-fortifying issues. Even though the liability problems of IETF participants triggered the decision to move forward with ISOC, the idea of creating a membership organization for the Internet was something Cerf had been considering for a while. As he recalled,

Interestingly, though these events happened only ten years ago, various subjects I interviewed had very different recollections of the motivations for creating the Internet Society. Bradner said it was about the insurance and recalls no discussion about funding the Secretariat. Steve Coya, operator of the Secretariat, also said it had nothing to do with funding the Secretariat, but was done to build the relationship with the ITU. And Cerf, the founder, stressed that it was about funding the Secretariat. To this day, the Secretariat does not depend on ISOC for its primary funding. Bradner’s recounting was by far the most detailed. See also Mueller’s history of ISOC (2002: 94-7).


114 I set [ISOC] up to help support the IETF because it looked like the government wasn’t going to pay for any of the Secretariat work. This was back around 1990. The government came to me and said, “We’re not going to support this anymore.” And I said, “OK. We’ll find some other way to raise funds to make sure that IETF can continue to function.” By that time it had gotten big enough that you needed full time people... So, my thought was, “Well, gee, there’s more coming on the net, and they’re forming a kind of society of people. Why don’t we call it the Internet Society and people will join and their donations will be sufficient to support the IETF.”130 Cerf’s chief ally in realizing that dream was CSNET founder Larry Landweber, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin, who had devoted much of his energy in the late 1980s to promoting a series of international networking workshops. Over time, participation had grown so large that Landweber decided to reorganize the meetings as the International Networking Conference (INET), a quasi-academic event that included a mix of technically and socially oriented panels. The inaugural meeting was held in June 1991 in Copenhagen, in combination with a series of internetworking-focused workshops sponsored by the United Nations Agencies UNESCO and UNDP. Just before the Copenhagen INET meeting, Landweber convened a number of important players from CSNET and CREN, along with Cerf and representatives of the leading European networking association, RARE. Their purpose was to make the final arrangements for the launch of ISOC. Cerf would be President, Landweber Vice President, Mike Roberts would be on the Board, and all CSNET’s members would automatically become members of the new organization. Their vision was inspired by a confluence of material interests, and a genuine desire to foster the growth of the Internet through outreach and education. Explicit ties to the engineering community would presumably boost the reputation of the INET conference, draw readers to its publications, and help generate an expanding membership around the world. Membership fees, initially set at $70 annually, would help fund ISOC’s support of the standards process.


Personal interview with Vint Cerf, November 15, 2001.

115 Cerf announced the formation of ISOC on the opening day of INET ‘91. The Internet Society, he said, would provide a base for the burgeoning INET conference, assuring that the INET workshops would be run annually from then on. It would also serve the community by taking on a leadership role in the Internet standards process. ISOC’s personnel took space in CNRI’s offices in Virginia. The next INET conference, in Kobe Japan, was organized from there. It took another 18 months before ISOC was incorporated, at the close of 1992. The technologists behind ISOC were so excited about their new club, they halfexpected it would capture the popular imagination the same way the Internet itself had begun to do. According to well-known Internet lore, when ISOC was finally incorporated Jon Postel got into a race with Phil Gross to become the first member. Postel won by getting his paperwork in the fastest. To regularize the activities of the various standards-making groups and functions that had arisen in the Internet community over the years, key groups were to be “chartered” by ISOC. The use of the word “charter” was rather artful, reflecting a body of emails, RFCs, and announcements that identified the IAB, the IANA, the RFC Editor, and the IESG as agents within ISOC’s structure. Ironically, the IETF – the ultimate subject of all this attention – was left out of that mix. In fact, the IETF had never been chartered or incorporated and that aspect of its status was considered sacrosanct. Many IETF participants thought of themselves as mavericks, and most of ISOC’s founders recognized the importance of preserving the style of independence that had characterized the standards-making community till then. Even the use of the word “membership” is a stretch when talking about the IETF. The status was pure fiction. There was no fee to belong, no membership card, no qualification for entry, and nothing to renew. There was no formal barrier to participating. One could just show up at a working group meeting in person, or not show up at all and simply make comments online. As Coya pointed out, “We don’t have... decoder rings or handshakes or anything like that. People can come and join. It’s a very fluid organization.” 131


Phone interview with Steve Coya, June 28, 2002.

116 In general terms, ISOC was conceived as a non-profit group to provide support and advocacy on behalf of the Internet community. Its declared mission was, “To assure the beneficial, open evolution of the global Internet and its related internetworking technologies through leadership in standards, issues, and education.”132 Its Board of Trustees was made up by individuals from the information technology industry who shared a strongly outspoken idealism about the virtues and potentials of Internet-based communication. ISOC’s founders all had very practical goals, though not always compatible. Rifts developed in short order.


The Anti-ITU

About the time Cerf, Kahn, Roberts, Landweber and other leaders of the technical community started talking about a membership organization that could serve their various needs, Cerf met Tony Rutkowski, an American attorney who was serving at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as Counsellor to the Secretary General. Rutkowski had a technical background, though not in data communications... he had been a rocket scientist at NASA. After getting involved in civil rights activism and local government in Florida’s Space Coast, he began a career in law, ultimately focusing on telecommunications policy. Along the way, he co-authored a book on the history of ITU, worked for a time at the FCC, and taught telecommunications policy at New York Law School.133 When Rutkowski wound up working at the ITU, he discovered that its own telecommunications facilities were terribly outmoded, with an archaic phone system and only one fax line for the entire operation. There was no email to speak of, so he got a guest account through the offices of CERN physics laboratory. That happened to be right around the time Tim Berners Lee was at CERN, developing the base technologies of the World Wide Web. Those contacts helped expose Rutkowski to the Internet and to IETF discussion groups. The open and unregulated innovativeness of that community was a welcome contrast

The mission statement has evolved over time. The cited version was in use around 1997. See “All About the Internet Society,”


Codding and Rutkowski (1983).

117 to what he was experiencing in the restrictive and highly regulated European telecommunications market. Like many international bureaucracies, the ITU holds lots of conferences. One was coming up in June 1990 in Fredericksburg Virginia, and Rutkowski had been selected to moderate a panel on the “business impact of the merging of global information and telecommunications technologies.” He asked Cerf to speak about the Internet and the IETF’s still-undocumented standards-making process. Cerf, always alert for help in putting out the word on TCP/IP, saw Rutkowski as someone who could facilitate beneficial international contacts, especially with traditional standards organizations such as the ITU and the Organization for International Standards – ISO (the letters in the acronym were shuffled to invoke the Greek root meaning “equal”). While many IETF participants would have been happy to dismiss those groups as anachronistic bureaucracies, others saw good reason to make alliances. If the ITU and the ISO could reference Internet standards in their own documents, thus conferring the emblem of official dignity, participating governments might find it easier to adopt Internet technologies. But according to ITU and ISO rules, the references could not be made unless the IETF had a legal identity. The IETF’s lack of formal existence was once again proving to be a problem. This provided yet another justification for launching ISOC. Creating a more respectable imprimatur for the Internet standards process fit into the larger strategy of putting Internet standards on a par with standards published by well-established national and international technical bodies. There was no apparent downside, just as long as the IETF could retain its functional independence and sense of ideological purity. Around this time Rutkowski made a name for himself in the Internet community by providing some much needed help to Carl Malamud, who, at the time, was a well-regarded technical writer. Malamud had embarked on a quest to make the ITU’s standards available without charge as downloadable files (this preceded the web-browser era). He later did the same with other reluctant public agencies, including the US Securities and Exchange

118 Commission, and the US Patent Office.134 Malamud recounted his dealings with the ITU’s bureaucracy in a memoir, Exploring the Internet: A Technical Travelogue (1992).135 To prepare, he raised private funds in the US to pay for scanning and digital conversion, and for writing the book as well. Rutkowski opened doors for him in Geneva, persuading the ITU’s Secretary General, Pekke Tarjanne, to allow the project to proceed as a six month “experiment.” By dint of massive effort, Malamud succeeded in digitizing nearly all of the documents. He then published them on the Internet by loading them on his home server, named Bruno. That choice of name was evidently intended to honor Giordano Bruno, the 17th century philosopher who was burned at the stake for apostasies such as revealing various secrets of the Dominican Order, and, most famously, for challenging Catholic dogma which held that the sun, the planets, and the stars orbited the earth. This modern Bruno was martyred as well, if only figuratively, when the ITU abruptly ended the project and directed Malamud to remove the files from his server, an outcome that reinforced the Internet communities disdain for the ITU. In any case, by helping Malamud in his ill-fated campaign to open up ITU standards, Rutkowski had proven his bona fides as a kindred spirit of Internet culture. Cerf invited Rutkowski onto ISOC’s Board, where he became Vice President for Publications, editing a rather homely looking quarterly, Internet Society News. (In 1995 it was replaced by a much slicker monthly, On the Internet, under a different editor.) Almost as soon as planning for ISOC began, however, differences in approach became evident. Rutkowski pressed for documentation on the organization of the standards process and IANA’s operational control of the Internet’s name and number space. Nailing down the provenance of rights and authorities was a reasonable concern of any attorney, especially one of Rutkowski’s caliber and background. But it turned out the links were often fuzzy, since many of those procedures had been established on ad hoc basis, as a need arose.

See Carl Malamud, “The Importance of Being EDGAR”


Malamud (1992). Online at

119 This line of inquiry would eventually become a ferocious challenge to Postel’s role in Internet governance. Other problems surfaced quickly, starting with disagreements over the name of the new group. Rutkowski thought the term “Society” would resonate too strongly with communitarianism in certain languages. He envisioned the new organization as a force for the commercialization of the Internet. Seeking a title that would underscore that goal, he lobbied for the name “Internet Industry Association.” Rutkowski also pushed for ISOC to be incorporated as a 501(c)(6) type of organization, a status appropriate for trade associations. Cerf and others wanted to incorporate ISOC under 501(c)(3) rules, emulating professional associations such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).136 Despite losing this battle as well, Rutkowski persisted. After a couple of years Rutkowski gave up his Board seat to become ISOC’s full time Executive Director. He used that platform in an attempt to turn ISOC’s Advisory Committee – a group of corporate sponsors who had made large donations to ISOC – into the core of the organization. Many of the board members and IETF members were put off by this, since it seemed Rutkowski was neglecting ISOC’s initial non-commercial, membership-oriented focus. He also pushed for ISOC’s involvement in public policy questions, a consequence of which was to boost his own visibility in the media. Rising tensions continued to interfere with relations between Rutkowski and some board members, particularly Landweber. Differences in personal style didn’t help, but the heart of the conflict between Rutkowski and the others was ideological. Should ISOC portray itself as acting on behalf of the public good by performing some form of stewardship for the Internet? If so, what was the best way to go about it? Rutkowski denigrated this as the “governance” issue. He made little distinction between the notions of governance and government that others used to finesse the similarities between stewardship and ownership, coordination and control. ISOC, he felt, should have nothing to do with either. “On a philosophical level,” he later wrote, “I was


Recounted in a July 6, 1999 email from Rutkowski.

120 always the odd man out.”137 The industrialized world was then firmly in the throes of the Reagan-Thatcher era’s legacy of aggressive privatization and deregulation. Rutkowski sought to champion those goals in the telecommunication arena, defending what he called the principle of “unfettered opportunities in the provisioning of advanced services.”138 Call it governance or government, fetters were fetters. Steeped as he was in international telecommunications law, Rutkowski also understood that a key factor in the rapid growth in the Internet was that it had an exceptional status – a non-status, perhaps – which kept its population remarkably free from the interference of international regulators. In fact, Rutkowski had a hand in inscribing that status. He helped write Article 9 of the International Telecommunication Regulations in 1988, which was directly pertinent to the issue.139 In legal terms, the Internet was not a public network, but an arrangement of distinct private networks – ISPs, universities, hospitals, government agencies, businesses, and so on. The United States government, with the assistance of various transnational corporations, had won this exemption during the ITU’s World Administrative and Telephone Conference in 1988, one of several major concessions wrought from the European telephone monopolies during that period.140 This forbearance policy was further enshrined in US law under the Federal Communications Commission’s Computer III doctrine. To change course and begin



Rutkowski, “U.S. Department of State Jurisdiction over Unregulated Services,” June 1992. Rutkowski wrote, “W ith former ITU Secretary-General Dick Butler, I wrote the provision and participated in the conference to gain its acceptance. There was, incidentally, enormous opposition from delegations who argued that non-public networks like the Internet should not be permitted to exist. It almost resulted in an aborted conference; but a marvelous Australian diplomat and conference chair, the late Dr. Peter W ilenski, who subsequently became Australia's UN ambassador, saved the day.” “[ifwp] Re: Re: NEW S RELEASE: AN ACCOUNTABLE ICANN?” IFWP November, 20 1998 . Brain R. W oodrow, “Tilting Toward a Trade Regime, the ITU, and the Uruguay Round Services Negotiations ,” Telecommunications Policy, 15.4, August 1991. See also Edward A. Comor, “Governance and the Nation-State in a Knowledge-Based Political Economy”, in Martin Hewson and T imothy St. Clair, eds (1999). Approaches to Global Governance Theory. New York: State University of New York Press.
140 139


121 treating the Internet as a public network would have subjected service providers to common carrier laws – the bane of many free market ideologues. If any agency was a strong candidate to extend its jurisdiction over Internet facilities based in the US, it was the FCC. But no one ever authorized that step. The idea had been discussed within the agency much earlier, but the “epochal decision” was made not to proceed.141 Consequently, the Internet regime in the United States and globally could be built on a foundation of private contract law rather than inter-state agreements. It was the libertarian dream come true. In the new deregulated context – especially for those who were skeptical about the ability of governments to intervene successfully on behalf of the “public interest” – it seemed more appropriate to describe the Internet using the vocabulary of New-Age-speak: It was a metaphysical synergy, an emergent phenomenon, the innovative product of chaos, a centerless sum of privately contracted interconnections and voluntary peering arrangements. Chaos was the fashionable metaphor of the day for many phenomena, the subject of many books, and was a particularly favored mantra among proponents of the Internet. Rutkowski, as au courant as any, even owned the domain name He played out the metaphor in an article he wrote for the UN Commission on Human Rights, which included illustrations that depicted the workings of the Internet as the unfolding of a fractal pattern.142 In short, Rutkowski saw danger in defining the Internet the “wrong” way. His assessment of the law was probably correct. If the Internet were deemed a public network, it could be brought under the purview of international conventions granting jurisdiction to

James A. Lewis, “Perils and Prospects for Internet Self-Regulation,” Conference Paper, INET 2002, Some credit for this decision may go to Stephen Lukasic, who was Deputy Director of ARPA when ARPAN ET was launched and the Internet was emerging. He also served as Chief Scientist for the FCC between 1974 and 1978. And also see Kevin Werbach, “Digital Tornado: The Internet and Telecommunications Policy,” OPP W orking Paper Series 29, Federal Communications Commission, Anthony M . Rutkowski, “Considerations relating to codes of conduct and good practice for displaying material on Internet,” 1997,


122 the ITU’s global regulatory regime.143 Governments would be in charge. This would be like turning back the clock on the advance of technically-empowered freedom. Few observers took issue with Rutkowski’s concern that such an outcome would be undesirable, but the Internet technologists who had been living with that ambiguity for well over a decade weren’t very worried about it. They thought they were carving out a distinctly new and rather resilient world, perhaps a new jurisdiction unto itself. Rutkowski, on the other hand, seemed obsessed by fear of ITU involvement, often portraying his former employer as a predatory institution. Now that its leaders were aware of the importance of the Internet and the threat it presented to the ITU’s tradition of avaricious centralization, they would inevitably try to grab control of it. Rutkowski was outspoken, injecting his concerns wherever the opportunity presented itself. One of his proposals for IETF reform provided a background supplement couched as a history lesson. It told a story of how large, slow-moving (and therefore bad) organizations traditionally seek to identify and capture innovative, fast-moving (and inherently good) organizations.144 The implications were clear. The ITU was a dangerous and ill-willed dinosaur, while the IETF – though a fleet and virile young creature – was open prey. So Rutkowski believed it was important not to use the accursed word “public” when speaking of the Internet. Yet, despite the legal niceties, the technologists on ISOC’s Board continued to think of themselves as managing the Internet’s resources on behalf of the public good. Postel especially felt this way, and he enjoyed saying so. With the creation of ISOC, the ARPANET veterans were reveling in their achievement. The Internet was “taking off.” It was expanding its domain wherever it had already taken

Rutkowski best articulated this position in a series of statements and articles in 1997. See, “Statement of Anthony Rutkowski Before the Department of State In Re: June 1997 M eeting of the ITU Council,”; “ITU Models and the Quest for the Internet,” h ttp ://w w w.wia.o rg/p ub /itu-m o u.htm l; “Fa cto rs Shap ing Internet Self-G o verna n c e ,” See also his June 1992 pleading “U.S. Department of State Jurisdiction over Unregulated Services” in which he warns against DOS reference to the term “recognized public” in its effort to organize an advanced Message Handling System (MHS) addressing registration process, See Rutkowski, “Proposal for establishing the IETF as an independent organization,”

123 root, and was simultaneously penetrating virgin territory across the globe. Each issue of the Internet Society News included a table prepared by Landweber which listed every country in the world and the current extent of connectivity there, like a progress chart on the Internet’s manifest destiny. The old timers were making new friends and allies everywhere. The community had grown so large, it felt like a public. Now the Internet Society was in place to become that public’s voice. The people who shared the mission of building the Internet had finally developed an official identity, and were now aggressively proselytizing for converts. Cerf was particularly the enthusiastic about the prospects of what the future could bring. The formation of the Internet Society is, in some sense, simply a formal recognition that an Internet community already exists. The users of the Internet and its technology share a common experience on an international scale. The common thread transcends national boundaries and, perhaps, presages a time when common interests bind groups of people as strongly as geo-political commonality does today. If you wonder what the 21st century may be like, ask a member of the Internet community who already lives there!145 f. Palace Revolt

One of the first bureaucratic changes in the standards making process that Cerf initiated upon founding the Internet Society was to put the IAB under ISOC’s hierarchy. The IAB would now act as a “source of advice and guidance” to ISOC’s Board of Trustees and simultaneously serve as ISOC’s “liaison” to other organizations concerned with the worldwide Internet.146 It was renamed at that time, replacing the word “Activities” with the more august-sounding “Architecture.” The deferential self image of the geeky grad students from California had come a long way since the Request For Comments series was titled. Postel’s staff handled most of the paperwork for the new Internet Architecture Board. There wasn’t much.


Vint Cerf, “Editorial,” Internet Society News, 3 W inter 1992. Christian Huitema, “RFC 1601: IAB Charter,” March 1994.


124 Cerf stepped down as IAB Chair in early 1992, but kept a seat on the committee. His successor, Lyman Chapin, Chief Scientist at BBN, got off to a rocky start. The new IAB made a move which jeopardized nearly everything Cerf had been working for. One of the most pressing technical issues of the day concerned the classification and allocation of IP addresses. The addresses were being lumped together and distributed in such large chunks that a huge portion of the numbering space was being wasted, with no good way to recover it. If nothing was done to allocate those address blocks more efficiently or expand the address space altogether, it was clear that the numbers would run out rather soon. To head off the problem, an IETF Working Group on Routing and Addressing (ROAD) painstakingly developed a stopgap measure. It also recommended a new framework for moving forward. The ROAD recommendations were duly passed on to the IESG and then the IAB. Tensions mounted on the heels of an official prediction that, if nothing were done, all the remaining Class B address space (describe earlier at page 79) would be exhausted by March 1994.147 Concerned about what Chapin called “a clear and present danger to the future successful growth of the worldwide Internet,” IAB members settled on their own stopgap measure.148 This occurred at their meeting in Kobe, right after the June 1992 INET conference. Their move was a major departure from normal procedure in that they peremptorily dismissed the ROAD proposal in favor of their own out-of-the-blue revision to the Internet Protocol, called IPv7.149 Their action was not only a slap in the face to a highprofile IETF Working Group, it would have launched a transition away from the core features of the Internet Protocol toward an alternative standard called the Connection-Less


Huitema (2000:218).

Lyman Chapin, “IAB Proposals for CIDR and IPv7," July 1, 1992. Cited in Daniel Karrenberg, “IAB’s Proposals in response to the work of the ROAD group,” July 2, 1992, maillists/archive/ripe-list/1992/msg00001.html. The IETF’s framework for the expansion of the IP address space was called IPNG (IP Next Generation).


125 Network Protocol (CLNP). The clear implication was an endorsement of TCP/IP’s main competition, an ISO standard called Open-Systems Interconnection (OSI). The two protocols relied on quite dissimilar models of how to organize the different layers of services needed to operate a network of networks. The rivalry among their proponents was highly partisan. A typical comment going around the IETF during those years was, “OSI is a beautiful dream, and TCP/IP is living it.” The depth of opposition to OSI within the IETF was so deeply ingrained that the IAB’s maneuver created a shock. Three leaders in the IESG – Phil Gross (also co-chair of the ROAD group), Scott Bradner, and Alison Mankin – immediately rejected the move on behalf of the IETF. Since the IAB had been reconstituted under ISOC by this time, the IESG’s move effectively rejected ISOC’s authority as well. Many others, notably Steve Crocker and his brother Dave, joined the call for reform. The fray became a groundswell.150 “The IAB was acting like it ran everything,” recalled Robert Kahn. Its members had become “pontifical,” unwilling to accept that the dynamism of the standards process had moved to the working groups of the IETF, now seven hundred members strong. And why not? “What does royalty get when you embark on democracy?”151 The NWG had been established as a venue that would facilitate participation among those who cared about the development of internetworking. The IETF had carried on with that “grassroots” character. But the IAB’s intervention, many believed, had violated the community’s deeply-entrenched norms of openness, unmasking the board as an out-of-touch “council of elders.152

Dave Crocker later commented, “ My own sense at the time was that OSI was effectively already dead and that the IAB decision was the final attempt to salvage something from it. (Had there been a real, public process considering alternatives, it is not clear that CLNP should have lost. The preemptive nature of the IAB decision overwhelmed that technical discussion with an IETF identity crisis.)” Dave Crocker, “One Man’s View of Internet History,” IH August 4, 2002.


Phone interview with Robert Kahn, July 22, 2002.

The phrase was attributed to Ed Krol. See Andrew L. Russell, "'Rough Consensus and Running Code' and the Internet-OSI Standards W ar," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 28.3, Jul-Sept, 2006, 48-61.


126 Relevant RFCs characterized the ensuing discussions as “spirited.” Explosive might be a better word. In fact, the IAB’s reputation was badly tarnished for years thereafter, and its power undercut permanently. The dispute erupted in full public view at the IETF’s July 1992 meeting in Boston, an event that has been sanctified within the Internet community as the “The Second Boston Tea Party,” with the IAB forced to play the role of the tea. Dave Clark’s declaration, “We believe in rough consensus and running code,” was made at a plenary session toward the close of that Boston meeting. His sloganeering was a rhetorical tactic meant to heal the wounds in the IETF. Clark was not then a member of IAB so he was not tainted by the scandal. Yet was senior enough to serve as a voice for reconciliation. Everyone present recognized that Clark’s motto could be interpreted as an elliptical putdown of the secretive, slow-moving, bureaucratic manner that characterized traditional technical standards organizations like the ITU. By setting the IETF apart, and by glorifying its open and iconoclastic culture, he hoped to fire up the membership’s esprit de corps, rekindling the passion of earlier days. It worked. The invocation of a clear and resonant ideology helped socialize the stillflocking newcomers into the ways of the IETF, and, over time, would help the veterans overcome their resentments and suspicions.153 When Marshall Rose later produced a T-shirt with the “running code” slogan on the back. The text on the front was simpler and even prouder – “Internet Staff.” Cerf helped diffuse the tension at the plenary with a more humorous approach. His speech included a refrain about the IAB having “nothing to hide.” Cerf generally dresses quite elegantly, and often wears three piece suits. As he spoke he took off his clothes, layer by layer, stripping down to a T-shirt that carried the logo, “IP on Everything.”154 The steps taken to rebuild trust in the organizational hierarchy of the standards making machinery went far beyond lip service. The IAB retracted IPv7. The enduring

For more about the creation of a “warm, fuzzy feeling” for newcomers and old timers alike, see Gary Malkin, “RFC1391: The Tao of the IETF,” January 1993. Anonymous, “The 2nd Boston Tea Party,” Matrix, July 2000, 10.7. mn/1007/tea.html.


127 solution for the IPv4 scarcity problem – called Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) came into effect within a year. The system permits a much finer level of subdivisions within the 32 bit IP address string, and is still in use at the time of this writing.155 The IAB simultaneously undertook far reaching organizational reforms designed to ensure it was “no longer in the path of standards creation.”156 The size of the group was expanded from a dozen to fifteen, and its charter was published as an RFC.157 Except for Postel, all the members from the pre-Boston period were replaced within two years. Most significantly, the IAB was removed from the process of approving standards developed by IETF working groups. The reformed IAB put much greater emphasis on liaison work with the IETF, an effort led by Bradner, who became an IAB member and an ex-officio member of ISOC’s board. A new IETF working group chaired by Steve Crocker – Process for Organization of Internet Standards (POISED) – was created to formulate policies for management issues, especially the development of procedures for nominating individuals who would serve on the IAB, IESG, and as Chair of the IETF.158 The group was later reconstituted under the name POISSON, the French word for fish, because IETF political management was considered just as slippery. Despite the willingness of the IAB to make such far-reaching concessions, there was some lingering resentment. In 1994 IAB member Brian Carpenter conducted an anonymous survey of IAB and IESG members to get a sense of “image” and “(mis)perceptions” of the IETF/IESG/IAB/ISOC world. He collected a number of revealing criticisms of the IETF. It was called a “gang of hippies,” whose supposedly virtuous openness allowed anyone to
Huitema (2002: 201-18), his Chapter 9 is titled, “CIDR and the Routing Explosion.” For a straightforward explanation online see also Pacific Bell, “Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) Overview,”
156 155

Personal interview with Scott Bradner July 11, 2002.

Lyman Chapin, “RFC 1358: Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB),” August 1992. Subsequent revisions include RFC 1601 by Christian Huitema in March 1994, and RFC 2850 by Brian Carpenter in May 2000. See Steve Crocker, “RFC 1396: The Process for Organization of Internet Standards W orking Group (POISED) , January 1993, and “POISED Charter,” charters/poised-charter.html.


128 filibuster and shout down speakers they didn’t like. In such cases, the lack of voting and other formal procedures discouraged participants who were not willing to shout back. The “‘IETF gestalt’ (e.g. ignoring economics, insisting on datagrams, knee jerk reaction against OSI)” was seen as indicative of “closed perspectives.” Some thought that the IETF process failed to produce well-engineered standards, and that the developers of TCP/IP had “cheated” by bypassing formal international processes.159 The cynics did not get the last word, however. That went to the unabashed idealists who, later that year, framed a new “vision” statement for the IAB: “Connect every computer to the Internet with the TCP/IP suite and make the world a better place.”160 When it was completed, the IAB charter stipulated that the RFC Editor would be seated as a voting, ex-officio member. Consequently, by 1996 Postel was the only one left from the pre-Tea Party group.161 He and Cerf emerged from the episode with their reputations not only unscathed, but enhanced. Postel disliked controversy, and had steered clear of the mess. Cerf had not been a ringleader of that particular faux pas. Both were still regarded as important pillars of the Internet’s standards-making process who could be trusted to keep it organized, intact, and strongly linked to its historical origins. They emerged from the housecleaning episode with elevated status. Now, with Clark, they wore the halos of senior statesmen. The cultural homogeneity of the IETF’s participants was an important factor in sustaining their cohesion. “The members may have come from universities, computer manufacturers, and software companies,” one scholar observed, “but as electrical engineers or computer scientists they shared a very similar mental discipline and mental values.”162

IAB, “Minutes for July 27 1994 Minutes for IAB Open Meeting at Toronto IETF,” IAB “Minutes IABmins.1994-09-23.html.
161 160





Tony Rutkowski, “Internet [Architecture] [Activities] Board: Known History,” November 4, 1998, McTaggart (1999), Especially Section III, “Governance of the Internet’s Infrastructure,”

129 Though the ability of the IAB to control the standards making process was circumscribed as a result of the IPv7 episode, the group retained some pro forma but nevertheless important oversight functions. These might be described as the ability to perform “sanity checks” over critical administrative decisions. Current IAB duties include approving the selection of members of the IESG and the Chair of the IETF. Nominations and selections are generated by an IETF nominating committee which, in order to guarantee broad participation, is constituted by names chosen at random from individuals who attended two of the previous three IETF meetings.163 The IAB has never rejected a recommendation. The IAB also serves as an appellate body empowered to rule on standards-related disputes among IETF members that can not be resolved by the IESG. The IAB is rarely called upon to perform this duty, and has ratified the IESG’s decision every time so far. The IAB continued to issue occasional RFCs, usually in the form of informational pronouncements that weighed in on various issues. The IAB’s most significant remaining gatekeeping power was vested in its ability to designate the individual or agency who performs the IANA function and to specify who will serve as RFC Editor. These were defined as two distinct roles, each delegated for five year terms. The IAB charter also stipulates that the occupants of those two positions must work together. This requirement was an inside joke, since the “collaborators” were one person. Though the IAB had the capacity to replace Postel in his various jobs, such action was virtually inconceivable while he was alive.


“It Seeks Overall Control”

Though ISOC was formed to support the standards-making process, the standards makers in the IETF didn’t greet the new organization with united enthusiasm. On the heels of the IAB crisis, the environment was primed for suspicion of rules imposed from on high. Working group participants heard that the IETF would now be operating “under the auspices” of ISOC. No one had a clear sense of what that meant. Some reacted with paranoia,

John Galvin. “RFC 2282 :IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall Committees,” February 1998.

130 interpreting ISOC’s arrival on the scene as a takeover attempt. The most outspoken critics satirized ISOC, transmuting its acronym to “It Seeks Overall Control.”Another bit of T-shirt wisdom – “ISO silent C” – painted ISOC as a conspiratorial alliance with the bureausclerotic purveyors of OSI. Steve Coya, head of the IETF’s Secretariat, accepted the lampoons as a natural response in that sort of a community. “People assumed the worst, and tried to see what jokes they could make out of it.” The Internet Society was going, ‘How can I help you?’ And with the IETF being ninety-eight percent libertarian, for any organization that says ‘How can I help you?’ every red flag in the world is going to go up.164 Coya was famous for hyperbole, but even if the IETF was not “ninety-eight percent libertarian,” one was more likely to meet a supporter of the Libertarian Party at an IETF meeting than almost anywhere else in the United States. Most IETF participants tended to be exceptionally concerned about protecting privacy and free speech rights against government intrusion... a position that was quite compatible with Libertarian Party priorities. They shared a political and cultural point of view that was fueled by habits of skepticism. The distrustful mood extended through the mid 1990s. Much of the trouble was due to lack of information. ISOC’s Board members were poorly prepared, and were slow at getting things underway. This undermined their ability to present the organization and its mission as clearly as was needed. The uncertainty fostered confusion and resentment. Rumors flew. Old timers even wondered if they would have to join the Internet Society to continue participating in the IETF. Rutkowski’s behavior didn’t help. He showed up touting himself as having taken on a prominent leadership role, and wore out his welcome rather quickly. His outsider status made him a more obvious target for much of the initial fire hurled at ISOC. But, instead of settling doubts, his appearances at the IETF meetings and his publicly reported comments


Phone interview with Steve Coya, June 28, 2002.

131 outside the meetings did more harm than good. Rutkowski came across, according to Landweber, as someone who was “on a different wavelength.”165 Word came back that Rutkowski was representing ISOC to the rest of the world as being in charge of the IETF standards process. He had been saying so in all sorts of ways from the outset. His first report on Cerf’s announcement of the formation of ISOC recounted designs far more imperious than what Cerf had uttered. According to Rutkowski’s summary, “All the existing Internet network planning, standards making, research coordination, education and publications activities will be transferred to the Society.”166 Even as he learned the impropriety of such embellishment, he went on making other audacious statements that pushed the limits of tolerance. The memory of the revolt against the IAB was still fresh, Cerf recalled, “and Tony inflamed the tension. Whether he did it on purpose or not, he appeared completely oblivious the effect that he had. And so it just caused endless trouble.” He [Rutkowski] painted the Internet Society larger than it was. I think he never understood that, in the course of imbuing the Internet Society with more responsibility than it had – maybe this made him feel better as the Executive Director, I have no way of knowing – but the side effect of that was to piss off everybody in the IETF. It cost me three years, and many others, three years of work to try to get ISOC back into reasonable rapprochement with the IETF.167 Dave Crocker (Steve’s brother) was an IESG Area Director during that period, and became one of Rutkowski’s most enduring and outspoken adversaries: ISOC represented new and sensitive stuff that needed to be viewed and dealt with carefully...And if an ISOC [Director] made noises like an Alexander Haig that says, “We are in charge,” that would not help things much.168


Phone interview with Larry Landweber, June 13, 2002.

Rutkowski, “ITU Mission Report on INET '91, Executive Summary: Version 3.0,” June 28, 1991.


Personal interview with Vint Cerf, November 15, 2001. Phone interview with Dave Crocker, July 4, 2002.


132 To reassure the IETF members that ISOC would have a benevolent – or at least benign – effect, ISOC’s Board worked to keep operations as independent as possible, moving its offices out of CNRI to a separate location. The IETF meetings and secretariat were still being funded by the government. Care was taken to avoid mixing funds. When Rutkowski urged transferring the IETF secretariat from CNRI’s offices to ISOC’s, the Board opposed him. It was a small issue by itself, but occurred in a context that added fuel to the fire. Prominent individuals who expressed outspoken dissatisfaction with ISOC included Paul Mockapetris, Chair of the IETF from 1994 to 1996. In a public comment on the evolution of the standards process, he characterized ISOC as an organization which “would like to own the RFC copyrights, the number space, IETF, et that our standards can become ‘important...’” He supported the idea of developing formal relations between the IETF and other organizations, insisting that the only way to “do standards for real” would be to create a “neutral holding company” capable of making legal agreements on the IETF’s behalf. “This is what ISOC is supposed to be, but is not,” he concluded. “[W]e probably should reconsider why we are spending time to do the ISOC process.” The message was explicit enough: If ISOC did not reform the IETF should find a new holding company.169 As personal and professional differences exacerbated the tensions, it became all too clear that Rutkowski would have to go. From Landweber’s perspective: If it was the case the case that Tony and the IETF could not get along, and if it was the case that case that integration of the IETF into ISOC was critical, then there were only two alternatives: Tony stays as ISOC Executive Director and the IETF not ... come into ISOC, [or] Tony leave and the integration happen.170 While investigating the particular circumstances under which Rutkowski finally left ISOC, it was made apparent to me that Board members were encumbered by legal restrictions (perhaps akin to a “no disparagement” clause found in many termination-ofPaul Mockapetris, “Overview of the Problem,” IETF March 21, 1995, 1995/0867.html.
170 169

Phone interview with Larry Landweber, June 13, 2002.

133 employment agreements) regarding what they could say in public. The public record gives no hint of this. In June 1995 ISOC’s Board passed a resolution that declared appreciation for Rutkowski’s work.171 His contract was extended for six months at that time, and he was gone by the end of the year. Another historian of these events, Milton Mueller, wrote plainly that Rutkowski was “forced to leave.”172 There is no reason to argue otherwise, but one might imagine that at some point Rutkowski was as eager to depart as the others were to send him on his way. During his last year as ISOC’s Executive Director, Rutkowski associated himself with two other entities aimed at influencing the Internet policy process. One was the World Internet Association (WIA), a one-man show that he apparently created as a shell for the kind of trade association that he had once envisioned for ISOC. No such trade association ever came about, but the website archived many useful and interesting documents.173 The second entity was the Internet Law Task Force (ILTF), the brainchild of Peter Harter, an attorney who had positioned himself as herald of the so-called “New Economy.” Harter’s design for the ILTF, dated April 8, 1995, was formulated as a memo to Rutkowski as Executive Director of ISOC, probably because Rutkowski had used that post to orchestrate a policy-oriented “Internet Summit” from which much of the ILTF’s initial membership was drawn.174 In June Rutkowski took steps to integrate the ILTF within ISOC’s structure, but the Board blocked him.175 The ILTF eventually found a home at the Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle that provided a mouthpiece for ultra-libertarian pundits such as Al

Internet Society, “Minutes of ISOC Board of Trustees Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, June 1995, “Resolution 95-10, Appreciation of Executive Director,


Mueller (2002: 97).

Rutkowski’s presentation of “ontologies” and historical events also conveyed an unmistakably critical tone toward Postel and his role in the allocation of Internet resources. See,, also available in 1996 archives of Internet Society, “Minutes of the 1995 Annual General M eeting of the Board of Trustees, June 2627, Honolulu, Hawaii, §6.18,”
175 174


134 Gidari and George Gilder. (The Discovery Institute later became the central bastion of the anti-Darwinian Intelligent Design movement.) The ILTF was posed as an IETF-like, self-organized effort to fight laws such as the ill-fated Communications Decency Act, the common enemy of nearly everyone involved in the Internet those days. Harter’s initial memo to Rutkowski suggested the ILTF could become the “legal policy norms forum for the Internet.” Early on, Postel and other members of the IAB expressed hope that the ILTF might provide some practical help with the trademark problems that were starting to confound operations of the Domain Name System.176 Nothing came of this. By the end of the year, however, the core members the ILTF community began to transform themselves into a new group, the Internet Law and Policy Forum (ILPF). Still under the aegis of the Discovery Institute, the ILPF was taking on a distinctively un-IETF-like way of conducting business. Not only were its meetings closed, but its Working Groups were to be financed by corporate sponsors whose identities were to be kept confidential, wrote Rutkowski,“in order to ensure the integrity of the final product.”177 By 1996 critics were charging that the ILPF was seeking to usurp the open standards processes of the IETF. Rutkowski, now departed from ISOC, defended the ILPF’s donorcentric approach by denigrating the IETF model as outmoded and oversold. The [standards process] involves significant industry tradeoffs and business decisions. Even in the IETF, the most important ideas and specs usually came from a handful of people at a beer BOF who really knew what they were doing, and the rest was window dressing... In fact, most of the important standards activities are shifting to a wide variety of specialized consortia of various flavors.178

See IAB M inutes for May notes/IAB/IABmins/IABmins.950510.








A.M. Rutkowski, “Has the IETF Outlived its Usefulness?” IP July 13, 1996, archives/interesting-people/199607/msg00033.html.


135 h. Standardizing the Standards Process

Window dressing or not, the refinement of the IETF standards process continued. The need for insurance and the desire for a relationship with the ITU drove the key players to meet the expected requirements, however rigorous. The appeals process was spelled out and procedures for the retention of documents were specified more carefully. With Rutkowski finally out of the mix, ISOC’s founders were free to proceed with their original plans to confirm ISOC as the holding company for the IETF. Landweber took the lead in repairing the relationship with ISOC’s critics in the IETF, meeting with them in small groups and individually, talking things over until they were satisfied. The time and effort he devoted to that endeavor paid off, allowing ISOC’s legal umbrella to be erected where it could cast the protective shadow of legal identity over the responsible persons of the standards process. Once this was done, the details regarding insurance and recognition by other standards groups were finally on course to resolution. In fact, thanks in large part to Rutkowski’s efforts, the basic structure for a relationship between IETF Working Groups and the ISO had been forged even before the ISOC /IETF issues were completely settled.179 Building formal ties with the ITU proved to be a greater challenge, however. That process began when representatives of the ITU contacted Scott Bradner – who was wearing “two hats” as the liaison for standards from both ISOC and the IETF -- expressing a desire to refer to an IETF standard called the Real Time Transport Protocol (RTP). The citation would be used in the ITU’s version of IP telephony, known as H.323. The complication was that the ITU’s own rules required that the legal relationship between the IETF and its holding company be firmly established before the reference could be enacted. Bradner later said he experienced no significant problems working with his ITU counterparts. They all had to endure the long process of creating what he called the “legal fiction” that sanctified the relationship between ISOC and the IETF. But those problems were
ISOC’s application for a Class A liaison status with ISO’s Joint Technical Committee 1/ Subcommittee 6 (JTC1/SC6) was approved in January 1995, See also, Internet Society, “Minutes of Regular Meeting of Board of Trustees August 16-17, 1993, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.,”

136 overshadowed when officers of the US Department of State representation to the ITU, led by Gary Farino, stepped in to block the ITU’s ability to reference IETF standards. By this action, the United States government had effectively become an obstacle to the global use of Internet standards. Farino’s office was overruled when a private sector Advisory Group (mostly telecom companies) lobbied the State Department to reverse its policy.180 A second revision of the Internet standards process – RFC 1602 – emerged in March 1994. Authored primarily by IAB Chair Christian Huitema and IESG Chair Phil Gross, it was the first to specify a relationship between the IETF and ISOC: The Internet Standards process is an activity of the Internet Society that is organized and managed on behalf of the Internet community by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and the Internet Engineering Steering Group.181 Further refinements were needed before the formal relationship between ISOC and the IETF could be fully and finally consummated. Bradner presented the third revision of the standards process, RFC 2026, in October 1996. It specified, among other things, that each person submitting a contribution to the standards process would “grant an unlimited perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty-free, world-wide right and license to the ISOC and the IETF under any copyrights in the contribution.” That RFC was also entered in the Best Current Practice Series as BCP 9, adding to its gravity. This was a pivotal step in ISOC’s assumption of responsibility in the standards process. The general understanding of the arrangement was summarized by the head of the POISED working group, Erik Huizer, in RFC 2031, The IETF-ISOC Relationship, published the same month. All subsequent RFCs included a copyright notice from the Internet Society. Unlike most such notices, ISOC’s copyright claim is not intended to restrict dissemination of content – in this case Internet standards – but to promote distribution. It

The incident was related to me by Scott Bradner, interviewed July 11, 2002. See also Bradner, R. Brett, G. Parson, “RFC 2436: Collaboration between ISOC/IETF and ITU-T,” October 1998. The listed authors are Internet Architecture Board and Internet Engineering Steering Group, “RFC 1602: The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 2," March 1994.


137 asserts ownership in a way that satisfied legal concerns without violating the principle of keeping the documents free.182 ISOC’s formulation with regard to copyright was one aspect of a growing interest in the development of innovative legal provisions that would provide rights and protections for the authors of information – usually computer software – that they wished to see circulated openly in the public domain with minimal risk of appropriation by other parties. Instruments employed by the “open source” movement went by names like copyleft and the GNU public license. Even the use of the word “Internet” was the subject of a legal contest after Concord EFS, a vendor of financial processing services and automated teller machines, claimed it as a trademark. The Internet Society fought and won a long battle to keep the word in the public domain. But these legal victories were small achievements in light of the larger ambitions shared by the organization’s leaders.



ISOC emerged from a confluence of interests and desires: The leaders of the standards community needed to ensure their own legal protection, and they also wanted to act altruistically by promoting the diffusion of Internet technologies they considered to be beneficial. Those philanthropic desires took on a life of their own, as if the dream of a worldwide Internet could justify the whole standards management project, propelling it forward with a coherent, unifying purpose. Idealism fed a visionary wish. The practical issue of how to manage the standards process transformed into a discourse on Internet governance. And that discourse fostered, in many minds, the assumption of a broader mission to serve the global public good. This assumption was given an institutional shape when Postel’s IANA was established as its majestic figurehead. The manufacture of an expressly global organization was underway. As we have seen, in constructing the “legal fiction” that allowed ISOC to function as the holding company for the Internet standards process, certain forms of language had to

See, for example, Scott B radner, “IETF Rights in Submissions,”



138 be inserted into the RFCs that defined the standards track. The relationships between the entities had to be clarified and reinforced as well. An array of supporting RFCs described the organizations in the process, selection of leadership, variances in procedure, and so on. The IAB also published a charter – updated over the years – that declared the organizational ties between itself and ISOC. The first charter in 1992 described the IAB as responsible for “expert and experienced oversight of the architecture” of the Internet183 This was revised in 1994 to assert responsibility for “long range planning,” and making sure that important “long-term issues [are] brought to the attention of the group(s) that are in a position to address them.”184 A third charter in 2000 retained that formulation, but added a great deal of specificity regarding the IAB’s relations with ISOC, the IESG, the IETF, and outside organizations.185No one ever promulgated a charter for the IETF. It wasn’t needed. The “responsible persons” of the standards process were already accounted for, leaving IETF participants free to feel unencumbered by superfluous obligations. As Cerf recalled, after planning was underway to arrange the various standards bodies under ISOC’s auspices, Postel decided he wanted to “hang the IANA off the IAB.”186 Anticipating publication of an updated Standards Process document, he emailed the ISOC list two draft charters – one for IANA and the other for RFC Editor. There was a brief introduction: In the current drafty version of the Internet Standards Process document (1602-bis) there is some reference to the IANA and the RFC Editor. There is a need to document these positions and how they get filled.187


Lyman Chapin, “RFC 1358: Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB),” August 1992. Christian Huitema, “RFC 1601: Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB),” March 1994. Brian Carpenter, “RF 2850: Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB),” May 2000. Personal interview with Vint Cerf, November 15, 2001. Jon Postel, “IANA and RFC Editor ‘Charters.’” Archived at






139 The substance of each “charter” was couple of short paragraphs, little more than a succinct description of the work he and Reynolds performed under each function. The draft for the RFC Editor began by stating the position had been “chartered by the Internet Society.” The draft for IANA implied more: “The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is chartered by the Internet Society to act as the clearinghouse to assign and coordinate the use of numerous Internet protocol parameters.” In the end, however, the final version of RFC 1602 made no mention of IANA’s charter. No such charter was ever issued as an RFC or published as a distinct document. Interestingly, when the next update of the Assigned Numbers series, RFC 1700, was published in November 1994, the Federal Networking Council (FNC) was named as one of IANA’s chartering bodies. Still, no charter was referenced. In October 1996, about the time of the third revision of the standards process was published, Bradner and DEC’s Richard Hovey published RFC 2028, describing IANA’s position within the Internet standards process. It was “responsible for assigning the values” of the Internet’s protocol parameters. It was also the “top of the pyramid” for DNS and Internet Address assignment, “establishing policies for these functions.” The citations in the RFC listed the IANA and RFC Editor charters as “Work in Progress.”188 The domain name was registered March 11, 1995. This was surprisingly late in the game, demonstrating perhaps that IETF’s standards-making activity was indeed as decentralized as advertised. Working group mailing lists were supported by vendors, universities, or other agencies, and still are. The domain names and, were registered June 9, 1995, allowing the launch of associated websites. The primary utility of IANA’s site was to provide access to RFCs and numerous drafts emerging from the standards making community. There was a motto at the top of the main entry page, “Dedicated to preserving the central coordinating functions of the global Internet for the public good.” Postel’s invocation of the public good must have driven Rutkowski up a wall. IANA’s home page also repeated language that appeared in RFC 1700:

R. Hovey, S. Bradner, “RFC 2028: The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process,” October 1996.

140 The IANA is chartered by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Federal Network Council (FNC) to act as the clearinghouse to assign and coordinate the use of numerous Internet protocol parameters. The Ronys’ history of these events portrayed IANA’s phantom charter as “Authority by Announcement,” underscoring the point by citing Rutkowski’s ridicule of it as one of those “things that get propagated in the Internet realm that have no nexus to the real world.”189 Neither was the IANA a clearinghouse. That is an elegantly neutral term, but ultimately misleading. The IANA was not simply providing a space in which buyers and sellers moved products; it (Postel) was performing the task of distributing resources. He also kept some resources such as IP blocks in reserve.190 Even though the time he devoted to the assignment task was funded by the Department of Defense, there was no text clarifying this was so. The naive visitor to IANA’s website might have easily inferred that a scienceoriented government agency and a non-profit international organization had created IANA to serve the interests of the Internet community at large. Postel was creating the impression he wished to be true. Regardless of the “real world” existence of the charter as a text with instrumental force, the presumed chartering agencies allowed the claim to stand. The FNC did nothing to disavow the relationship, so the imprimatur of the US government’s endorsement – official or not – bolstered the perception of IANA’s significance and authority. The members of ISOC’s board, of course, would never have conceived of disavowing IANA. Anything that added to the perception that IANA was the linchpin between ISOC and the US government only entrenched ISOC’s claim to status atop the Great Chain of Being in the Internet standards process.


Rony and Rony, (1998: 122-3).

See Elise Gerich, “RFC 1466: Guidelines for M anagement of IP Address Space,” May 1933, and IANA, “Internet Protocol v4 Address Space,” updated online at ipv4-address-space.


141 Despite IANA’s rising status, there was a problem. It turned out that the shadow cast over the standards process by ISOC’s umbrella would not fully cover Postel. As a member of the IAB, he was presumably secure in the case of litigation against individuals atop the IETF hierarchy. However, the act of assigning identifiers – particularly IP addresses and domain names – was clearly distinct from the act of writing and approving standards. The IANA work seemed to be in a legal limbo. Though he was an employee of USC performing functions funded by a US government contract, the USC administrators were not at all eager to take on the risk of serving as his legal backstop. The IANA function was being directed by the Internet community (or ISOC, or DARPA, or the FNC, or the Czar himself) after all, and not USC. *** The U.S. Government had granted tremendous latitude to the technical community through the years, especially to Postel. Authority over conventional resources– namely, the power to define fields in globally shared data spaces – was widely considered to reside in his hands. RFC 1174 exposed a growing ambiguity regarding the nature of his authority. Perhaps he was an agent of the U.S. Government, perhaps not. Ownership of the top level domain name space ultimately became a contended issue, spurring vitriolic debates that preoccupied the IETF community for years thereafter. The question of authority had to be settled, but this was not easily done. Statutory relationships seemed to favor the US Government, but its ownership of the resource was not set in stone, written plainly and prominently for everyone to see. The lines of authority were “muddled.”191 Evidence pointing one way or the other would have to be dug up or invented. Until then, no US officials had ever made any concerted effort to demonstrate the primacy of governmental authority over the Internet’s name and number space. But in September 1995, without even attempting to enlist Postel’s consent, a few members of the U.S. government imposed a decisive change over the policies governing that space,


Froomkin (2000).

142 polarizing the Internet community, oiling the skids of the Internet Boom, and changing the world forever. *** The next chapter will retrace the history of the Internet once again, going back to its beginnings in the late 1960s, and marching up the decades. But this next telling will focus more specifically on the technology of the domain name system, and the events which triggered the pivotal events of the late 1990s.

Chronology 3 Early Steps in IAB, IETF, and ISOC Governance Date October 1998 June 1995 During 1995 April 6, 1995 March 1995 January 1995 November 1994 March 1994 January 1993 August 1992 March 1992 Early 1992 During 1994 During 1991 During 1990 August 1990 July 25, 1989 During 1988 November 1987 October 1987 During 1986 January 17, 1986 During 1983 During 1982 During 1972 During 1969 Event ISOC establishes formal collaboration with ITU via RFC 2436. Final ISOC contract extension for Rutkowski. Peak of US government subsidy of IETF. Plans initiated for Internet Law Task Force (ILTF). Online debates over Ownership of the IP and DNS Spaces. ISOC establishes liaison status with ISO. IANA described as “chartered” by FNC in RFC 1700. Formal relations between ISOC and IETF in RFC 1602. POISED Charter for IETF oversight in RFC 1396. First IAB charter in RFC1358. Internet standards process described in RFC 1310. Lyman Chapin becomes Chair of IAB. IEPG rechartered. Malamud’s Bruno experiment, publishing ITU standards at no cost to readers. Internet Engineering Planning Group (IEPG) created. IANA’s authority described in RFC 1174. First meeting of IETF as the overarching home of Internet standards-making. Cerf becomes Chair of IAB. CCIRN Created. IETF meetings opened to NSF members. Cerf, Kahn, and Uncapher create Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI). First meeting of Internet Engineering (INENG) ancestor of IETF. Internet Activities Board Replaces ICCB. Cerf begins work with MCI. Steve Crocker ensures publication of IMP source code by BBN. Start of Network Working Group (NWG) and Request for Comments Series (RFC).

The Internet was never free. It’s just that the users were divorced from the people who were paying the bills. Don Mitchell


a. What it All Means As with any conflict, to fully appreciate the meaning of the DNS War, one must

explore its causes. Most other students of this topic start out quite sensibly, laying out technical and administrative history of the domain name system.192 I have taken a relatively circuitous route to this point, generally avoiding the problem of domain names in order to focus attention on certain personalities, specific deeds, key documents, and the institutional developments that supported governance of the Internet’s standards-making process. Nevertheless, here we are. The story of the central crisis is ready to unfold. This version will put some of the details already covered by others into sharper relief, and perhaps add an insight or two. But there will be no upheaval of the conventional wisdom, which can be put this way: The remarkably productive, unselfish, and even happy collaboration characterized the Internet’s research and engineering communities in the 1980s and early 1990s began to sour by the middle of the decade. The formerly happy state of affairs was displaced by predatory drives such as monopolistic profiteering, bureaucratic turf-building, and political grandstanding. The freewheeling but insular informality of the early Internet could not endure mobs of avaricious newcomers. The Boom brought the Fall. The commons opened by TCP/IP would have to be regulated or else be overrun. Expropriation would be sanctified and altruism extinguished through the cynical modernity of enforceable rights and duties. As a result, I will argue, Jon Postel faced a dilemma. His own relevance was rooted in a culture at risk of losing its relevance. He could take a stand to hold the line, or take the lead in charting a new course forward. He attempted both, and in so doing achieved neither.

See Ross W illiam Rader, “Alphabet Soup: The History of the DNS,” April 2001,; Mueller (2002: 75-82). Rony and Rony (1998). Paré (2003).



145 b. Dawn of the DNS

In 1969, at the dawn of internetworking there was no common method of identifying resources, and neither was there a common syntax for moving messages across networks. Everything had to be created from scratch. The designers of the ARPANET and the Internet hoped to create a universal addressing system that would transparently route traffic between source and destination. Whether traffic moved on subnets or through gateways, the point was to do it automatically and behind the scenes. That preference dictated that each entity connected to the system would be assigned a unique numeric identifier. Confusion could be avoided by incurring the apparently small administrative cost of maintaining and distributing a comprehensive index. It didn’t have to be that way. A different approach was exploited by the Unix to Unix Copy Protocol (UUCP), a popular internetworking system that emerged in the 1970s, not long after the ARPANET was underway. In principle, UUCP showed that names would not have to be unique across the entire system, but only among one’s immediate neighbors. Each person sending an email would have to specify a “bang path” designating the sequence of hosts responsible for carrying the message from neighbor to neighbor. A host wouldn’t need to know everyone’s name . . . just those in the immediate vicinity. The UUCP bang path was literally the route by which email messages were to hop from source to destination. The sign for the bang was an exclamation point, so a bang path might look like, “!bigsite!foovax!barbox!me” This approach shifted the overhead of routing mail from a central administrator to end users at the nodes. It worked, but the Internet eventually proved superior for so many reasons that bang paths went the way of buggy whips. The contemporary world’s familiar syntax for email – using the @ sign to separate the user’s login name from the host identifier – was created in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson, a Principal Scientist at BBN. At first, hosts could only be identified by numbers. Adding a feature that allowed the use of names seemed to be a desirable and sensible next step. Names would presumably be easier to recall than numbers. Sending mail to person@place rather than to person@12, for example, would feel more natural and pleasing.

146 The problem of assigning names to the existing set of numbers appeared to be a relatively simple proposition. But what would the names be? Who would play Adam in the Internet’s Garden of Eden? The first proposal came from Peggy Karp, an employee at MITRE, a not-for-profit corporation that specialized in providing high tech services to the US government. In late 1971 she published RFC 226, a short reference table titled Standardization of Host Mneumonics. RFC 226 was essentially a two column list with twenty ARPANET sites. Karp matched each IMP/host pair on with a corresponding name – 1 was UCLA, 2 was SRI-ARC, 3 was UCSB, and so on. The numbers hadn’t been given out in strict order; MITRE was 145. Karp’s list was designed to serve as the basis for a system-wide lookup table called hosts.txt. Mail sent to person@place, for example, would be referenced in the table and automatically routed to the machine number matched to “place” in the hosts.txt file. Final delivery to the addressee would be handled by that host machine. Each host would store an identical copy of hosts.txt, but would need to get an update of that file as new host names were added or configurations were changed. This meant that some central registry would have to be made responsible for maintaining and distributing an authentic, up-to-date list. Before long, Postel submitted an update. There were now forty two hosts. His list also added a third column of short alternate identifiers, not to exceed four characters. His suggestion for the short name of the host at SRI’s Augmentation Research Center was NIC – Network Information Center – an acronym that proved to have tremendous staying power. Over time, fields were added to the list that would also account for an entry’s machine name, operating system, and available protocol services. Fields and subfields were delimited by the symbols “:” and “,” respectively. Consequently, a single entry in hosts.txt might look like this:

The label “HOST:” identified the type of record. The next field contained the physical address of the host machine ( This was followed by the short and long name subfields (USC-ISIF and ISIF), the operating system (TOPS20), and finally the services (in this

147 case, several TCP services and one UDP service). The upkeep of hosts.txt-related operations was subsidized – like nearly everything else on the ARPANET – by the US Government. The authoritative master copy of the file was kept at SRI’s site in Menlo Park, California. It was maintained by Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler, an engineer who had been recruited by Douglas Engelbert in 1969. Engelbert’ s concept of a network information center for the ARPANET had moved from drawing board to reality in good time, allowing him to name Feinler as the principal investigator of the full-fledged NIC in 1972. In 1975, after the Defense Communication Agency (DCA) stepped in to replace ARPA as the primary sponsor of the

the NIC project was officially known as the Defense Data Network’s

Network Information Center (DDN-NIC). Feinler remained primary investigator until 1991 when SRI finally lost the NIC contract. Feinler stored the master hosts.txt file on a machine designated SRI-NIC, which was also the long-time home of the RFC series. Postel happened to be working at SRI in the mid 1970s when the DCA took over, but most of his activity at that time was devoted to leading the ARPA- and Air Force-sponsored Augmentation Research Center Development Group. When new hosts were added to the

– and later to the Internet – system

operators applying for names would generally transmit filled-in templates to the DDN-NIC. Most of the arrangements were completed and verified over the phone. After 1977, day to day operations were handled by Mary Stahl, an artist who had learned of the job opening at SRI through a friend. Stahl communicated with the “liaisons” at the host sites, and maintained their records in a computerized database, adding or amending records as needed. That database was used to generate the master zone file, she painstakingly proofread and then made available for download. Copies were routinely transferred twice a week, downloaded by hosts across the country, and ultimately around the world. The system worked well enough through the 1970s and 1980s, but the host table kept growing. Long before the cutover fom NCP to TCP/IP, the need for improvement became clear. The number of hosts was effectively doubling annually, surpassing 500 in 1983. Exponential growth was likely to continue. Keeping up with additions and changes would

148 be a never-ending task. There were fears that the Internet would eventually become congested by the transfer of larger and larger hosts.txt files to more and more hosts. Development of a more efficient alternative was in the works for some time. Postel had proposed an Internet Name Server as early as 1978.193 A major step came in 1981 when David Mills, a distinguished routing specialist, proposed a comprehensive solution to the anticipated hosts.txt problem.194 The following year, Zaw-Sing Su, also of SRI, co-authored an RFC with Postel incorporating an approach that was the first to bear a noticeable resemblance to the current system. It included a long description of why an administrative name hierarchy was preferable to topological bang paths. Su and Postel represented the proposed layout with a diagram titled “The In-Tree Model for Domain Hierarchy.”195

U / | \ / | \ ^ ^ ^ | | | I E I / \ | ^ ^ ^ | | | E E I / | \ ^ ^ ^ | | | E E E

U -- Naming Universe I -- Intermediate Domain E -- Endpoint Domain

Figure 8 “The In-Tree Model for Domain Hierarchy,” From Zaw Sing Su and Jon Postel, “RFC 819: The Domain Naming Convention for Internet User Applications” August 1982.

Once the development process received a full commitment from DARPA, main responsibility for the work was assigned to Paul Mockapetris, a computer scientist on ISI’s staff. He received substantial input from Postel and from Craig Partridge, a computer


Jon B Postel, “Internet Name Server,” October 27, 1998, David L Mills, “RFC 799: Internet Domain Names,” September 1981.


Zaw Sing Su and Jon Postel, “RFC 819: The Domain Naming Convention for Internet User Applications,” August 1982.


149 industry powerhouse who was, among other things, Chief Scientist at BBN and a member of CSNET’s technical staff.196 (CSNET – the Computer Science Network – was the consortium of local networks and computer systems that had grown out of Larry Landweber’s decision to adopt the TCP/IP protocol.) The long-term goal was to eliminate the cumbersome hosts.txt file, and replace it with a highly scalable and hierarchically distributed root and branch database structure. To avoid repeating the trauma of the TCP/IP cutover, the team designed for a transition period during which both systems could be used simultaneously. The new standard was premised on creating a widely distributed array of facilities. There would be a root database containing references to multiple subsidiary databases – what are now known as Top Level Domains. In common parlance they are called “TLDs.” Each TLD would contain further sets of subsidiary references known as Second Level Domains – “SLDs”. These references could conceivably extend on down the line, going three, four, five or even more levels out, finally pointing to resources at a host. The system was remarkably flexible, even allowing one name to be assigned to another via an alias if desired. Ultimately, however, those resources would resolve to an endpoint, usually designated by an IP address. Whereas the UUCP bangpaths reflected a neighbor-to-neighbor mapping that laid out how to get from here to there, the inherent structure of the DNS was strictly hierarchical, like the representation of a file system on most computers. From the user’s perspective, the locator name of a host resource would consist of a chain of database references, from the most subordinate all the way back up to the root. For example, an imaginary fifth level name might look like myhost.mycity.mycounty.mystate.mycountry. There is an implicit “.” at the end of the chain of which most modern Internet users are not aware. The “.” symbol – pronounced “dot” – was used inside the database records to symbolize the location of the root. Specialists came to use the two words – root and dot – synonymously.

See Joi L. Chevalier, “15 Years of Routing and Addressing,”, 11.01, January 2001,


150 Despite their careful planning for a full, deeply populated tree, with lots of subbranches carrying hosts at the tips, the creators of the DNS never anticipated that the new system would become as relatively “flat” as it did, drawing so many registrations into one branch so close to the root... the second level domain, dot-com.


Domain Requirements – 1983 - 1985

Mockapetris conducted the first successful test of the DNS at ISI on June 24, 1983. By early November that same year Postel published RFC 881, announcing a preliminary schedule for the transition to the new system. The suffix .arpa was announced as the first top level domain. That domain was already being used by testers when the RFC was published, but the aggressive schedule required that all existing hosts were to be placed under it in December. This would serve as a temporary stop. Each network administrator would later be required to re-register his or her machine using a name directly under another top level domain, or perhaps as a subordinate to another second (or third) level administrator. But no other top level domains were yet available. “The original proposal,” Postel wrote later, “was to have TLDs like ARPA, NSF, ARMY, and so on. Your computers would be named under the government agency that ‘sponsored’ your connection to the net. The idea of having the 26 single [alphabetic] characters was discussed [also].”197 When Postel issued RFC 881, however, only one other top level domain was scheduled for introduction – .ddn, for military use. Postel scheduled a key step for May 2, 1984 – “Establish a New Top Level Domains Only Table.” This was to be the start date for the new domains.txt file, containing the two TLDs mentioned in RFC 881 and any others that might be added. Mockapetris simultaneously published two RFCs – 882 and 883 – that laid out the technical outline for the Domain Name System. The first presented conceptual issues, and the other went into lengthy detail about specifications and implementation. His first paper


Jon Postel, “Single Character TLDs & some history,” NEWDOM November 12, 1995.

151 presented three top level domains – .arpa, .ddn and .csnet, – but only, he wrote, for purposes of “exposition.” Postel announced those RFCs on November 4, 1983 via several electronic mail lists, including – most importantly – the ISI-based Msggroup. It was the ARPANET ’s first mailing list, founded in 1975, and was still going strong as a focal point for the technical community.198 He invited anyone interested in discussing the “day-to-day technical development” of the planned system to join a relatively new list called Namedroppers, hosted by the SRI-NIC.199 Though Namedroppers was created as an arena for technical discussion, policy questions intruded frequently. There was no bright line to distinguish the place where the rules for electrons would end and the rules for people would begin. A key problem involved the rights and responsibilities of domain administrators. By design, each administrator admitted into the DNS hierarchy would become a gatekeeper for his or her subdomains. This prompted to seemingly endless rehashing about what rules those gatekeepers should have to follow, especially at the top levels. And the rules for admission into the hierarchy needed clarification. There was talk of not granting an entity a listing as a second level name unless the aspiring registrant also brought in at least 50 subordinate hosts at the third level or lower. This did not become a requirement, but its consideration reflects the extent to which the DNS architects wanted to shape the namespace as a deep hierarchy rather than the shallow expanse it later became. Semantics and nomenclature were even more confounding. Some of the people on Namedroppers wanted top level domains to recapitulate the canonical structures of society. At first glance, it may have seemed like a good idea, but nothing brings out the anal retentiveness in humans like the chance to invent a naming scheme for the whole world. The

The msggroup archive was once stored at Those archives can be found at Jon Postel,“M SGGROUP#2193 RFCs 881, 882, and 883 Now Available,” Nov 4, 1983. See A partial namedroppers archive can be found at


152 list’s armchair megalomaniacs came to believe they would soon be designating the authoritative base structures of human civilization, under the daring presumption such structures could be known at all. Postel was frustrated by that particular line of discussion, which he considered nonproductive. His vision of the DNS focused on the flexibility and ease of management that would result from as structure in which registration authority was consistently delegated down through the hierarchy. The whole point was to avoid the administrative overhead of organizing and enforcing a universal classification scheme that would prescribe how each host should be named. Instead, in his view, decisions about new host registrations should be left up to administrators and sub-administrators across the Internet. In February 1984 Postel provided a progress report with an updated schedule. He reaffirmed the plans to launch in May, “[at which] point a few new domains may be established, in particular the DDN domain.”200 When the time came, however, the deadline was pushed back. There were still many technical issues to resolve, and the question of what names to add was starting to bog down the discussion. The last day of April Postel sent the Namedroppers list a draft of an RFC titled “Domain Requirements.” It focused on examples of domain structures as administrative entities, laying out “Prototype Questions” that a “responsible person” applying for a domain might need to answer. These included contact information, hardware and software in use. Postel also wanted to know how many hosts the administrator expected to include in the domain the during its first, second, third, and fifth years of operation. Postel’s draft also presented three TLDs as examples – he insisted they were only examples – of how to organize domains. There was .uc (for University of California), .mit (for Massachuset Institute of Technology), and .csnet. The first exemplified entities that might organize their hosts at the fourth level, under regional campuses and then under local departments, as in The second and third examples were intended to portray circumstances in which administrators might not want to make such a distinction, and would


Jon Postel, “RFC 897: Domain Implementation Schedule,” February 1984.

153 simply register all their hosts at the second level. His point in making an example of CSNET was to stress that although the consortium was not a true, unified network like MIT, sharing a single IP block allocation, “it does in fact, have the key property needed to form a domain; it has a responsible administration.”201 Postel put out another draft on May 11, proposing six top level domains, .arpa, .ddn, .gov, .edu, .cor, and .pub.202 The issue of which names to select continued to be, in Postel’s words, “much discussed” on the Namedroppers list, but little was settled. At Postel’s request, Feinler submitted a draft RFC to nail down the naming scheme, but he didn’t like it. Postel wanted network names; she preferred generic types of organizations, such as .mil, .edu, and .gov, plus .bus for businesses.203 Ken Harrenstein, a software architect at SRI, thought that .com would be a better choice for commercial enterprises, and implemented his adaptation of Feinler’s scheme on SRI’s servers. Since the work was approved by the DCA, Harrenstein’s move was effectively a fait accomplis. When Postel traveled to SRI discuss Feinler’s draft, he learned what had been done.204 Domain Requirements was ultimately released in October 1984 as RFC 920. Presented as “an official policy statement of the IAB and DARPA,” Though it drew liberally from Feinler’s draft, Postel and Reynolds were the only authors listed. “The purpose,” they wrote, “is to divide the name management required of a central administration and assign it to sub-administrations [without] geographical, topological, or technological constraints.” There were only five top level domains named beyond .arpa, and they were not to be put into use until the following year, 1985. These were .gov, .mil, .edu, .com, and .org. The DDN Project Management Office was listed as the administrator of .mil. DARPA was listed as being in charge of the others. There was no description within the RFC of why those

Jon Postel,“Draft RFC on Requirements to be a Domain,” namedroppers April 4, 1984. Mueller (2002: 79). Personal email from Jake Feinler, November 7, 2006.



An embellished history once posted by SRI (now removed) described a meeting with Postel and Reynolds where Feinler had shouted “Enough is enough!” insisting she would resolve the dilemma and make the choices herself.“The SRI Alumni Association Hall of Fame,”


154 particular DARPA domains were chosen or how they were to be used. Perhaps Postel thought their purposes were self-evident. It was more likely that he didn’t want to do anything more to fuel a new round of quibbling about semantics. The requirements document also allowed for the inclusion of two letter codes for country domains and codes “multiorganizations” – entities that “can not be easily classified into one of the existing categories and [are] international in scope.” Postel insisted on one correction to Feinler’s scheme. A seventh TLD – .net (network) for the use of ISPs and other infrastructural facilities – was added within the year. Throughout the development period there was little expectation that individuals would want – or would be able to afford – hosts of their own. In 1985, authority for central administration of the root became yet another of Postel’s DARPA-funded duties at ISI.205 This put him directly in charge of screening top level domain applicants. The considerably more cumbersome task of providing registration and support services under the top level domains was added to Mary Stahl’s job at the DDNNIC, which was still funded by the Defense Communications Agency. From her perspective, there was no specific moment when a big switch was flicked and the new system was turned on. If anything stood out, it was the jump in registration activity that began after the TCP/IP cutover.206 Things at SRI were often in flux. Like many other projects, the DNS was phased in over a period of time, with lots of tests and experiments being performed long before it was officially in place. The first registration in .com – – came on March 15, 1985. An even more important milestone – incrementation of NIC zone serial numbers to publicly flag the availability of authoritative updates – didn’t begin until almost a year later, February 26, 1986.207


Robert Hobbes Zakon, “Hobbes’ Internet Timeline,” Phone interview with Mary Stahl, April 24, 2003. of events with the D om ain N am e System,”


Sean D onelan, “T im eline


155 The DDN-NIC now served as hostmaster for both the DDN (.mil) and DARPA TLDs (all the others). Federal policy required that any addition or modification be certified by a Network Change Directive.208 It was easy to accept the idea that parties applying for second level names would be screened to ensure that the host machine was qualified to appear within the requested TLD. Only colleges and universities would be allowed under .edu, for example. Stahl occasionally worked with her liaisons over the phone to help them pick their names. Arguments about semantics continued to take place long after the initial TLD suffixes were selected, both on and off the Namedroppers list. The DNS naming hierarchy was in some ways the victim of its own success. People had begun using it to guess the location of resources. It made sense to assume the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was That guess happened to work. If a resource turned out to have the “wrong” name, however, complaints might arise, perhaps supplemented with suggestions about how to fix the structure. For example, in mid 1987 someone looking for the Network Information Center guessed it would be found at It was actually at This led to questions regarding what might happen if ARPA removed its support of the Internet. Or what might happen if SRI changed its corporate name or even went out of business? Why not create .nic as a top level resource? Postel had to intervene more than once to keep Namedroppers focused on technical issues. On November 4, 1985, two years to the day after issuing the first official public invitation to join Namedroppers, he put his foot down, proclaiming a new policy that sought to ban any discussion of semantics.209 Thereafter, he had to patrol against any hint of a violation, and would issue an interdiction when needed: The namedroppers list is for discussion of the design and operation of the domain name system, not for the discussion of what the names are or what names would be nice.210
Stephen C. Dennett, Elizabeth J. Feinler, Francine Perillo, eds. “ ARPAN ET Information Brochure,” December 1985,
209 208

Jon Postel, “politics of names - not on this list -- please !” namedroppers, November 4, 1985. A ugust 3, 1987

Jon P o stel, “tcp -ip @ s ri-nic .A R P A , N a ming the N IC ,”



Though Postel recommended alternative locations for such discussions, the thrust of his interventions was to interrupt them and shunt them away from the main stage of discussion. Nevertheless, he did make at least made one major concession to popular demand, in particular, the demands of certain users outside the United States. By design, there was no inherent need for the DNS replicate the physical divisions of networks in the form of IP blocks, and there was no reason to replicate geographical or geopolitical subdivisions either. Many Americans were already beginning to hope that the rise of the Internet presented an opportunity to surmount such constraints. But European participants were wary of being subsumed within US-dominated categories. There even a were a few who thought that no other TLDs should be created beside country codes. Postel rejected that idea:

I think that there are many cases of organizations that operate in multiple countries where attaching them to one country or 211 another would cause (political and emotional) problems.

If country names were to be added at all, it had to be determined what counted as a country, how should it be listed, and who should administer its registry. There was an easy enough answer for that. A guide to the names of recognized nation-states and their legal denotations was available in the form of a United Nations Bulletin called “Country Names.” It paired the countries of the world with a corresponding “Alpha 2" code. France was matched with FR, Mexico with MX, and so on. A Berlin-based group known as the ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency (part of the UN’s International Organization for Standardization) used the “Country Names” Bulletin along with another UN-based list of unique statistical designations to generate a table known as ISO 3166-1. It maps country names with a column of two letter codes and another column of three letter codes. In RFC 920 Postel designated the ISO 3166-1 table as the validating authority for any future country code designations that might be added to the root.


Jon Postel, “re: countries only at the top,” msggroup Nov. 10, 1985.

157 Once it was decided to add country codes, the next step was to determine who should administer the zone. Postel decided that a country code registration, like any domain name registration, required that an application be made by a “responsible party” who could receive the delegation. The Internet was still small enough in the mid and late 1980s that an applicant for a country code might be a familiar colleague within the TCP/IP development community – most likely an academic, perhaps even an old friend from grad school. Though the process began slowly, with the addition of .us in February 1985. Two more – .gb and .uk – were added in July. The assignment of two codes for one country turns out to be a story in itself. British computer scientists had been participating in the ARPANET project since 1973 under a Governing Committee chaired by Peter Kirstein, a key figure in the creation of the Internet.212 A long time faculty member at University College London (UCL), Kirstein pioneered the first TCP test network with Cerf. He also founded the International Academic Network Workshop meetings... the annual gatherings that were later transformed into INET by Larry Landweber, providing a platform from which to launch ISOC. Kirsten went on to participate in CCIRN, overseeing the growth of Internet connectivity worldwide. In 1985, Kirsten needed a favor. Despite the fact that the ISO 3166-1 table used Great Britain as a country name, Kirstein wanted Postel to accept .uk as the entry for his country’s networking community. UCL’s network had been using .uk as an ARPANET identifier long before any country codes were added to the domain name system. Switching over would be inconvenient. Postel accepted Kirsten’s request to add .uk to the root, but just as a temporary solution. A record for .gb was added as well, with the expectation that it would soon come into widespread use. It didn’t work out that way. The change was continually put off, making its possible execution look ever more painful and disruptive. Postel made several attempts over the next few years to get the British networking community to convert, but gave up in 1988.213 In the end, the use of the .uk suffix in the DNS was allowed to stand.
See his brief online memoir, Peter T. Kirstein, “Early Experiences with the ARPANET and INTERNET in the UK,”
213 212

Paré (2003: 70-1).

158 Postel may have been famous as a stickler for technical consistency, but the incident showed that he could also bend on administrative questions. *** An important design feature of the DNS was its capacity for redundancy. Its zone files could carry more than one IP address for each name referenced in the system. If the first listed site failed to respond for some reason, perhaps because of network congestion or a temporary outage, this feature helped ensure that an alternate site publishing the same resources could be found. The hierarchy was maintained by allowing only one of those addresses to be flagged as the “Start of Authority” for subordinate data. A distinctive feature of the DNS was that it did not rely on TCP to transmit information across the network. The Uniform Data Protocol (UDP) was used instead. TCP runs by instantiating “windows” or “frames” that behave as virtual circuits between hosts. Keeping those windows open requires some extra processing and transmission overhead, but this overhead is a reasonable penalty for the ability to maintain interactive sessions, transmit potentially long messages, and support various other services. Since DNS queries are rather short, it is not necessary to call on TCP just to find out what IP number matches up with a particular domain name. UDP is fine for this, but imposes certain limits. Since the maximum length of a UDP packet is 512 bytes, there is a fixed ceiling on the number of hosts addresses that can be included in a discrete UDP message, and therefore referenced under the same domain name. That constraint had direct implications for the maximum size of the root zone. The DNS was initially configured to allow up to eight distributed nameservers at the root level. Only three were implemented at the time of launch. The primary DNS host was at SRI and two secondaries were running at ISI. Two more secondaries were eventually added at military facilities on the east coast. The machines in these arrays were alternatively known as masters and slaves. After some clever finagling in the 1990s, engineered under the direction of Bill Manning, the maximum size of the root was extended to thirteen servers.

159 The first generation of Cisco routers were introduced to the market in 1985, furnishing a compliant platform particularly suitable for DNS traffic.214 The DNS grew steadily more popular, particularly among users of the UNIX operating system, though both the original host table system and DNS were in simultaneous use for the rest of the 1980s and into the early 1990s.


From SRI to GSI-NSI – 1991

Contention over the mechanics of DNS registration during the late 1980s revealed that there was a significant disagreement brewing over what constituted the authentic Internet and who should pay for it. Program officers in the military were increasingly reluctant to subsidize the cost of registering names and numbers for hosts that were not clearly within the federal orbit. Military users perceived the Internet – with a capital I – as that subsidized by official US agencies. The rest was relegated to the less important small ‘i’ internet. Members of the academic community saw things the other way around. For them, the Internet that counted was the one with global visibility. Federal sponsorship was incidental. The name and number registration work conducted at SRI’s site had been growing in both size and complexity, albeit slowly, for over twenty years. The DDN-NIC was handled under a sole source contract, meaning that SRI was considered the only vendor capable of providing the service. Periodic renewals were quiet and routine. In the mid-1980s the NSF began to chip in funds to DCA on behalf of the wider research community. With more than a decade on the job, Mary Stahl started to burn out. The tedium of generating and proofreading hosts.txt and the DNS zone files was finally weighing down on her. It was a thankless task in many ways. “No one would call to say ‘Great job!’ after you uploaded a file,” she recalled, “but you’d hear about it if something went wrong.” In the early 1990s she reduced her commitment to a half-time schedule and started migrating out of SRI.215
Privatization of the New Communication Channel,
215 214

Phone interview with Mary Stahl, April 24, 2003.

160 The DCA was redesignated as DISA on June 25,1991.216 The transition put the DDNNIC budget under some scrutiny, adding pressure to consolidate the military’s portion of the infrastructure and break off the others. Why shouldn’t civilian agencies or the private sector subsidize the portions they needed?. The character of the Internet was clearly changing. It made sense that the DDN-NIC and the NSF-funded ARPA-NIC functions could be overhauled and completely split apart, moving the research portion of the registry directly entirely under civilian control. But it was still far from clear how this transfer of responsibility would take place. Renegotiating the DISA contract provided grounds to get that process underway. This time SRI faced stiff competition. There were two internetworking heavyweights in the bidding – BBN and MITRE. There was also a lesser-known company, Government Systems Incorporated (GSI) which had partnered with a Virginia-based firm, Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) under the provision that NSI would be the actual operator. All the contenders understood that there would be an even bigger solicitation in a year or so for a “NIC of last resort” to be funded directly by the NSF. Winning this one would help earn a position on the inside track for the next one. Though NSI was a small company, it was a formidable competitor. NSI had only ten or so employees, and was a minority owned and operated firm. This combination of size and status made it eligible for preferential treatment under a Small Business Administration certification known as the 8(a) Business Development Program. The company’s relative proximity to the NSF’s main offices in Virginia didn’t hurt either. Moreover, NSI had recently beat out SRI for another DISA contract, and the leader of the GSI/NSI negotiating team, NSI’s Scott Williamson, was now its project manager.217 Williamson had been playing with computers since the days when, as he put it, “hacking was a good term.” He started out by exploring the same Altair 8000 “Kit Computer” model that had inspired Bill Gates and Robert Allen to form Microsoft
“DISA History,” Original location was and is on file with the author. A newer, but briefer version is at
217 216

Phone interview with Scott W illiamson, March 18, 2003.

161 Corporation. Though Williamson had only earned a non-technical Associates degree before he started at NSI, he had also received advanced training in satellite data systems in the Navy, where he proved himself adept at project management. It was Williamson who noticed DISA’s Request For Proposal for the DDN-NIC, and who worked out the strategy of NSI’s partnering with GSI, a company which had a considerably stronger track record of winning government contracts. DISA’s award of the DDN-NIC job to GSI/NSI created the conditions for a small earthquake in the Internet community. SRI was a trusted player from the days before dawn. The new operator was an unknown upstart. Moving the root and the IP registry would be a significant event. There hadn’t been a such a drastic operational change since the 1983 cutover from NCP to TCP/IP. Matters were further complicated by apparent lack of cooperation from SRI’s side. First SRI contested the award, complaining that the GSI/NSI bid was so low it did not seem reasonable. This held up the start of the transition for a short period. If SRI’s business managers did not seem especially eager to transfer the data and the existing work product to the new operators, perhaps it was because they resented loss of the contract and were acting vindictively. Or perhaps it was because thought they believed they had the right to withhold proprietary information that would be useful in the next round of competition for the NSF’s new NIC. In any case, Williamson endured an experience so “ugly,” he said it gave him nightmares.218 When the transition finally got underway, it turned into an exasperating series of unexpected problems and pitfalls. SRI’s DDN-NIC used a DEC TOPS20 minicomputer with a mix of programming languages (assembler and a not-so-portable version of C), while NSI would be using a much newer SUN 460 diskless workstation. SRI transferred information by way of tapes using a format that complicated the logistics for moving material onto NSI’s platform. And Williamson felt SRI’s managers were not giving his team thorough enough details on how the root had actually been run for the last decade.



162 Williamson complained to DISA’s contract representative about SRI’s “unhelpful” behavior, but did not get the remedy he wanted. He also visited ISI, primarily to talk about IP number management, though DNS issues were brought up too. Postel was able to contribute, at least as far as clarifying standards and requirements, but this was not the same as disclosing the mechanisms of a working implementation. Williamson’s team ended up having to create much more of the code base for the new DNS software than originally anticipated, and they had to do it on a crash basis to meet the October 1st 1991 deadline. In September 1991 Williamson submitted an RFC with a schedule for the transition of services. The plan was to suspend registration activity at SRI’s site for a five day period prior to the transition date, after which it would be resumed at NSI.219 His team was working round the clock at the end, and began seeing traffic on the server three days before the planned cutover, an experience Williamson later described as “scary.” Ready or not, it seemed like there was always someone out there a little too eager to start banging on the system. NSI also took on hosting for Namedroppers and added lists for discussion of root servers management were oriented around rs-talk and rs-info. The main responsibility for hosting RFCs and issuing related publications shifted to CNRI. When the root was finally moved, there were enough stutters and hiccoughs to make people notice. Williamson dutifully made himself available to the IETF community, appearing at the IETF plenary in late November. It was a hard group to please. Many were caught off guard by the announcement, and were not happy about it. Some were outright wrathful. “Lots of people were throwing tomatoes,” he recalled. The engineering community’s first taste of NSI as the root operator was rude awakenings, glitches, and data losses. Despite being the one who had made the greatest effort to make the transition succeed, Williamson had to take the heat for the parts that didn’t. By inheriting the responsibilities for running the DDN-NIC, Williamson inherited the frustrations that went with it. His long-time predecessor, Mary Stahl would have understood


Scott W illiamson and Leslie Nobile, “RFC 1261: Transition of NIC Services,” September 1991.

163 the siege he was about to endure, but she was already on the verge of leaving SRI altogether, and had little to do with the DDN-NIC at the time of the transition. If Williamson had met Stahl in some neutral venue, perhaps she could have offered him a message of commiseration... “Welcome to my world.” Williamson was not the only NSI employee to feel the wrath of the public. The IP registry management function that Postel had passed on to SRI in 1987 was now in the hands of Kim Hubbard, who had been working at NSI for a couple of years selling TCP/IP-based software. The cutover did not go well for her, either. Upon receiving the list of existing IP allocations, she experienced her own rude awakening. “It didn’t take long, probably like an hour, to figure out that they just screwed up really bad.” As she saw it, in the period leading up to the transition, SRI’s personnel had slipped and allowed mistakes to creep in. The biggest problem involved double allocations, in which the same block of numbers had been given out to multiple users. “It took me years to get it straightened out,” she said. “I had to turn around and tell [recipients], ‘Sorry but someone else has that and they got it a week before you.’”220 *** Though Postel had no contractual authority within the DDN-NIC structure, and exercised no direct say in the movement of the DDN-NIC from SRI to NSI, the transition served to bolster his authority. As Williamson recalled, NSI’s owners initially put little stock in Postel’s importance. The DDN-NIC was subordinate to DISA, while Postel’s shop at ISI was beholden to DARPA. Still, across the Internet as a whole, more and more people were coming to rely on Postel as a resource. Yes, NSI’s staff members were using military email addresses like, which might seem to identify them with the armed services, but they were increasingly preoccupied with serving the demands of the livelier civilian research community. They not only deferred to Postel’s advice, they were impressed by him personally. From Williamson’s perspective, “Postel was a big help; he was the king.”


Phone interview with Kim Hubbard, February 17, 2003.

164 Hubbard considered Postel to be “a great man” and modeled her own behavior after her idealized image of him as a paragon of strict adherence to fundamental technical principles. As gatekeepers with immediate operational control over the allocation of contended resources, especially the diminishing blocks of available Class B addresses, Williamson and Hubbard soon found themselves immersed in conflict. Anyone in a position of such importance, no matter how saintly, presented a likely target for criticism. The work was demanding enough on its own, but the bitterness of the environment provoked feelings of personal sacrifice. By imputing a charismatic purpose to their job, they could justify their travails as a noble duty that had a broader benefit. That ennobling sense of charisma was fortified by alignment with Postel... the man presumed to be on top, if not above it all. Ironically, while Postel’s work continued to be funded by DARPA, an agency of the US military, his efforts benefitted a community that had an increasingly civilian and international character. Anyone investigating the administrative workings of the Internet would inevitably learn his name. Moreover, ISOC was on the rise, providing a platform through which academic and commercial Internet participants could advocate their own social interests. Postel’s enthusiastic support was taken as a legitimating factor toward that end. *** By this time, civilian computing had overwhelmingly tilted toward use of the DNS, while the military sector remained relatively dependent on the old hosts.txt table. Most commercial off-the-shelf TCP/IP technology now came enabled with DNS support. New hosts were being added at faster rate on the ARPA-Internet side than the DDN side. It was clear that the DNS-focused civilian Internet was leapfrogging over the hosts.txt technology, and the civilian sector’s growing influence on the network was undeniable. Many new hosts in the civilian sector, particularly those outside the US, weren’t even bothering to register in hosts.txt. Consequently, hosts.txt users would not be able to “see” those new sites unless the right IP number was known. Postel had pointed out this problem in 1984 when he launched the .arpa root. The situation could be highly disruptive to the use of certain extensions of the Internet Protocol suite, particularly those involving mail

165 exchange, which relied on features enabled by the DNS. In light of the move toward a dedicated civilian NIC, continuing to support the obsolescing hosts.txt file was becoming a thankless task. It seemed like an appropriate moment to dispense with the host table technology altogether. The IAB Chair, Lyman Chapin, sought to force the issue in a March 1992 letter addressed to the Chair of the DoD Protocol Standards Steering Group, Colonel Ken Thomas, and various other officials at DISA and within the FNC. Chapin’s policy recommendation titled “The Domain Name System is an Internet Necessity” chided the MILNET community for failing to follow through on a 1987 promise to convert to the DNS. More audaciously, he insisted that it was time for the US military to get in step with the “world-wide Internet,” insisting there were serious risks if the military did not catch up. “The larger community has evolved so extensively beyond [the host table]...” he warned, that failure to adopt the DNS would result in a “detrimental impact on overall Internet operations.” Non-DNS systems on the Internet will eventually be confronted with the need to decide whether they want to continue as a part of the larger Internet community, or remain a rather small, non-conforming subset. Should they choose not to conform to the otherwise accepted Domain Name System, they will have to accept the ramifications of this decision.221 Leaders within the civilian engineering community were becoming more confident of their status and therefore bolder in asserting their interests. Now they could dare to tell the military what to do. Moreover, the next round of contract negotiations would led by the NSF. This would finally place the ultimate responsibility for administering the civilian side of the Internet under a civilian agency. And it would further sanctify Postel’s position of authority at the top of the chain of command.


One-Stop Shopping – Summer 1992 - Spring 1993

For much of the 1990s, the National Science Foundation’s chief contract negotiator for anything related to national computer networks was Don Mitchell. A disabled Vietnam

Key parts of the exchange are recounted in Lyman Chapin, “RFC 1401: Correspondence between the IAB and DISA on the use of DNS throughout the Internet,” January 1993.

166 veteran who been working for the NSF since 1972, Mitchell was centrally involved in arranging the late 1980s deal by which the NSF, IBM, and the University of Michigan created Merit and thereby launched the NSFNET backbone. His longevity in that position during that tumultuous period gave him truly senior status in the government, if not formally as a functionary, then informally as a troubleshooter, mentor, disciplinarian, and deal pusher. He liked referring to himself as “NSF’s hit man.”222 This power served a personal agenda. Though a consummate bureaucrat, adept at trading favors with friends and getting even with enemies, he was also an ideologue who sought to champion privatization when possible, countering what he considered to be the predatory behavior of government regulatory agencies. Since Mitchell avidly supported the NSF’s interests in leveraging the Internet as a research tool, he was sensitive to fact that the critical registry functions performed by the DDN-NIC (especially IP number allocations) were beholden to military funding. He especially feared that someone in the military would soon “come back in and do something like cutting off Europe again.” The tradition of sharing responsibility for such critical resources among different agencies was complicating the issue of who possessed ultimate authority over them. “The whole thing gets very shrouded and bewildering,” he recounted. “People were still afraid to say [the Internet] was no longer the military’s.”223 Mitchell shrewdly recognized that Postel’s academic temperament and social grounding made him a willing “co-conspirator” in shifting control from DARPA to civilian agencies. Postel had already proven himself quite adept at navigating the growing division between the operational and research imperatives of the military without jeopardizing the interests of the avant garde engineering community. The reservoir of trust Postel had accumulated gave him tremendous latitude to assist in what Mitchell called the “streaming


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 10, 2003. Ibid.


167 of authority from the military.” That streaming could be maintained and even accelerated as long as “the big bear, the Pentagon, hadn’t woken.”224 Mitchell worked with two NSFNET program managers – first Doug Gale and later George Strawn – developing an ambitious concept for a full-fledged civilian successor to the DDN-NIC. It was based on the idea of “one stop shopping” for three distinct kinds of services. The most challenging would be the creation of an Internet directory service, perhaps modeled after the telephone system or the X.500 network system then popular in Europe. It wasn’t clear how this might work on the far flung Internet (in the end, after all, it never did work), but the need for a directory was taken for granted. Second, they wanted to create a kind of a “help desk” that would be responsive to the ever-burgeoning user community. The desire to organize a project of this sort correlated with the rise of a User Services Area in the IETF, and the introduction of the FYI category in the RFC series, particular interests of Joyce Reynolds.225 Finally, the IP registry and the root of the DNS had to be operated in a manner least likely to impede the continuing growth of the Internet. In 1992, the NSF issued a solicitation for a National Research and Education Network Internet Network Information Services Center (NREN NIS). It specified that the registry portion of the project would be run in accord with RFC 1174, once again reconfirming IANA’s authority.226 By emphasizing the primacy of DARPA over DISA as owner of the Internet’s key resources, the “streaming” of authority from the military was proceeding as planned. And once again, elevating IANA elevated Postel as an individual whose voice mattered. One of the idiosyncracies of the NSF’s proposal evaluation process in those days was its mechanism for protecting the intellectual property of those who made submissions. All

Ibid. See, for example RFC 1177 Aug 1990 and others in the series, “New Internet User.”


Solicitation text cited from Simon Higgs, “I like this guy” bwg May 18, 2002. “This project solicitation is issued pursuant to the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq) and the Federal Cooperative Agreement Act (31 U .S.C. 6305) and is not subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulations." ... "The provider of registration services will function in accordance with the provisions of RFC 1174."


168 proposals were kept secret, other than those that won. As Mitchell described it, “There was no proposal that never received an award.”227 But each of the proposals that (never) arrived for the new NREN NIS had the same problem. None offered the comprehensive “one-stop shopping” that fulfilled all three of the NSF’s requirements. As expected, NSI was seeking to continue on with the Registry Services portion of the planned center. It is noteworthy that the company’s bid was written as if it were being presented on behalf of the “Network Solutions/ISI Team,” rather than Network Solutions alone. NSI’s bid also touted its staff’s ongoing experience working in an “integrated” operational relationship with the IANA. This aspect of incumbency was not as cozy for NSI as it may seem. Apparently every bid submitted to the NSF referred to a warm and fuzzy relationship between the applicant and IANA, and implied that there would be some funds redirected to ISI as part of a subcontracting relationship. NSI did have clear advantages, however. The strongest may have been the experience accumulated by Williamson and his team during the first transition of the DNS root service from SRI... experience that was hard won and impossible to duplicate. With regard to the Directory Services portion of the contract, however, NSI was considered out of its league. The telecommunications giant AT&T had made a strong bid for that part. But AT&T’s size raised complications. There was a concern that if a major ISP were put in charge of distributing IP numbers to its competitors, the numbers might not get distributed in a timely or reasonably priced manner. An interesting but relatively sketchy bid came from UUNET, an important backbone ISP known for a strong and talented engineering staff. As with AT&T, there were conflict-ofinterest concerns. Also, UUNET’s proposal for the registry portion of the contract included fee-based registration plan (at $1 per name), an idea that was still quite unpopular with some Federal agencies.228


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 10, 2003.

Email from Rick Adams reprinted in David Farber, “IP: RE: CRADA – you can hear the rip (off)” IP December 24, 2001.


169 Another company, San Diego-based General Atomics (GA), made a proposal that Mitchell deemed to be exceptionally strong in the Information Services area. Beyond the “help desk” activities, its bid included intriguing proposals for building outreach services, compiling various online and CD-based guides, and developing resource discovery services. GA’s team was led by Susan Estrada, founder of an important regional ISP, the California Education and Research Federation (CERFnet). Estrada had become a bit of a celebrity, portrayed in the press as a model for women in the high-tech business world. As a member of the FNC’s Advisory Committee she would have been quite familiar with the NSF and the ways of Washington. She also had deep ties to the inner circles of the IETF community: She had already served as an Area Director on the IESG and would soon be elected to ISOC’s Board of Trustees. Another key GA participant was Susan Calcari. She had a background in data and voice network operations working with companies like Sprint, but had shown a talent for public relations during stints at MERIT and the NSFNET. Over time she had developed a specialization in data distribution for the academic community, an ideal supplement to the front line help desk activity that the NSF needed. GA’s proposal fell short with regard to Registry and Directory Services, but Mitchell and Strawn were smitten by GA’s plan for handling Information Services. It “was so good,” Mitchell recalled, “that everything went around it.”229 They decided to restructure the entire project to make sure GA would win a role. *** In the late autumn of 1992 Strawn arranged for a meeting that included the team leaders for the top three contenders in each category – NSI, AT&T, and GA. The group assembled at Iowa State University, where Strawn had held a series of faculty and administrative positions, including Chair of the Computer Science Department. Each company had two representatives. Williamson was there for NSI, Estrada and Calcari for GA. As Mitchell tells it, the company reps were put in a room and given a day to develop a


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 10, 2003.

170 scheme that would preserve the NSF’s desire for a unified interface. The result was the concept of the InterNIC. The neologism may have been Calcari’s, but Estrada led the pitch for it when Mitchell and Strawn came back to hear the results.230 Each company was then asked to resubmit a revised “collaborative cooperative proposal” – an innovation that Mitchell claimed to have invented on the spot – reflecting the new division of labor. There was a tremendous time pressure to get it all done by the end of the year, but Mitchell encountered no serious resistance as he pushed the paperwork through the Washington bureaucracy over the Christmas holiday period. All the contracts, called “Cooperative Agreements,” were in place as of Jan 1st 1993. They included a three month ramp up period prior to an April 1st launch date. GA’s portion of the agreement included a Key Personnel clause stipulating that Calcari would be designated to perform specific services related to the planned “Infoscout” project. NSI received a $5.2 million five year, three month award for the Registry Services portion of the InterNIC. It was executed as a fixed-price contract, but subject to periodic review and revision, with an option for a six month ramp down at the end. ISI was included as a subcontractor, responsible for the .us top level domain, with Postel and Reynolds named as managers. As before, domain names were to be distributed without cost. The “imposition of user based fee structure” was expressly contemplated, however, pending “direction/approval of the NSF Program Official.231 The possibility of eventually imposing user fees was also mentioned in a news release announcing NSI’s award. That part of the announcement included an important stipulation: “Decisions will be implemented only after they have been announced in advance and an opportunity given for additional public comment.”232 That promise was disregarded two years


Ibid. and Richard Sexton, “Re: InterNIC Change,” Domain-Policy, August 4, 2000.

National Science Foundation, “Cooperative Agreement No. NCR-9218742,” Article 3. Statement of W ork, Paragraph G.


Mueller (2002:102).

171 and nine months later, when Strawn presided over the commodification of the .com, .net, and .org domains. Though NSI and the NSF were listed as the sole parties to the Cooperative Agreement, its text made unambiguous reference to IANA, as if IANA had the capacity to exercise decisive, independent authority over registration policy. The description of the work to be performed stated that NSI was obliged to “provide registration in accordance with the provisions of RFC 1174,” the 1992 memo in which Cerf had effectively promulgated a new lay of the land to the FNC. The text then recapitulated key wording from RFC 1174 which asserted IANA’s authority. The thrust of the language, remember, was that the Internet system “has employed a central Internet Assigned Numbers Authority [which] has discretionary authority to delegate portions of [its] responsibility” for the allocation and assignment of certain identifiers.233 The clear implication was that the legitimate execution of Cooperative Agreement depended, at least in some part, on IANA’s approval. *** Once again Williamson had to engineer the physical movement of the root. During the transition from SRI everything had been moved in one piece. Now he faced the challenge of executing a true physical split of the DDN-NIC and the legacy ARPA-NIC. NSI arranged to open a new facility in Herndon Virginia that would be devoted to running the InterNIC. The other operations would be maintained at the old site in Chantilly Virginia, where NSI would continue to run the military’s IP addresses and the .mil domain space as a subcontractor to GSI and DISA. One of the most difficult challenges involved dividing the staff between the two locations. Moving on to build the InterNIC was by far the more popular assignment. The Internet was now generating significant public interest, and ARPA-NIC was going to be the center of the action. Williamson would decide who would go where, which meant that he would have to disappoint someone. It turned out as he expected. Those who remained with the DDN- NIC, “felt like they had been left behind.”

National Science Foundation, “Cooperative Agreement No. NCR-9218742,” Article 3. Statement of W ork, Paragraph C.

172 This time, Williamson was determined to head off political fallout from the IETF. To prepare, he decided to take a “cleaner” approach, moving the root “before anyone realized it.” Some might recognize his approach as the strategy called, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Williamson published an RFC announcing the change well after the process had gotten underway. His timetable promised there would be no interruption of service.234 He was thus was able to present the move to the IETF plenary as a fait accomplis, and avoid much of the personal harassment he had experienced during the first transition. Don Mitchell wanted a surreptitiously early cutover for other reasons... it would save money. The funding anniversary of NSF’s portion of the DDN-NIC was coming up a few weeks before April 1st, so an early move spared the NSF the expense of a contract renewal. Williamson was happy to accommodate. *** The final cutover to the new root was executed by Mark Kosters, who had been hired in 1991 as preparations began to transfer the DDN-NIC from SRI. Kosters was particularly well qualified for this type of work, with an MS in Computer Science, and prior experience setting up TCP/IP networks and server-based databases for a Navy subcontractor. Expecting the Washington DC region might be socked in by a snowstorm for the weekend, he cloistered himself inside the Herndon office beforehand. He would be busy, and figured it wouldn’t matter if the streets weren’t dug out for a day or two.235


Running the Internet’s Boiler Room – 1993 and Beyond

NSI’s operational staff remained small through the DDN-NIC years and the first two InterNIC years, with very little employee turnover. The staff faced a constant battle to build systems that would enable them to meet future demand. It was as if they were fabricating bigger and buckets to bail water from a ship that never stopped springing leaks.
Scott W illiamson, “RFC 1400: Transition and Modernization of the Internet Registration Service,” March 1993.
235 234

Personal interview with Mark Kosters, November 14, 2001.

173 When the DDN-NIC was moved in 1991, the queue for additions and modifications in the domain name database was not long enough to fill the office whiteboard. Templates were still being subjected to visual inspection, just as they had been at SRI. To head off the kinds of problems that would come with growth, Kosters undertook a number of projects that promised to deliver better security. The strategy was to improve the processes for identifying and validating the source of requests. He began by developing a new WHOIS server, replacing the NICNAME/WHOIS system that had been used at SRI since 1982.236 The new WHOIS included a query/response database search tool that allowed anyone with Internet access to determine whether a domain was registered, and to see the relevant contact and host information. It also made it possible to see what domain names were associated with a particular contact name, based on reference to an assigned lookup “handle.” Shortly after NSI was awarded the registry portion of the InterNIC contract, Kosters began work on Guardian, an automated authentication tool intended to protect against unauthorized modifications of information in the system. Along the way, to keep pace with the growth of country code entries, he also had to develop better software to generate the top level zone file. Another critical part of the job involved making sure the machinery was up to speed. Though well-designed software could – and did – last for years, hardware and connectivity upgrades became a regular necessity. Underestimating the demand for the Internet’s resources was a chronic problem of the pre-Boom period. Nearly everyone in a decision-making position had made that mistake at one time or another, and the staff at NSI had to shoulder the consequences. When DISA transferred the DDN-NIC to GSI/NSI, for example, it had only provided enough funding to support a 56K connection. Fortunately, a NASA program officer, Milo Madine, stepped up to provide a high speed T1 link before the overburdened connection collapsed altogether. Similarly, when the registry agreement was negotiated, everyone at NSI – as well as Mitchell and Strawn at the NSF – assumed that growth in the demand for names would eventually level off. Most of the expansion from 1991 through early1993 was in the .edu


Ken Harrenstein, Vic W hite, “RFC 812: NICNAM E/W HOIS,” March 1, 1982.

174 domain, after all, and there were only so many institutions of higher learning in the world. The commercial side of the Internet boom had yet to show its full force, and no one could envision the overwhelming demand for .com names that would result. (Years later, Postel occasionally joked that he had known from the beginning how big the Internet would become, but that he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone.) The registry contract stipulated that the NSI’s annual award could be renegotiated to account for changes in direct costs such as demand for registry NSI’s services. However, the amount allocated to provide for indirect costs was capped, and therefore not renegotiable, which led to unexpected difficulties. Having grown large enough as a result of the InterNIC job to lose its qualification for 8(a) status, NSI lost its advantage in competing for other government contracts. Before long, the InterNIC was NSI’s last main remaining business. This shrank the financial base the company relied on to cover the cost of corporate overhead, leaving it with significant cash flow problems. Demand for registry services had indeed exceeded expectations the first year, so the NSF increased NSI’s award for the second year by about 10 percent to keep up with revised estimates. But the company was in such dire straits that its expenditures were eventually made subject to bank oversight, putting Williamson and Kosters in an even tighter squeeze when they had to schedule the capital outlays for more bandwidth and new hardware. When possible, they engineered things to scale, “by adding boxes,” expanding capacity incrementally until the next overhaul was unavoidable. With no money to spare for new hires, Williamson and the others kept pace by putting in overtime. “During that time I was working 18 hour days 6 days a week nonstop, sometimes seven days a week,” said Kosters. He was once spotted napping in his car after working through the night. His whole life revolved around his job. I lived fairly close to the office and I needed some form of exercise, so what I would do is ride my bike to work as much as I could. And I would park it in the hallway or my office... I didn’t have much of a life other than work.237


Interview with Mark Kosters, November 14, 2001.

175 Kosters wasn’t alone in his devotion. Many evenings, even after a full day of dealing with IP allocation hassles, Hubbard would login from home, helping out by processing domain name registrations that needed visual inspection. Mitchell became a fan of NSI’s staff, their work ethic, and the company as a whole. He saw a blue collar virtue in the way NSI’s registry portion of the InterNIC was being handled. For him it had become “the Internet’s boiler room.” *** The NSI team inherited immediate responsibility for dealing with a serious but wellunderstood problem: The designers of the Internet protocol had notoriously underestimated demand for IP numbers. In the late 1980s there was growing concern that unused blocks of address space would run out sometime before the middle of the 1990s unless extraordinary measures were taken. The solution took shape as a three-pronged strategy – short, medium, and long term. Two of those strategies had direct implications for Hubbard’s day to day activities at the InterNIC. When the risk of shortage was initially recognized, the logical reaction was to impose tougher discipline on the allocation of any remaining IPv4 blocks. The first task, therefore, was to apply this discipline within the context of the existing class-based system. Around 1990 the operators of the IP registry at SRI ‘s DDN-NIC moved to slow the pace of Class B allocations in favor of the smaller Class C blocks. The guidelines of the allocation policy were spelled out by Elise Gerich, a Merit employee who was a leading member of the IEPG and who eventually joined the IAB. The final version of her guidelines were published as RFC 1466 in May 1993, shortly after the InterNIC began operation.238 Gerich stressed the paradox of the legacy allocation regime. The Class A and Class B spaces were at risk of exhaustion, but the allocations which had been made were clearly underutilized. On the other hand, increasing use of Class C blocks threatened the performance of the routing machinery that the Internet’s discrete networks relied upon to interconnect with each other.

Elise Gerich, “RFC 1366: Guidelines for Management of IP Address Space,”October 1992. RFC 1466, published May 1993, had the same title.

176 The routers were able to generate dynamic records of the quickest path forward to known destinations across the system. The entries were expressed as ranges of IP numbers. The wider the range, or the better aggregated the number of actual destinations within a given size of ranges, the more likely a router could stay up to date. Unfortunately, the growing reliance on Class C blocks led to an explosion of information in the routing tables. Improvements in technology promised to increase the capacity of the tables over time, but not fast enough to keep pace with such granular demand for Class C blocks. These limitations compelled a common interest in the use of densely-populated contiguous blocks. When Gerich set out the rules for restricting the allocations of the remaining space, she tied it to a plan to “forward the implementation” of RFC 1174. In particular, she meant IANA’s authority to designate an IR (Internet Registry) as the “root registry” for the IP number space, and to make subdelegations to regional registries. Such registries were already active in Europe and Asia, but there was no counterpart as yet for the Americas and Africa. Drawing on this presumed authority, Gerich stated clear criteria for future allocations that would be made by those registries. Organizations applying for a Class B block had to have at least 4096 hosts at the time of application; their networks had to include at least 32 existing or planned subnets. Gerich also provided algorithms for allocating Class C blocks, stressing that multiple allocations to single organizations must be arranged as contiguously as possible. Since the InterNIC was designated as the IR, the duty to enforce this newly articulated allocation discipline in the Americas devolved to Kim Hubbard at NSI. From her perspective, things had been fairly lax before she took over the reigns of the IR from SRI. As she put it, “Everybody was getting a Class B [a block of 65,536 IP numbers] whether they had five computers or 5,000.” She was determined to turn the situation around.239 Demand for IP numbers seemed small at the start of Hubbard’s tenure as the end-ofthe-line gatekeeper, coming primarily from the military and an occasional university. But even while NSI was still running the DDN-NIC, she required that applicants answer


Phone interview with Kim Hubbard, February 17, 2003.

177 questions about the size of their planned network, and how those networks would be used. When academic growth began driving the system she added questions about how many students, faculty, and staff would become users. For businesses, she wanted estimates of how many staff and how many customers would be supported. Hubbard was behaving as a gatekeeper might be expected to behave, setting out criteria which could be useful in determining who may or may not be allowed through her gate. This early process of “hurdle-building” was just a taste of what was to come. *** The medium-term solution to the address-scarcity problem required movement toward a new system known as Classless Interdomain Routing (CIDR). Whereas the old system used only the first three bits to designate aggregates, the new approach exploited the full range of binary digits in the 32 bit long IP address. The result was that it would be much easier to scale an allocation of IP addresses to meet an organization’s actual needs. This would permit an even stingier discipline within the allocation regime. Two RFCs describing the new policy were published as companions to the ones written by Gerich.240 The author was Claudio Topolcic, an MIT graduate who had worked for an extended period at BBN prior to joining CNRI and serving as an IESG Area Director. Unlike Gerich, Topolcic did not cite IANA or RFC 1174 as a source of authority. One might argue that he did so indirectly by referring to her RFCs, but his own wording put a distinct spin on the question. Though he mentioned that the new approach had been developed by a “consensus” of the “global Internet community... cooperating closely in such forums as the IETF and its working groups, the IEPG, the NSF Regional Techs Meetings, INET, INTEROP, FNC, FEPG, and other assemblies,” he stressed the leadership of the US government in coordinating the shift.

Claudio Topolcic “RFC 1367: Status of CIDR Deployment in the Internet,” October 1992. RFC 1467, published May 1993, had the same title.


178 Recognizing the need for the mid-term mechanisms and receiving support from the Internet community, the US Federal Agencies proposed procedures to assist the deployment of these mid-term mechanisms.241 No agencies were specified, but this more-than-implicit ratification provided an assurance to the business community that investments in routing technology compatible with CIDR equipment would be likely to pay off. The RFC described implementations of compliant standards (version 4 of the Border Gateway Protocol) naming companies such as 3COM, ANS, BBN, Cisco, and Proteon. *** As an officer of the InterNIC, Hubbard was empowered to act as the duly appointed enforcer of the new CIDR allocation policy for all of North America. She and her staff would have to pay attention not only to how much space was being given out and to whom, but also to the format of the allocation. CIDR’s granularity made it that much more important to ensure that the blocks weren’t configured in ways that would needlessly overburden the Internet’s routing tables. On the other hand, someone designing a company’s local or wide area network (LAN or WAN) might have good reasons to segment it into distinct but relatively underpopulated blocks, presuming enough addresses were available. This created a constant tension between companies asking for allocations that would be optimal for their own purposes, and the need to conserve resources across the Internet as whole. As a rule of thumb, an entity requesting a block of addresses had to show that 25 percent of them were to be used immediately and that 50 percent would be in use by the end of the first year. A policy that seemed reasonable to Hubbard struck others as intrusive and overly confining. Even worse, the imposition of the new restrictions appeared to lock in the competitive advantages of those who had received allocations under the earlier, more liberal regime. As she recalled, It was pretty rough for a long time because if you said no to certain companies, you could basically cost them a lot of money. They had their plan

Claudio Topolcic “RFC 1467: Status of CIDR Deployment in the Internet,” May 1993. The cited text was not included in the companion RFC 1367. See ibid.


179 for numbering their network a certain way and they would come to us and say, “We need address space.” And I’d say, “Well I’ll give you half of that.” They’d have to rework everything... We always gave them as much as they needed, you know, but... network operators wanted more than they really needed because it’s always easier to have more.242 New entrants were up in arms, considering themselves to be the victims of an unfair policy. There were long online discussions with headings like, “CIDR Blocks at Internic Going only to the "big" players??”243 Hubbard was becoming human lightning rod. “You used to get up and give a presentation at IETF or NANOG [the North American Network Operators Group] and when you’re finished, there is a mile long line of people waiting at the mikes ready to attack you.” She drove on, despite the resentment. “I took a lot of grief, believe me. I was considered like the most hated woman on the net..... But I understand it.... That’s just the nature of the beast.” She also took on the arduous task of retrieving unused address space, going back over the distribution of large blocks and approaching the owners to see what could be gleaned from them.244 *** The policies introduced in 1993 were designed to buy time, husbanding the IPv4 address space until the long-term solution was ready... a new, more amply supplied Internet Protocol – IPv6. The capacity to promulgate all three strategies depended on common acceptance of the vague, ambivalent notion that both the Internet community and the US government exercised authority over the allocation of the Internet’s critical resources. No one (other than Tony Rutkowski, perhaps) yet insisted on seeing the statutes that made this so. The conventional wisdom was derived from the vague, ambivalent formulations of RFC 1174, and people had been content to live with that for several years.


Phone interview with Kim Hubbard, February 17, 2003.

See, for example, Sean Doran, “CIDR Blocks at Internic Going only to the ‘big’ players??,” compriv, January 30, 1995,


Phone interview with Kim Hubbard, February 17, 2003.

180 By the close of 1995 those feelings of content were gone. The practice of happy equivocation had worn out and broken down. The atmosphere had grown so contentious, that it seemed as if the whole edifice of trust and collegiality was at risk. Whereas the short and mid-term solutions delivered in 1993 by Gerich and Toplocic perpetuated RFC 1174's ambivalence about the source of authority over the address space, the first announcement of allocation policy for IPv6 drew an unmistakable line in the sand. This time there would be no doubt. IANA would be in charge at the top of the chain. Published in December 1995 as “IPv6 Address Allocation Management,” RFC 1881 named IANA as the primary agent of the public good on the Internet, and the authoritative enforcer of its discipline. The IPv6 address space must be managed for the good of the Internet community. Good management requires at least a small element of central authority over the delegation and allocation of the address space. The Internet community recognizes the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) as the appropriate entity to have the responsibility for the management of the IPv6 address space....245 A terse page and a half in length, RFC 1881 listed only the IAB and the IESG as authors; no individuals or US government agencies were mentioned. Like RFC 1174, RFC 1881 declared IANA’s power to delegate the registry function. This time, however, that power was underscored by reserving the right of recision. If, in the judgement of the IANA, a registry has seriously mishandled the address space delegated to it, the IANA may revoke the delegation, with due notice and with due consideration of the operational implications.246 RFC 1881 was no coy document. It stipulated that IANA would have the power to take an IPv6 registry delegation from one party and redelegate it to another. By appropriating the right of recision, or at least by claiming to do so, the technical community’s old guard was asserting preeminent, exclusive control over the Internet’s future numbering system. This power was justified on the basis that it would be exercised “for the good of the Internet

IAB and IESG, “RFC 1881 IPv6 Address Allocation Management,” December 1995. Ibid.


181 community.” It wasn’t hard to read between the lines. Future versions of name and numbering resources would have to be managed for the good of the community. It had to be stated this way, strongly, because of the unhappy and growing perception that the current version had fallen under the control of selfish parochial interests. There was more. Given that the Cooperative Agreement and Gerich’s RFCs cited IANA’s delegation authority, wouldn’t IANA also have the power to revoke the DNS and IPv4 delegations it made to NSI? No explicit claim was made to that effect in any RFC, but recent events had raised questions about whether IANA possessed that power as well. *** The language of RFC 1881 was stern because the mood of the community was dark. The end of 1995 was a season of intense political rupture and polarization. With the Internet boom clearly underway, the demand for names and numbers was exploding. Any newcomer seeking visibility for a host site depended on accurate representation in the DNS and droves of people were more than eager to pay the ticket of admission. Events had proven that NSI was indeed the Internet’s boiler room, but a deal recently negotiated between NSI and the NSF had turned the boiler room into a mint. As far as the Internet’s old guard was concerned, NSI had engineered a power grab. The old guard’s responsibility to grab back. It was time to determine once and for all who was the captain of the ship.


The Goldrush Begins – 1994

Formal public discussion of whether NSI should begin charging fees for domain name registrations began in 1994. There were good arguments for changing the policy. The pace of growth in new registrations, especially in .com, far exceeded expectations, stretching the small company’s resources. Applications had increased from 300 per month in early 1992 when the Cooperative Agreement came into effect to well over 2000 per month by September 1994. Historic advances in computer technology – both hardware and software – presaged an explosion of commercial registrations. That explosion was triggered by the rise of the World Wide Web – an epochal leap forward in human culture. Credit goes to Tim Berners-Lee, a British-born physicist who

182 created its key elements in 1989 and 1990 while working at the Swiss physics laboratory – CERN. Using a NeXT computer to develop collaborative research tools, Berners-Lee leveraged several parts of the Internet Protocol suite, the DNS, and introduced several innovations of his own, including the hypertext markup language (HTML) and the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).247 Hypertext was one of the most radical dreams brewed at Engelbert’s Augmentation Research Center at SRI.248 Berners-Lee brought it to reality. Hypertext refers to platform-independent documents that contain machine-readable references to other documents – features we now think of as clickable links. Those references could be executed through the use of an address identifier called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Berners-Lee wanted URLs to be simple enough to write on napkins... a favored communication medium among engineers. URLs are inherently hierarchical expressions; domain names are an essential part of the string of characters which constitute the reference. There were Web servers running in Europe by early 1990 and in the United States by 1991. Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, was released in January 1993. After just one year of free distribution Mosaic attracted nearly twenty million users. Expressions like quickly became part of the cultural landscape. When the concept was new and unfamiliar, people who were exchanging URLs with each other carefully spelled them out, one character after the other. Long strings were meticulously pronounced "aych, tee, tee, pee, colon, slash, slash, double-yoo, double-yoo, double-yoo, dot, em, see, eye, dot, en, ee, tee, " and so on, even in speeches and over the radio. People soon caught on, however, and learned to disregard the protocol-identifying prefixes (http://), server names (www), and file-type suffixes (.html) which were nearly

HTML’s immediate predecessors included the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), also known as ISO 8879, and Adobe’s proprietary Portable Document Format (PDF). They provided machineindependent reading and printing capabilities. The hypertext concept was also advanced by Ted Nelson. Both Nelson and Engelbart drew inspiration from Vannever Bush’s article “As W e May Think,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, For more on Engelbart, see Ken Jordan’s interview in “The Click Heard Round the W orld” Wired Magazine. January 2004, 159-61, See also Marcia Conner, “Engelbart’s Revolution,”


183 always the same. That shift in consciousness allowed people to focus on domain names as the kernel of addresses, and to navigate using familiar expressions like “mci dot net.” The “Webification” of domain names, in Mueller’s terms, “was the critical step in the endowment of the name space with economic value.”249 As more people decided they wanted to have a presence on the web rather than just "surf" it, demand for those valuable kernels increased. *** NSI added one new employee in mid-1994 to assist with domain name registrations and another to work on IP addresses. That still wasn’t enough to get ahead of demand. The staff was often working 10 to 12 hour days, or even more, yet they were steadily falling behind in processing requests. As the backlog accumulated, the .com domain was the source and the site of the worst problems. That suffix was proving to be the most desirable of all. Newcomers were more likely to look for rather than, and the principle held for most other business names. The Internet was becoming hugely popular, and NSI, operating under a fixed budget with no other way to raise revenue, was straining as a result. The pressure to keep up with the number of requests for additions and modifications wasn’t the only problem. Disputes were beginning to crop up, raising concerns about NSI ’s legal liability and the related financial risks to the company. Earlier in 1994, a journalist named Josh Quittner prompted a surge of interest in domain names (and in himself) through a New York Times Op-Ed piece titled "The Great Domain Name Goldrush." He taunted the owners of the MacDonald’s Restaurant chain for neglecting to register Quittner had registered the name to dramatize the point, and then publicly invited company representatives to contact him at to talk things over. The episode was resolved more or less politely when Quittner transferred the name to the corporation in exchange for a $10,000 charitable

Mueller (2002: 107-14, particularly 109). W ire d M agazine O c tobe r 1994,

Jo shua Q uittne r, “B illio ns R eg istere d ,”


184 donation to an elementary school. But the incident served to put businesses on notice that domain names had value, and that it would be wise to secure that value as soon as possible. The immediate effect of his article was dramatic: the pace of registrations quadrupled to 8,000 names per month.251 Many of the companies that registered names under .com requested registrations in .net as well, hoping to cover all the bases. Many attorney and corporate officers contacted Williamson directly, requesting legal clarification of NSI’s domain name registration policy. His regular answer was “first come/first served, no duplicates” – a position accepted as an honored doctrine in the technical community, but not very satisfying elsewhere.252 Its simplicity offered no comfort to owners of famous coined names like “Xerox” or “Kodak” who felt that they possessed some prior standing in “meatspace” which should be automatically honored in cyberspace. That same summer, Williamson was notified of a dispute over the name An Illinois-based computer consulting company had acquired a trademark on the word KnoweldgeNet in January. A Delaware-based research consultant registered the name via a Massachusetts-based ISP in March.253 The implication was that if NSI didn’t transfer rights to the domain to the trademark owner, the company would be named in a lawsuit. With NSI’s budget already taxed so thin, this was a dreaded prospect. There was no existing case law or other sort of legal precedent available, and NSI’s attorney at the time was not a specialist in trademark matters. He based his defense on jurisdictional issues. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the legal fees would come out of NSI’s budget, or whether the NSF would subsidize the expense.

Richard Sexton, “Talk given June 20, 1997 at a CAIP/Industry Canada DNS workshop in Ottawa,“ The policy also specified that registrants could request more than one name, but there would also have to be at least one server set up to host any name registered. See Electronic Frontier Foundation,”’Legal Cases - Knowledgenet v. NSI (InterNIC), Boone, et al.’ Archive,”
253 252


185 The costs of running the InterNIC registry were rising across the board. A great deal of human processing was needed to ensure that applicants were properly qualified to register names in the educational, commercial, organizational, and network top level domains. It might take as little as four or five minutes or so to process a new name, which meant that one employee might be able to process about 100 names on a good day. But it only took one or two complicated transactions to clog up the queue. Modifications had to be expedited as well, and these also took time. *** 1994 had also been a busy year for the addition of new country codes, a rather involved process on Postel’s end. He would verify the responsiveness of the applicant’s machinery before directing Kosters to add the proper entries to the root zone. Moreover, the coordination with overseas network operators could be complicated by everything from expensive phone service, language barriers, and time zone differences. The ISO 3166-1 list included more than 250 eligible country codes. Nearly half had been entered by 1994... most of those since 1992. Each addition to the root was like a new Atlantis rising up within the online sea. In the early years of the DNS, far more often than not, country codes were added for relatively developed parts of the world, and the delegations often went to individuals who were familiar in the engineering community, perhaps because of educational ties or conference attendance. The later additions tended to be countries where Internet connectivity was generally unreliable, if not unavailable. In such cases, the country code domains were configured to use host proxies sited outside the national borders of the corresponding nation. Moreover, the country code community as a whole had become too large to buttress the formal delegation process with resort to collegial and informal ties. Growth in the TLD space exposed a number of problems that needed carefully prescribed solutions: determining who was a legitimate contact for a country; settling contended claims to the same country code, creating fair procedures for revoking a badly-managed domain delegation, and; handling transfers between successive managers.

186 DNS issues were heating up, but there hadn’t been a comprehensive effort to update TLD policies since RFC 920, ten years before. It was an opportune time for Postel to clarify the rules governing country codes and to flesh out other matters. The instrument for this restatement was RFC 1591, “Domain Name System Structure and Delegation.” Among the most famous RFCs of them all, it was ultimately lauded as one of Postel’s “masterpieces.”254 If there was any single guiding doctrine to the memo, it could be called Postel’s “delegation motif.” Postel generally liked any approach that promised to fix a problem by delegating responsibility to someone who had the most immediate interest in creating a solution that worked. Beside sketching out some very basic technical requirements about operating a domain, he stressed that TLD managers should treat all requests for names in “nondiscriminatory fashion,” showing no preferences between academic, business or other kinds of users, and no bias toward different kinds of data networks, mail systems, protocols, or products. (Nevertheless, like many in the IETF old guard, Postel believed academics and businesses were more likely to serve the interests of the community than governments or the government-sanctioned phone monopolies known as PTTs.) In the text, Postel reasserted IANA’s standing as the “overall authority for the IP Addresses, the Domain Names, and many other parameters, used in the Internet.”255 As usual, nothing was said about how this power was established. Later on in the document, however, Postel made a remarkable statement about the duties and responsibilities of TLD managers (actually, of all domain name registrants, since “the requirements in this memo are applied recursively”). It provided a telling insight into how he justified his own position as the Internet’s ultimate gatekeeper. These designated authorities are trustees for the delegated domain, and have a duty to serve the community. The designated manager is the trustee of the top-level domain for both the nation, in the case of a country code, and the global Internet community. Concerns about "rights" and "ownership" of
John Klensin, “RFC 3071: Reflections on the DNS and RFC 1591,” February 2000. In RFC 1591, Postel cited Klensin as a key contributor.
255 254

Jon Postel, “RFC 1591 Domain Name Structure and Delegation,” March 1994.

187 domains are inappropriate. It is appropriate to be concerned about "responsibilities" and "service" to the community.256 In asserting what was “appropriate,” Postel was making his own loyalties plain. Primary allegiance belonged to “the global Internet community” rather than a particular national community. He wanted the country code managers – all of whom he had designated – to join him in fulfilling that allegiance. Of course, there was no guarantee that they would do so. A manager’s personal loyalties might be innately local, and nothing could change that. Once he or she had proved technical and operational competence, no oath of fealty was required. An even if a manager’s preferences were the same as Postel’s, if forced to choose between the interests of “the Internet” and the state someday, he or she might bend in the face of a government’s coercive powers (as would Postel, eventually). But Postel had now explicitly stated that any gatekeeping powers within the global root – even his – depended on subordination within a higher frame of legitimacy. If Postel’s ultimate responsibility was to the Internet community, so was their’s. How then, as the legitimate administrator superior authority, should he exercise power when things were not proceeding smoothly? Postel recognized that, by asserting jurisdiction over the TLD space on behalf of “the community,” he also needed to create a formal dispute resolution system capable of adjudicating any complaints sent his way. He named one: “The Internet DNS Names Review Board (IDNB), a committee established by the IANA, will act as a review panel for cases in which the parties can not reach agreement among themselves. The IDNB's decisions will be binding.”257 Yet no such committee was ever created. Allowing this loose end to persist was a momentous error. If Postel ever hoped to establish a degree of formal authority over the Internet’s core resources beyond the webs of personal fealty he had accumulated during the rise of the DNS, he needed stronger evidence of his right to say, “The buck stops here.” Being a great role model was not enough. Creating a review panel like the IDNB would have been a costly

Ibid. Ibid.


188 effort up front. It would have required taking on far more responsibility (with its associated troubles and risks). But doing so then, when Postel and his colleagues still had great freedom to pursue their own initiatives, would almost certainly have helped their cause later on. Given the diverse and ultimately vague sources of Postel’s authority at that time (Mueller called it “amorphous”), if Postel had actually followed through and constituted a subordinate agent of IANA as the final arbiter in a dispute resolution chain, he would have augmented IANA’s standing with a new manifestation of formalism. After all, since IANA’s authority over core resources like the root was not delegated by a superior body (sketchy “charters” from the IAB notwithstanding), that authority must necessarily have flowed from the bottom up. Certainly, that is how Postel and his colleagues preferred to see things. Therefore, any claim that he represented the interests of the global Internet community would have been more firmly grounded if he could prove he served at the pleasure of that community. RFC 1591's clarification of root policy provided an opportunity. The relative standing of a ruler depends on signs of consent by the ruled. In some communities a superior’s power is ratified by resort to plebiscites, oaths, or the kissing of rings. On the Internet, up till then, it was essentially a matter of saluting. In practical terms, this involved pointing one’s DNS resolvers to IANA’s root constellation, accepting simple commands, following the RFCs, accepting protocol assignments, etc. Creating formal procedures to handle specific types of disputes would have gone a step further. This would have been tantamount to establishing a jurisdiction within which parties may come forward to plead their case and ask for justice... a much more sophisticated demonstration of consent. Creating a court-like body which gave Postel the chance to play Solomon before flesh and blood members of the Internet community would have counted for a lot. Social institutions with good dispute resolution mechanisms scale better over time than those without. At the time RFC 1591 was published Postel’s standing in the Internet community was so high it would have been relatively easy for him to create an IDNB review panel by fiat. That he did not do so can be attributed (speculatively) to three factors. First, he was already overburdened with work. No one pressed him to create the panel; more immediate demands got his attention. In other words, he simply dropped the ball.

189 Second, even though creating a formal dispute resolution mechanism offered real political benefits, it seemed to contradict Postel’s traditional preference for solutions favoring the delegation of authority. According to that principle, which could be called the “delegation motif,” trustees of the system would presumably do the right thing because they had an inherent interest in getting the right thing done. The implication of establishing and delegating a domain, therefore, is that the managers who receive the delegation be able to function effectively without intervention or oversight.258 But this model of virtuous selfgovernance was inherently at odds with the notion of a quasi-legal backstop like an IDNB. Though the technical design of the DNS was a top down hierarchy, its social structure most certainly was not. Domain managers were granted full autonomy. Collaboration with IANA was voluntary. That is why Postel felt obliged to exhort the managers to follow his own model and consider themselves responsible to the served public. Taking that next step... imposing a layer of gatekeepers on a world where reliance on guiding principles had always been considered good enough... would have seemed superfluous to some and dangerous to others. The managers of modern nation states have a similar problem, except that maintaining a hierarchically organized technical system does not rank as a top priority. Establishing the rule of law is a tricky business. Third, and in keeping with the delegation motif, the person whose interests would have been best served by the creation of an IDNB would have been Postel himself... the incumbent benevolent dictator/gatekeeper of the DNS. For the time being he just kept handling dispute resolution matters alone. The IDNB was effectively a committee of one. The system Postel set up for managing the .us country code reflected his faith in the delegation motif. The goal was a rich, proliferate, broadly filled-out namespace matched to US political geography. It had a two letter, second level domain for each of the states and the District of Columbia. Cities were under states at the third level, and registrants at the fourth, resulting in the possibility of names like There was also parallel scheme of subcategories below the second level for schools, colleges, libraries, and government


This wording draws from John Klensin’s reflections in RFC 3071, Section 2.

190 agencies. The heart of the approach was the belief that responsible agents across the country would step forward and provide registration services for their subordinate communities, in harmony with Postel’s taxonomy. In fact, it didn’t work out that way. Local agents were often hard to find or unreliable. Registration in .com, using NSI’s centralized and better managed system, was far more convenient. *** As the opportunity to create a names review board slipped by, so did an early chance to head off the crisis in .com. Recall that, in RFC 920, Postel did not describe the purposes of the generic top level domains. In 1591 he did. He was well aware of the growing backlog at NSI, and of the widespread the fears that the .com domain was on the verge of becoming a morass. The new description of that category provided an insight into his views about how to deal with its problems. This domain is intended for commercial entities, that is companies. This domain has grown very large and there is concern about the administrative load and system performance if the current growth pattern is continued. Consideration is being taken to subdivide the COM domain and only allow future commercial registrations in the subdomains.259 In keeping with his delegation motif, Postel apparently thought that dividing .com into some industry-delimited subcategories might inspire corresponding groups to collaborate in establishing subdomain registries for their own purposes. It was a reasonable idea, but – like the IDNB – Postel let it slide. For the short term, the easier approach would be to let the NSF throw a little more money at the problem so that the workers at NSI could keep their heads above water. *** During the InterNIC’s second year of operation, the NSF contributed about a million dollars for NSI’s portion. Covering a third year of NSI’s costs would require at least twice that amount, even without any litigation headaches. After that, if trends held, massive infusions of capital would be necessary. The NSF had two obvious options: Either find extra


RFC 1591, Section 2.

191 funds within the government, or amend the Cooperative Agreement in a way that would support NSI’s operations by charging fees for domain name registrations. The second was obviously more attractive. Clearly, at some point in the future NSF would be expected to drop its support obligations altogether. By now, the lion’s share of subsidized registrations were for commercial entities that could easily afford to pay a small fee. The Internet’s backbone was already well on its way to privatization, why not the registry? As of 1994, other than the soon-to-be-spun-off NSFNET, only a few elements of the Internet remained dependant on federal sponsorship: Most notable were funding for: 1) the IETF meetings; 2) Postel’s IANA and RFC Editor functions, and; 3) the InterNIC. The momentum toward privatization seemed inevitable across the board, but especially for the registry, which had resources to trade. A self-supporting registry might still require oversight, just as CCIRN, the FEPG, and the IEPG were providing oversight for the routing system. ISOC seemed like a reasonable candidate to fill that role.


IEEE Workshop – September 1994

With the summer drawing to a close, Stephen Wolff and Don Mitchell arranged for a day long workshop to focus on registrations in the .com domain.260 It was held in the Washington offices of the IEEE on September 30, 1994. IEEE was asked to assist because the organization had accumulated experience in allocating unique address ranges to manufacturers of Ethernet compliant devices (such as those now used in most personal computers). There were only about a dozen participants, including Wolff, Mitchell, Williamson, and Rutkowski, who was still Executive Director of the Internet Society. Other government participants included Robert Aiken from the Department of Energy, and Arthur Purcell from the Patent and Trademark office. The IEEE had two members present. Another attendee was associated with the North American Numbering Plan... the organization that manages the allocation of area codes for

IEEE-USA, “Meeting Summary Report: The National Science Foundation W orkshop on Name Registration for the “.COM” Domain,” September 30, 1994. Archived at dnsocomments/comments-gtlds/Arc00/msg00005.html.


192 the telephone system and collects fees for telephone network access charges on behalf of the U.S. and Canadian governments. Two major personalities from the Internet engineering community were there. One was Paul Mockapetris, who was still working at ISI and was then Chair of the IETF. The other was David Sincoskie, an employee of Bellcore who was a member of the IAB. Postel did not attend, but sent an email asking that the group “focus on the provision of responsible and responsive management for the .com domain.” He also asked that the discussion be broadened to consider the .net and .org domains. During his introduction Mitchell made a remarkable assertion, “NSF views itself as supporting the Internet registration activity for the U.S. Research and Education community rather than carrying out any inherently governmental function.” He stressed that the NSF had only inherited responsibility for the registry after the DOD withdrew its support. He added that the authority over the domain registry belonged all along to Postel, who had delegated it to Williamson, and who had in turn passed it on to Kosters. After a comprehensive presentation by Williamson about the precarious situation at NSI, there was a fairly wide ranging discussion among the participants about what kind of reform options might be considered. Some liked the prospect of terminating .com altogether and starting over fresh with a new TLD. The group was able settle on a short list of consensus points. These included recommendations that NSI should enlist “the best legal help” to re-draft the domain name registration agreement. They also recommended that the first come/first served registration policy be retained, but many more details of the agreement between the registry and the registrant needed to be spelled out. Those elements were to include relevant definitions, expectations, and binding obligations. Despite Mitchell’s affirmation of Postel’s authority, the group wanted that issue clarified. In addition, they wanted clarification of whether a registration conveyed a property right. They also recommended instituting a new policy to limit the number of names that could be assigned to single registrant over a certain period of time. They concluded that there was “probably no need” for continuing U.S. government’s subsidy of .com.

193 During the day’s discussion, more than one reference had been made to the huge revenue-generating potential of registration fees. There was no ignoring the fact that registrations were increasingly being regarded as valuable property. A registry that charged fees might be able to earn “up to a billion dollars” over the next ten years. Should the government simply hand this away? If so, to whom? Control over the revenue, someone noted, “could keep a non-profit entity afloat or create a bonanza for a for profit entity.”261 In fact, there had been some thought beforehand that, in due course, a revenueearning registry could be used to support ISOC activities. Down the line, a steady income stream would enable ISOC to take over responsibility for funding the IETF and IANA activities. One participant who did not wish to be named recounted, I think we all went in there with the expectation that there would be an amicable agreement. Gravitating this thing over to the ISOC with Network Solutions remaining the operator would be a reasonable outcome. To achieve such an outcome, the oversight issue would have to be, in that observer’s words, “gently handled.” Rutkowski, however, wanted to proceed as soon as possible with his grand plan to create a business-focused Internet industry association – the vaunted antiITU. “Tony came into the meeting so obviously grasping that he pissed off everybody in the room,” recalled the anonymous participant. Rutkowski created the impression that he wanted to become “emperor of the world.” I would not be surprised if his demeanor at that meeting was significant in causing him to lose his job as President [sic] of the Internet Society, because he effectively managed to alienate pretty much everybody in the room with the assumption that he was going to be the heir apparent of registration. *** Mockapetris and Sincoskie reported back to the IAB in October, two weeks after the IEEE workshop. “NSF is getting tired of paying” for .com registrations, they stressed, implying unmistakably that big changes were needed. After bouncing around the usual unresolved questions, such as the problem of trademark law, and the issue of “who owns the



194 namespace,” the group decided to pass the issue on to Postel (absent from the meeting), requesting that “IANA study this problem and suggest solutions.”262


InterNIC Interim Review – November 1994

The issue of fees was on the table again in November. The NSF convened an InterNIC Interim Review Committee, to prepare a midterm evaluation on the performance of the three companies in the InterNIC. The panel, which met in Washington, D.C., was chaired by Michael Schwartz, a computer scientist at the University of Colorado. Rutkowski was the only non-NSF holdover from the IEEE meeting in September. The rest were from academia and private industry. The occasion of the review seemed to present the NSF with its best opportunity yet to get out of the domain name registration business altogether. What alternative was there? Given the difficulty of raising new funds, the prospect of increasing the award to NSI was highly unlikely. The obvious task was to begin thinking about the transition to privatization. Yet the group was preoccupied by another matter altogether. The only non-US member of the review committee was Kilnam Chong, a Korean who had been a former classmate of Postel’s at UCLA and who was back in the US that year as a visiting professor at Stanford University. Chong, like many overseas pioneers of the Internet, had worked with TCP/IP networks while getting educated in the US, and went on to promote the technology after returning home. He recalled that the group spent most of its time dealing with the woefully poor quality of work delivered by General Atomics. NSI’s problems were treated as a “minor issue.” The introduction of fees was on the agenda, of course, but there was no debate about that because the need to do so was considered “obvious.”263 The final report of the Review Committee devoted twice as much space to the review of GA’s performance as NSI’s. It lauded some GA staff members, especially Sue Calcari, but
IAB, “M inutes for October 13 1994 IAB Meeting,”
263 262

Personal interview with Kilnam Chong.

195 criticized the company’s management as bland and uninformed. Over the previous two years there was an unusually high turnover at the head of the “help desk” position. Estrada had left the company early on, and little had actually been achieved on the main project since then. Calcari found a way to avoid the tumult at GA’s corporate offices, however, and had gotten her InfoScout project up and rolling as a distinct entity. It was a cheerful guide to new and interesting sites on the Internet. GA’s failure to create viable outreach and help desk services only worsened NSI’s problems. Its InterNIC staff was getting barraged with incessant “What is the Internet?” questions from the public, further undercutting their ability to focus on operational work. In the brief section devoted to its evaluation of NSI, the panel suggested that the company begin charging for .com immediately and for the other TLDs later. No prices were mentioned, but the reviewers expressed concern that announcing the new policy prematurely could spark a rush on domain names by people seeking to “get them while they are free.” The panel members also recommended that NSI charge for all IP registration services. The panelists felt that NSI was performing a critical registry operation which had to be sustained, and that the firm was doing that part of the job quite well under the circumstances. There was a rumor going around that several NSI staff members were under such severe job-related stress that some of them had required psychiatric care. This rumor is not backed up by any evidence, but there is also no doubt that the members of NSI’s staff were laboring under more pressure each month to keep things running. Hubbard has one particularly clear recollection about that period, “We worked our fingers to the bone! We worked our tails off!” For Williamson, much of the era is now “a blur,” accompanied by the memory of his ruined marriage, sacrificed on the alter of keeping the Internet running. Kosters put things stoically, “We had to get the job done, so we did it. We all felt like it was a mission.” NSI’s staff had to deal with such rapid growth over such a long period of time that it was if they were always ramping up, climbing another learning curve. There was a time when Williamson was sure demand would plane out at around a few thousand names a month. He even predicted it to a journalist, but he had to eat his words. The day never came. Things never seemed to reach an efficiency plateau that would allow

196 them to consolidate their gains and catch their breath. Instead, they had to keep climbing. Sisyphus never had it so bad. The department was managing its costs reasonably well under the circumstances, but that wasn’t enough to help the company as whole. From a performance standpoint, Mitchell was impressed. The job was getting done despite punishing conditions. “There was no problem with NSI, except NSI might go bankrupt.”264 In his presentation to the committee, Williamson stressed that the greatest threat facing NSI was the financial burden of dealing with expected litigation. Mounting a defense in the KnowledgeNet suit alone was expected to cost about $100,000. The panelists were sympathetic. Accordingly, they reported that they were “disturbed to hear that the NSF and /or the U.S. government does not provide a legal umbrella under which NSI can manage the Internet domain name space.”265 In fact, Mitchell – as eager to support NSI as anyone – had already tried to get the NSF to help out with attorney costs, but was overruled. The panelists nevertheless urged the NSF to “support NSI on the legal and policy-related issues” stemming from this dilemma, and to help “place the operation of the domain name system into a framework that provides suitable legal protection.”266 No specific recommendations were given as to how to proceed. Though the money would be hard to find, the review committee had the authority to recommend that NSF increase its grant to NSI. This was deemed inappropriate, however, because the bulk of the registrations processed by NSI had by now shifted decisively from .edu to .com. The NSF’s proper role as an agency was to sponsor educational projects, not commercial ventures. By the same logic, there was no compelling reason for the NSF to go out of its way to expose the government’s deep pockets to the prospect of domain name litigation.


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003

Michael F. Schwartz, “InterNIC Midterm Evaluation and Recommendations: A Panel Report to the National Science Foundation,” December 1994, 21. Several archival copies are available online, including



197 Just as the officials in the Department of Defense began handing off responsibility to the NSF in 1985 after internetworking research started to thrive in American universities, the new overseers could see it would ultimately outgrow the nest provided by NSF. Yet another of the Internet’s enabling harnesses had become an overly constraining fetter.


Exit GA – January 1995

Coincidentally, NSI was named as a co-defendant in the KnowledgeNet case only a few days after the Interim Review panel wrapped up its meetings.267 As expected, no help was forthcoming from the NSF. (The matter was later settled out of court, and the domain name went to the trademark holder.) There had been every reason to expect that there would be quick movement toward developing a policy for instituting fees, but the matter languished through the early months of 1995. George Strawn, the program officer, was back at Iowa State, on an Intergovernmental Personnel Appointment, which meant he retained only nominal part-time status at the NSF. Steve Wolff, the Division Director, had left for a position at Cisco. Jane Caviness, the acting Director, was initially concerned with working out what to do with General Atomics. GA was given a final opportunity to defend itself at a meeting held shortly before the Interim Review was finished. The company’s case was made by Kent England, a former BBN employee who was the most recent individual heading GA’s part of the InterNIC. The presentation satisfied Mitchell, until England closed by announcing he would be quitting the company. It was left up to Karsten Blue, the son of GA’s owner, to follow with a creditable affirmation of England’s roadmap, but he failed. On January 21st 1995, Mitchell notified GA of the decision not to renew the contract for its part of the InterNIC. In a huff, GA fired Calcari. Coincidentally, 39 year old had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Calcari called Mitchell who immediately took two actions. The first was to arrange for Caviness to terminate the entire GA project effective February 28th. This move cut off the substantial funds the company would have received if


Rony and Rony (1998: 142).

198 the contract had been allowed to expire naturally on March 31st. His second move was to call Dave Graves, head of Business Affairs at NSI. Graves agreed to take over funding of the Info Scout immediately. That move preserved Calcari’s job and her health insurance. The Info Scout archives from the mid 1990s are still available online. There’s an interruption in the series from February 1995 to the end of April when publication resumed with a lighthearted apology. ...A month or two ago the Info Scout took a bad turn on the trail, and was ambushed by outlaws with some bad medicine they were feeding to unsuspecting Scouts. This required the Scout to set up camp and stay put until the bad medicine was overcome by the good medicine of health treatments, rest, and good friends and family. The Scout is back in the saddle now and plans are to return to sending weekly reports from the frontier...268 Calcari took the Info Scout project to the University of Wisconsin (Larry Landweber’s base) and resumed work there. The project survived her, and continued to highlight the best of the web. Her contribution was memorialized on a web page bordered by pink ribbons. After this experience, Mitchell admitted developing a “certain loyalty” to NSI. “When the rubber hit the road... a simple phone call, ‘Hey can you give us a hand...’ and it was done.” It wasn’t long before Mitchell would find himself in position to return the favor.


Enter SAIC – February 1995

In early 1995, NSI’s owners were approached by Don Telage, representing the San Diego-based defense contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). Telage wanted to know if the company was for sale. A $6 million deal began to take shape. When Williamson found out, he resented not being offered a piece of it. He felt he had played a key part in building the registry into a valuable asset. And he had pulled it off even though the company’s officers had left him understaffed. Nor had they provided him with the high level legal support that he obviously needed. Still, he was considered to be the

Susan Calcari, “The Scout Report – April 28, 1995,”


199 person at NSI who had the best personal relationship with Don Mitchell, so it was left up to him to introduce Telage to the NSF to get a sense of whether the sale would be allowed to go through. Telage was interested in more than just NSI. The NSFNET was finally being decommissioned that spring, bringing closure to the long effort to establish a privatized Internet backbone. He was shopping around for appealing high-tech investments with a promising future, and was curious about any other ventures Mitchell might recommend. Mitchell made it clear that he envisioned no problem with the sale of NSI to SAIC. “Our only concern is performance,” he told Telage. There was no reason to block the sale of one private company to another private company, providing the resulting entity continued to demonstrate “adequate capacity character and credit.” In fact, Mitchell was overjoyed. “To us, SAIC is a Godsend.” Strawn called SAIC the “hero” whose investments would “keep the Internet from melting down.”269 There was some disappointing news for Mitchell that day. Williamson had decided to leave NSI for another job. Mitchell valued “producers” and admired Williamson as a “superstar” who had made a huge personal sacrifice to engineer the two DDN-NIC transitions. Without Williamson around, it was going to be that much harder to work out the details of a transition to a fee-based registry before April 1st, the renewal anniversary of the Cooperative Agreement. Further complicating matters was the fact NSI’s original owners were going be tied up while they arranged the sale of their company. And the new owners were likely to spend more time imposing various management changes once they took over. Also, the acting Director, Jane Caviness, thought it would be better to hold off on making such a significant policy change until a new full time Division Director was appointed. Consequently, Mitchell arranged to have the Cooperative Agreement renewed for only six months. That decision

Curiously, George Strawn’s recounting of events differs significantly from Mitchell’s. Strawn held that SAIC knew nothing of the Internet Registry and was purchasing NSI because of its interest in other assets. Phone interview with George Strawn June 18, 2002, Phone interviews with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003.


200 imposed a September 30, 1995 deadline for finishing the arrangements that would allow charging to begin. On March 10th, with no hearings or competitive bidding, and barely a background check, NSI was purchased for about $6 million in cash and equity. NSI’s primary owner, Emmit McHenry, was paid $850,000 as part of a non-competition agreement intended to keep him out of the registry business. He was allowed to use some of his equity to launch a data services spinoff called Netcom Solutions. By that time NSI’s cash flow situation was extremely precarious. Infusions from SAIC helped the company limp along for the next few months, averting collapse and shoring up morale among the besieged technical staff. *** Rather than prompting celebrations about the likelihood of NSI’s survival, this turn of events raised the suspicions of conspiracy theorists across the Internet. SAIC’s Board of Directors included several individuals who had previously held leadership positions in various U.S. intelligence and military services. Most press reports included a cliché about SAIC’s board roster being a Who’s Who of the American military industrial complex.270 Combined with the names of retired members, there was a former head of the National Security Agency (Bobby Inman), two Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (Robert Gates and John Deutch) and two Secretaries of Defense (Melvin Laird and William Perry). The Pentagon was represented by the commander of the Panama invasion (General Max Thurman). Michael A. Daniels, SAIC’s CEO, had been a White House advisor for the National Security Council. To cap things off, read backwards, SAIC spelled “CIA’s”. Anyone with a passing concern about privacy had reason to wonder why a company run by retired “spooks” wanted control of a contact information database containing every domain name owner on the Internet. And there were other things to worry about. SAIC would now be able to exercise physical control over the root, and over the lion’s share of the IP registry.

Jesse Hirsh, “The Internet Complex,” See also Stephen Pizzo, “Domain Name Fees Benefit Defense Contractor,”

201 l. Top Level Domains: Who Owns Them? – March 1995

About the same time Telage was negotiating SAIC’s purchase of NSI, public scrutiny of IANA’s uncertain and precarious legal status became much more intense. That shift was triggered by circulation of an inadvertently provocative comment by Tomaz Kalin, one of ISOC’s founding trustees. A Slovenian with a Ph.D. in Physics, Kalin had been involved in international networking since the early 1970s, eventually becoming Secretary General of the European Association of Research Networks (RARE). He had become concerned about the plight of A. K. Ahmad, a Jordanian national who was engaged in a dispute with the operators of the Jordanian country code, .jo. Ahmad had announced that he was considering legal action against the InterNIC. (Ahmad probably meant NSI, but like many people, he wasn’t clear about the distinction.) He was prepared to sue others, if necessary, but was worried about the ramifications. “I am very cautious towards disrupting my relations with IANA and Mr. Postel over there since on the long term we have to maintain good relations with him.” Kalin passed Ahmad’s note on to a colleague with the comment, “This is obviously one of the problems with the first-come-first-serve management style... I think that ISOC will have to take a good look at this issue.”271 Pieces of the original note and a chain of followup comments were eventually posted on the main IETF mailing list by Robert J. Aiken, an official at the US Department of Energy. Aiken provided oversight and support for several advanced networking projects, including the High Performance Computing and Communications initiative, the product of 1991 legislation sponsored by then Senator Al Gore. The “High Performance Computing” label was applied to work performed in numerous agencies and research sites at that time, including Postel’s division at ISI. Like everyone else on the IETF list, Aiken spoke as an individual, though it was well understood that he was high enough in the U.S. government hierarchy to be the equivalent of an 800 pound gorilla. Aiken kicked off the discussion thread by titling it with a pointed, rhetorical question, “Re: toplevel domain names - inquiring minds want to know - who owns them?????????”

Robert J. Aiken, “Re: toplevel domain names - inquiring minds want to know - who owns them?????????”, IETF March 17, 1995,

We have danced around the issue that I am about to bring up for many years now with no clear answer - so I would like a straightforward answer from the ISOC. Is ISOC claiming that it has jurisdiction and overall responsibility for the top level address and name space - as some [such as Kalin] believe it does? If yes - how did ISOC obtain this "responsibility", - if NO then 272 who does own it?

The ambiguity that Cerf had inscribed into RFC 1174 was now having a confounding effect. Was IANA assigning parameter values on behalf of the US government, or on behalf of the Internet community? If the latter, how had ISOC inherited such powers? By what rights could ISOC incarnate that community and legitimately represent its interests? Dancing around the issue had been easy in 1992 and 1993 when there wasn’t much at stake. But the web had begun to emerge in 1994, and the Internet boom was now underway with no end in sight. Questions that had been broached without definitive answer during earlier discussions about instituting fees in .com could not be put off much longer. Looking up the chain of gatekeepers from .jo, Ahmad he could see that the InterNIC had physical control of the root database, but that the IANA had some sort of authority over the InterNIC. The reaction of ISOC’s trustee, Kalin, was driven by the assumption that ISOC stood over IANA in that chain of authority. Aiken’s “Inquiring Minds” response on the IETF list boiled down to a protest against what he suspected was a move by ISOC to take control of the Internet’s most important resources. Cerf responded privately to Aiken, and forwarded copies to Postel and Rutkowski. His reply laid out a history of “the IANA function”that acknowledged its early dependence on support from the US government. His main point was an insistence that the circumstances had changed in the 1990s.
[T]the Internet had outgrown its original scope and become an international phenomenon. The NIC functions were being replicated in Europe and more recently the Pacific rim – costs being borne by means and resources beyond the US Government. Today, RFC1174



describes the policy (this was endorsed by the IAB and, if I am 273 not mistaken, the FNC).

Cerf believed RFC 1174 provided the legitimating vehicle for ISOC’s bid to control the root. The evidence is not so clear cut. There is no record that the FNC or any US government agency ever issued an explicit endorsement of RFC 1174. Still, Cerf’s claim had some weight. Arguably, NSF’s incorporation of RFC 1174 in the Cooperative Agreement tacitly ratified IANA’s authority to perform such delegations. IANA’s presumed authority was further ratified by Gerich’s RFCs regarding control of the IP space and Postel’s declarations in RFC 1591. Even Mitchell’s strong support of IANA’s status at the IEEE workshop added weight. His pronouncements had been questioned during the meeting, but left standing. Given the inherent ambiguity written into RFC 1174, combined with the record of Cerf’s leadership in creating ISOC, Cerf exposed himself to the criticism that both endeavors were undertaken as part of a coordinated, long-term plan. By reinforcing IANA as an operational function with de facto responsibility for making critical allocations, while de jure responsibility remained vague, ISOC had time to rise and take shape as an entity capable of taking on legal responsibility at an expressly global level. In other words, critics could argue that the need for something like a technically competent group of overseers who were independent of US government control was manufactured by the gaps and ambiguities in RFC 1174, and that the convenient appearance of ISOC as the Internet’s rescuer was not at all accidental, but a preconceived outcome.274 At the time, however, no one would make such a harsh attack, and certainly not in public. Cerf’s project continued to advance. By embedding claims of IANA’s authority

Vint Cerf, “IANA Authority,” March 17, 1995, cited at Mar/cerfdeal.html This argument is inserted here without attribution to give voice to the strong concerns of Cerf’s later critics. My personal view is not so conspiratorial, following the aphorism, “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.” Even if ISOC seemed well positioned to fill a vacuum of leadership for managing the Internet’s resources, there was nothing preventing other agents within the US, the IETF, or the International community from rising to the opportunity.


204 within documents that the community generally regarded as sanctioned instruments, IANA’s claim to authority inherited a presumption of community sanction. Those instruments are speech acts which served to ratify a particular state of social reality. In simpler terms, lots of important people were “blessing” IANA, and those blessings counted for something. (For more about the social implications of speech acts, see Appendix 2). *** Cerf’s answer to Aiken repeatedly stressed the declining share of the US governmentoperated systems in the overall consumption of Internet services. Due to the rapid relative growth of private sector involvement, “the scope of the address and domain assignments has now changed significantly” Moreover, he wrote, “about 50% of all the nets of the Internet are outside of the US.”275 He offered a deal. “Rather than looking for historical precedent as a means of making a ‘determination’ as to jurisdiction,” it would be better to “make some deliberate agreements now among the interested parties.” He suggested, “the NICs, the IANA, the various US Gov’t research agencies and ISOC.” “My bias,” he wrote, “is to try to treat all of this as a global matter and to settle the responsibility on the Internet Society as a non-governmental agent serving the community.” (My emphasis, but note that Cerf’s critics point to this message as evidence of his long-term plans for a deal coming to fruition.276) An underlying thread in Cerf’s response concerned strategies for reducing the burden borne by the US government. Perhaps the various registry functions handled by the IANA and the InterNIC could be delegated to private, not-for-profit agents who could operate without federal subsidies. Cerf pointed out that the NSF committee overseeing the fulfillment of the Cooperative Agreement already suggested that “the .COM and .ORG domains ought to be handled on a self-supporting basis either by the InterNIC or by some party other than the US Government.”


See again, Richard Sexton’s citation at Ibid.


205 The responses from Aiken and others like Sean Doran (who coined the derisive “It Seeks Overall Control” slogan) indicated the degree of open suspicion about how ISOC’s board members were eyeing the potentially valuable name and number space. But even more list members expressed suspicions of the US government’s own predatory designs. Aiken received a sharp public rejoinder from Rick Adams, founder of UUNET, and an ally of Rutkowski on ISOC’s business-oriented Advisory Committee.

ISOC has the same rational for jurisdiction that InterNic, ARPA, DoE, NASA, FRICC, FNC, CCIRN, etc have --- NONE. As long as they aren't stupid about it, and are doing an acceptable job, they can think whatever they want - no one really cares (except for those trying to get government funding) As soon as they become obstructionist (I'm particularly thinking of the InterNic here), they will be ignored by most service providers, who will move on to some other mechanism that gets the job done. The internet is a cooperative entity, no one has absolute rights over it. Similarly, no one has sufficient power to claim 277 jurisdiction.

In a followup, Adams charged the that US government was one of the biggest obstacles to progress on the Internet. He blamed the NSF for doing too little to rectify the poor performance at the InterNIC. The GA disaster was embarrassing enough, but the registration backlog was a notorious problem. Adams’ main grievance, however, was that the US government would dare to assert ownership. He predicted the strategy would backfire. “[T]he very important point you need to understand is that if the Internet is fissioned, it will be the governments who are the islands and the rest of the world who are the continents that the islands [do] not connect to.”278 Rutkowski was still ISOC’s Executive Director at this time and hadn’t yet burned any bridges. He diplomatically suggested appointing an ombudsman to deal with the Jordanian

Rick Adams, “Re: toplevel domain names - inquiring minds want to know - who owns,” IETF March 18, 1995



206 issue. He also suggested creating a “stable process” that could handle such disputes, which “are going to become more common.”279 In a private response, however, Rutkowski expressed a sentiment much closer to Adams’ position.

It’s difficult to imagine a truly global communications system where other nations will indefinitely allow a single nation to administer the basic numbering plan. In addition, there are already examples of some partiality by the US in the existing 280 administration.

Aiken reprinted bits of Cerf’s and Rutkowski’s responses on the public IETF list, but made it clear he wasn’t satisfied with the answers. He admitted that, yes, the US government had indeed delegated out control over various address blocks and NIC functions. However, “This does not mean that the US gov gave up any rights it had to the name or address space – it merely meant that it did the smart thing and agreed to a delegated and distributed registration process.”281 If someone in the government had indeed been willing to “abdicate such responsibility,” wrote Aiken, it had to be ascertained who had done so (to ensure they had such authority), and to whom it had been abdicated. He insisted that the FNC “quit sitting on the fence [and] take a stand one way or the other – everyone deserves to know.” Of course, the NSF’s Networking Division Director post was still empty, so no one at the FNC was in a position to state its policy. Aiken questioned whether ISOC’s lawyers fully appreciated the legal implications of taking responsibility for the address space. “If the ISOC is in charge of names and addresses then that means the ISOC, its board, etc, are liable for any problems that ensue.” He also wondered why the “US FEDS keep getting proposals to help fund IETF activities,

A. M. Rutkowski, “Re: toplevel domain names - inquiring minds want to know - who owns,” IETF March 17 1995, A.M. Rutkowski, quoted in Robert J. Aiken “More on Domain name spaces and "inquiring minds ..." - LONG!” IETF March 19, 1995, Robert Aiken, “More on Domain name spaces and ‘inquiring minds’ ...- LONG!,” IETF March 19, 1995
281 280


207 [even though] ISOC claims the IETF is part of the ISOC standards process.” The problem boiled down, once again, to the question of ownership.“I would like HARD answers from both sides.”282 Meanwhile, Postel was scurrying to get some hard answers regarding his own level of exposure and vulnerability. He and one of ISOC’s lawyers, Andrea Ireland, began investigating “a variety of alternative notice and procedural options” to minimize his liability.283 But there was no useful result from this exploration. The situation remained as unsettled as before. ISOC could not provide direct coverage for him, and USC remained unwilling to step up on Postel’s behalf. Non-Americans who read Aikens’ comments on the IETF mailing list reacted with alarm. A US government official seemed to be arguing that Europeans and Asians were wrong if they believed they had exclusive permanent control over the blocks of IP addresses Postel had delegated to them. Without such tenure, the danger was that the IP numbers could be taken back. A protest came from Daniel Karrenberg, a pioneer of European networking who co-founded the European registry service situated in Amsterdam. The registry he managed – RIPE – had received the first Class A block delegated by Postel after the publication of RFC 1174. Karrenberg also operated the root server based in London.284 “It would be ‘very interesting,’” he wrote, “to see the US government assert ‘rights’ to the address space” which had already been allocated to non-US registries or assigned to non-US users.285 The implication of Karrenberg’s message was that any move by the United States government to take back the addresses would bring catastrophic results. Such an act would



Rutkowski, “More on Domain name spaces and ‘inquiring minds’ ...- LONG!,” IETF March 20, 1995 For background, see Daniel Karrenberg, “Internet Administration in the RIPE Area,” Karrenberg, “More on Domain name spaces and ‘inquiring minds’ ...- LONG!,” IETF March 20, 1995,
285 284


208 disrupt Internet operations around the world, undermining the existing culture of international collaboration. Aiken had suggested that a handful of insiders from the US government and ISOC get together at a workshop to determine ownership. Karrenberg felt that doing so would be the equivalent of fixing something that wasn’t broken. Such a conference would create more trouble than it was worth. But if it were held, he wrote, “then you better include international interest groups as well. Otherwise the fights – eh deliberations – will have no value.”286 It is noteworthy that there were probably as many Americans as Europeans and Asians openly complaining about the vestiges of US-centrism in Internet management. It wasn’t that the Americans identified more with the interests of France or Fiji than with those of the United States. The appeal of the Internet was its inherent extra-territorialism, and the prospect that it could be used to shatter the fetters of traditional political control. Reassertion of US government authority over the Internet’s key resources would mean a reversal of the trend. As is typical of many online discussions, the participants scattered off into historical reflections, contemplations of analogies, ideological pronouncements, and personal potshots. Noel Chiappa trotted out the age old aphorism about the Golden Rule... “ [T]hem what supplies the gold gets to lean pretty hard on them what makes the rules.” Chiappa made it clear that he was wary of over-reliance on the US government or a small pool of large corporations for funding, and insisted that a broadly funded membership organization was preferable. In other words, stick with ISOC. Several postings lauded Rick Adams’ declaration that the Internet is a “cooperative entity’ over which “no one has sufficient power to claim jurisdiction.” Dave Crocker liked that idea so much he suggested the words belonged on a T-shirt. Rutkowski cut in, chiding Crocker for overlooking the fact that the interests of important stakeholders (big corporations) needed to be recognized. An exchange of snide remarks between them foreshadowed the loathing that would characterize the DNS War at its peak, three years later.



209 Despite the cranky words and public backbiting, the discussants also vented the most serious themes of the debate to come. Partisans of both sides would claim they wanted the Internet to be left as free and unregulated as possible, but they offered radically opposed strategies for doing so. The inner elite of old guard technologists sought to keep the Internet’s management structure subordinate to their own arcane decision-making processes. The others wanted Internet administration to be remade in the image of alien but interested pressure groups. As the “Inquiring Minds” thread and its offshoots wound down, Dale Worley, a web page designer who was monitoring the discussion, jumped in. Worley echoed the mantra, “No one has jurisdiction,” adding a comment that was highly perceptive, yet naive to its own prescience.
We need to keep reminding people that this is the reality. A joke is that this is true of *all* institutions. But we have to pretend that "jurisdiction" is real, otherwise everyone would break all the laws when they weren't being watched. It is the times when new institutions and new jurisdictions are being created that we come face-to-face with the fact that they are just social constructs. The difficulty is to have the self-possession to create new and useful social fictions, rather 287 than just running amok.

*** Just as a jurisdiction is a social construct, so is anarchy – a social fiction by which people give themselves permission to run amok. Claims of freedom are a convenient disguise for the facts of power. Though it was popular to idealize the Internet as an open, cooperative, voluntaristic entity that was inherently beyond the reach of any authority, there were rules in play nevertheless. Many were hierarchical. Among the most important was that Postel would have final say over things like parameter assignments and which TLDs went into the root. Another rule was normative: No one would press too hard with questions about why Postel’s position atop the name and number hierarchy should be upheld as a rule. It was

Dale W orley, “More on Domain name spaces and ‘inquiring minds’ ...- LONG!,” IETF April 10, 1995,


210 enough to bless him and to revel in being blessed back. Those shadowy social fictions had been quite useful when the Internet community was much smaller, but the exploding popularity of online communication drew spotlights. Belief in the fiction that “No one has jurisdiction,” had once provided an excuse for people to deny the facts of power while Postel, Cerf and a few others took on the task of steering the good ship Internet forward, at a safe distance from danger. But now it was increasingly evident that there were obstacles right ahead. A decision had to be made about who would make decisions, and thus be held accountable for them. Sharp turns had to be taken, one way or another, and it needed to be made plainly clear who would be in charge of taking them... Fund the InterNIC, or let it collapse... Collect rent from registrants to pay for the funding, or make the taxpayers do it... Anoint ISOC as the responsible owner, or undercut it and find someone else to bear the burden and reap the potential rewards. The quasi-formal, legally naive, federally subsidized rule-making structures that had served the Network Working Group, the Internet Conference Control Board, and the Internet Activities Board had worked exceptionally well in their time. That structure, despite its ambiguities, productively harnessed the energies of the mavericks who built the Internet. Karrenberg and many others still had faith in this structure and its record of success. They believed there was nothing about Postel’s role which needed to be fixed, since nothing was broken. Aiken, however, had a clear-eyed view of the bigger picture... He could see the pattern in the rising fear of lawsuits, the emergence of multiple claims to address space, the intensification of funding pressure, and broad questions of accountability. All these could be taken as signs of lengthening cracks in the existing framework. These new problems reflected a need for overarching structural reform. The sleek harness of the previous decades was too puny for the new reality, and would have to be recrafted... a painful process that was just beginning. Legitimacy and the power that came with it could no longer be based on trust, reputation, and nods to the virtues of serving the public good. The rights and duties of authority would have to be spelled out and tied to responsible persons and accountable processes. Creating a new and improved social fiction would require a higher order of blessings and counter-blessings.

211 m. Under New Ownership – Summer 1995

On July 28, 1995, with its new owners and managers securely installed, NSI initiated a major shift in the procedure for registering domain names, publishing the first in a series of Domain Dispute Policy Statements. The policy was designed to protect against lawsuits from two classes of potential litigants: registrants and trademark holders. From that point on, a registrant’s right to use a domain name was linked to several new requirements: The registrant had to agree to make true statements on his or her registration application. The registrant also had to agree to refrain from infringing on trademarks or other forms of intellectual property. Most importantly, registrants had to agree they would not hold NSI liable for any damages resulting from loss of use of the name. Arguably, the new policy reflected an extensive circumvention of due process. The rules tilted decisively in favor of trademark holders. Under the new policy, when a mark holder challenged a registrants name, NSI’s would put the name “on hold,” removing it from the zone file until the parties settled the matter among themselves or through litigation. The rule was bad news for domain name holders who happened to be using the same string of characters as a trademark holder, despite utter difference in meaning. In legal terminology, the removal was the equivalent of a court acting in an excessively prejudicial manner to provide preliminary injunctive relief to a plaintiff. Under conventional trademark law, domain holders in a different business class than the trademark holder would not generally be guilty of infringement and not generally subject to these kinds of preliminary injunctions. The new policy was of course appreciated by many trademark holders. Other observers who were well-versed on the subject were outraged by its perceived unfairness.288 Many denounced it as counterproductive – a “lightning rod for lawsuits” that would ultimately benefit only the lawyers who were billing NSI for their services. One of the first critics was Karl Auerbach, an active IETF member whose technical grounding was supplemented by a law degree. No defender of NSI, he had been urging that


Rony and Rony (1998).

212 any move toward the institution of domain name registration fees should be preceded by a rebid of the entire contract. His response to the Domain Dispute Policy Statement was to suggest bringing a class action suit against NSI. He backed off when it became clear that IANA might have to be included as a defendant.289 Denunciation of NSI – and therefore of SAIC – intensified as the ramifications of the policy became clear. Cases soon began to pop up and work their way through the courts.290 Cyberlaw had already become a fashionable discussion topic among scholars and journalists. The growing turmoil over rights to domain names added grist to their mill. The episode was continuing to inspire streams of defensive registrations. It was reasonable to expect that disputes over domain name ownership would grow in importance. Terms like “surfing the web” were coming into vogue. Well over one million copies of the Mosaic web browser had been distributed by this time, and alternative browsers were in the works, clear proof that interest in the Internet was exploding. NSI’s registration technology improved dramatically during the summer, just in time to keep up with a surge in demand. Over 8,000 domain names were registered in .com in July and 15,000 in August. Screening procedures in .edu and .net were still being upheld, but the situation .in .com had loosened substantially, leading to some wild outcomes. Despite Kosters’ request that a registrant acquire only one name, a few businesses had started registering numerous variations of their names. There was also a run on generic terms. The most infamous was the collection amassed by Procter & Gamble, which accumulated dozens of listings related to body parts and health ailments. This motivated a discussion thread under the delightful subject line, “Procter & Gamble has diarrhea.”291

See Auerbach’s comments in the com-priv thread, “Re: New InterNIC Domain Dispute Policy,” also cross-posted to domain-policy, particularly August 8, 1995. One of the first is described at See also Chapter 9, “Caught in the Crossfire: Challenges to NSI,” in Rony and Rony (1998: 79-458).
291 290


Mike W alsh, “Procter & Gamble has diarrhea,” com-priv August 30, 1995.

213 There were serious problems. NSI was supposedly trying to weed out Quittner-types and “nonsense domains” but was rejecting some otherwise valid requests. Why had Procter & Gamble’s applications gotten through while others were blocked? People were up in arms.


Pulling the Trigger – September 1995

By the summer of 1995, there was incessant media coverage about computing and the Internet. Public awareness of the Web and of domain names was rising, and two events in August boosted it even higher. On August 12th, Netscape Communications Corporation held its Initial Public Offering of shares, triggering one of the most spectacular stock run-ups in the history of the NASDAQ exchange.292 Netscape’s freely distributed web browser and email applications suite quickly became the Internet access tool of choice. Less than two weeks later, on August 24, with great fanfare, Microsoft released the Windows 95 operating system. The launch generated huge sales of both software and hardware, providing PC buyers with a far superior platform and toolset for getting online.293 Other news with important implications for the Internet didn’t make the headlines. On August 15th, George Strawn rejoined the National Science Foundation as the new Director of Division of Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure. Within thirty days, the debates over who would control the domain name system would become a bare-knuckled brawl. All the conditions for launching the DNS War were in place. Years later Strawn mused about his role in those events: The real issue, I still think, remains how the world lumbered forward from a set of totally informal relationships that were quite suitable and appropriate

Netscape’s developers were led by M arc Andreesen who, while a student at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, had also led the group which created the first graphical browser, Mosaic. W ith its release of W indows 95, Microsoft also sought to create an AOL-like, proprietary dial up service called MSN. It quickly fizzled. Consumers preferred the kind of full-fledged Internet access local ISPs could provide. Microsoft adjusted, repositioning MSN as an Internet portal. The company was considered “late to the Internet,” and raced to catch up. Before long it was regularly sending a platoon of employees to participate in IETF meetings. Simultaneously, it began recruiting Internet engineering veterans who had risen high in the IETF’s ranks.


214 for a research environment, to a commercial environment where everybody needed everything inscribed in law.294 If the world moved forward under Strawn’s watch, the word “lumbered” would not describe its pace. One might better say that a massive stampede that was already in motion surged and pitched ahead. During his first days on the job, Strawn agreed to a decision that made dot-com a watchword of the new millennium and the basis of vast personal fortunes. By allowing Network Solutions to begin charging fees for its registration services, thereby turning domain names into commodities, he widened the gates for the oncoming Internet landrush. When Strawn arrived, Mitchell was ready for him. It was time to wrap up the renegotiation of the Cooperative Agreement with NSI before the end-of-September deadline. Mitchell told Strawn that the negotiations were urgent... “the hottest thing going on.”295 The NSF was hemorrhaging money, running through its allocation faster than expected. They were less than half way through the term of the Cooperative Agreement, but nearly all the money set aside for the Internet Registry was spent. Mitchell had already begun fleshing out the details of a policy overhaul with NSI’s Dave Graves, the Business Affairs Officer who had stepped in on a moment’s notice to take over funding of the Info Scout Project. Mitchell and Graves had been working together in secret, concerned that if the public found out that the imposition of fees was imminent, the rush to get in under the wire would be overwhelming. Mitchell had ruled out the idea of freezing registration activity while soliciting community input. “Our primary concern was... [to] do nothing that would impede the growth of the Internet. We have got to have an operational registry.” A lot of major players were out of the loop. The other agencies of the FNC and even Jon Postel were kept in the dark. The White House was informed via Tom Kahlil, Senior Director for Science and Technology of the National Economic Council, ostensibly the FNC’s overseer. Mitchell


Phone interview with George Strawn, June 18, 2002. Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003.


215 justified the policy change as absolutely necessary, since the NSF could simply no longer afford to subsidize registrations. He sweetened the deal for the government by proposing a $15 surcharge for what would be called the US Information Infrastructure Fund. It was intended to supplant the money government had been investing in IANA and the IETF. As Mitchell recalled, “The White House just said, ‘Well, okay,’ and they left and we never heard another word about it.”296 There was no question that changing the policy would trigger an explosion. Resistence to the idea of charging for domain name registrations was almost as deeply ingrained in the Internet’s culture as revulsion at the idea of paying to read technical standards. One of the last things Mitchell had asked Scott Williamson to do before he left NSI was to recommend a fee structure that Mitchell could use to go forward. Williamson intentionally ignored the request. “It was something that I couldn’t imagine happening,” he later recounted. “The nature of the Internet [was] cooperative effort. We were really a part of that. It was just unthinkable that we would make a transition and start charging people for a name.” When Kosters succeeded Williamson as primary investigator of the registry, he was just as unforthcoming. Mitchell understood his reluctance to be the “bad guy” and finally asked Graves to do it. The two then began working together without putting anything in writing. Each side would make a presentation to the other, and then take all their materials home. This approach was based on Mitchell’s reasoning that, “If the government doesn’t have a document, it’s not subject to request.” We wanted to get this right. We didn’t want it being broken prematurely. It was something that absolutely had to get done. We felt that this was the right way to handle it.297 The secrecy worked for a while, but eventually things had to be put on paper, and the news did indeed get out ahead of schedule. Plans were taking shape for a September 18


Ibid. Ibid.


216 announcement, which was a Monday. On the 12th, however, a draft of the press release showed up on a California Bay Area newsgroup under the subject heading, “The times, they are a-changin’.”298 The Internet is, by design, an excellent medium for communication, and it proved to be an excellent tool for circulating and discussing the leak. “Interesting People,” one of the most prominent newslists to carry the story, was operated by Dave Farber, founder of the venerable Msggroup at ISI. Unlike most newslists, Farber exercised sole control over what was posted. He used it to keep his readers informed about his travels, favorite gadgets, and relevant speaking engagements. He would often repost informative links, press articles, or just interesting messages that his readers sent him. Anyone who was ever a member of his list probably noticed that he seemed to be up all hours of the night running it, collecting information and sending out email. Farber passed the NSI leak at 5:30 AM on September 13th, prefaced with a comment from his source that expressed the general mood...“Who died and made the NSF King?” When Don Mitchell became aware of the leak he contacted Karen Sandberg, an officer from NSF Division of Grants and Agreements. They worked late into the night of the 13th in constant phone contact with Dave Graves in Herndon, putting the final touches on the policy instrument. It was officially implemented at midnight as Amendment 4 to the Cooperative Agreement, effective September 14th, 1995. Amendment 4 dropped the “cost plus fixed fee” provision of the Cooperative Agreement and instead permitted charges of $35 per year for registration of SLDs ending in .com, .net, and .org. Names registered within .edu remained free of charge, though the qualification guidelines were tightened slightly. Screening in .com was eliminated altogether. NSI retained compliance guidelines requirements for .net, and .org, but dropped them too in early 1996, after consultation with Postel.299 Since initial registrations were required to cover a two year period, with the $35 fee for NSI, and the $15 Federal surcharge, the “price” of a


That same thread title moved to the IETF list. See Chuck Gomes, “Network Solutions New Pitch,” Domain-Policy. March 27, 2000.


217 first time registration was set at $100. All prior registrations would now be subjected to $50 annual maintenance charges (supporting the same $35/$15 split) at the time of their expiration. *** The leadership of the Internet standards-making community was blind-sided by the new policy.300 The IAB held a teleconference the same Tuesday that the leak first appeared, but before the story was widely disseminated. Betraying their cluelessness about the tempest to come, their discussion began with an expression of relief that the “storm” on the IETF list had died down. They expressed lingering unhappiness about NSI’s arbitrary screening policy, and wondered what they might conceivably do to improve the situation. Should we suggest to the IANA that .com be taken away from the Internic and given to someone who charges real money for this? More generally, who should worry about this sort of thing, and if it is not us, whose job is it?301 With Postel absent, all they could do was agree to take it up again later. *** Without a paper record of the negotiations between NSI and the NSF, there is no clear answer as to how Mitchell and Graves arrived at the decision to set a $35 fee. The NSF subsidy at that time was around $120,000 per month, supporting 20,000 new registrations. Loose estimates suggested that by the fifth year of the Cooperative Agreement the NSF would have had to increase NSI’s monthly subsidy to around $1,000,000. Domain registrations had been increasing by a factor of seven each year for the previous few years. If registration growth had continued at just half that pace for three more years, there would have been 1,000,000 names in the system by September 1998. If the expected income were calculated to reflect an annualized average, revenues would have reached about $3,000,000 per month. Presuming the $1,000,000 subsidy held, this would have meant an immediate

One IAB member, Robert Moskowitz, reported that the IAB list was sent a more up to date copy of the draft “about the same time” as the leak. “Re: The times, they are a-changin' (long)” Swept 18, 1995 IAB, “Minutes for September 12, 1995 IAB Teleconference,” iabmins/IABmins.1995-09-12.html

218 return on investment of 200 percent – a bonanza by anyone’s definition. In fact, the number of paid registrations surpassed 2,000,000 in 1998 and was still climbing. Therefore, given the loose projections someone might be able to make in late 1995 about the real cost of processing a domain name registration three years later, leaving room for profit, a $10 or $15 annual fee would have been a safe estimate. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the wholesale price of a domain name was finally set at $6 per year. Consequently, it is clear that the $35 fee set by Mitchell, Strawn and Graves was unduly generous to NSI. Of course, their projections also had to leave space for several unknown factors, most importantly the cost of litigation. The fee had to be large enough to build a fund that would cover what their press release described as “reasonably foreseeable contingencies.” The estimates turned out to be overinflated; NSI did pay handsomely to hire some tough lawyers over the years. A raft of Washington lobbyists were hired as well. The company even paid the way of a few agents provocateurs when less scrupulous tactics came in handy.302 But the company never suffered a significant setback as the result of litigation or threatened lawsuits. After fees were instituted, the imperative for NSI’s officers was to keep the .com registry in their hands, and their hands alone. *** Another “reasonably foreseeable contingency” stemming from the policy change was broad discontent with how things had been handled. A charitable take on Strawn’s behavior might grant that he was acting in the vein of Admiral Grace Hopper’s dictum, “It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” His manner of seeking redemption to was to offer to throw some money around, providing funds for a series of workshops starting late in the year, where the issue of Internet names and numbers administration could be given a full hearing. But the move had many critics, and few were willing to wait that long to express their indignation.

NSI funded travel for IAHC critics such as Richard Sexton, Einar Stefferud, and Adam Todd, among others.


219 Postel was“miffed... not happy,” especially after Mitchell agreed that Postel was “the authority,” but insisted that as the responsible agency, the NSF could change the funding mechanism of the DNS registry as it saw fit. That type of decision, Mitchell wrote Postel, “has nothing to do with your prerogative.” 303 Mitchell’s tortured logic didn’t help matters. If he and Strawn could act as final gatekeepers over such an important initiative, and could proceed without even seeking Postel’s legitimating guidance, Postel’s authority seemed to have been emptied of any real standing. His ability to oversee the core resources of the Internet had for a moment been rendered meaninglessness. If it happened once, it could happen again, unless IANA’s power could somehow be reasserted, reclaimed and recovered. The implicit offer from NSF that some money would be thrown his way didn’t mitigate Postel’s sense of alienation. There was no guarantee that the $15 portion of the fee being redeemed to the US Government would actually be used to the sustain the IETF or the IANA. (As it turned out, those groups never saw any of it.) Postel’s feelings of mistrust evidently hardened, as it did for many others. The event marked the beginning of a severe break between the Internet’s “old guard” engineering community on one side, and NSF/NSI constellation on the other. The “oldguard” began to assert its authority and independence, while NSI’s supporters insisted on its autonomy and sovereignty. As the two sides moved away from each other, the status of the US Government as a competent policy leader dropped precipitously. The government had paid to build the foundations of the system, but was left holding only a few short purse strings. The event also opened a rift among the members of the FNC Executive Committee. Though Strawn was head of the FNC, he hadn’t moved to inform the other participating agencies of the details until days before the agreement was executed. Even with that, he recalled “We didn’t give anybody veto power. We simply said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’”304


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003. Phone interview with George Strawn, June 18, 2002.


220 DARPA’s representative on the committee, Mike St. Johns, was livid about the way things had been handled. St. Johns had also spent several years at the DCA as the original contract manager for the SRI NIC. Along the way he had written polices for managing the TLDs, .mil, .gov, .edu, and .int and had dealt with the complexities of inter-agency coordination from a variety of official perspectives. From St. Johns’ perspective, Mitchell and Strawn had acted far too hastily to dodge a relatively small budget problem. NSF’s short-term escape had been achieved at the long-term expense of politicizing control of the root. It exposed the Internet policy making process to the influence of parties who were inherently incapable of settling the trademark issues which had been confounding domain name administration. Moreover, St. Johns believed that the solution had unwisely provided NSI with the ability to amass a huge “war chest” that it would exploit in pursuit of its own interests. He was certain that no good would come of that decision. Looking back years later, he was sure of it.305


Phone interview with Mike St. Johns, April 30, 2003.


a. Scrambling for Solutions – September 1995 Right after the inauguration of fees the rush for domain names quieted down, but only

briefly. The pace picked up again by the end of the year, showering NSI with hundred dollar checks. For the Internet community, the immediate consequence of the September deal was a deluge of a different sort... a flood of talk. Until then, domain policy and other Internet governance conversations had been dispersed over a variety of fora. Perhaps the best known of these was com-priv, hosted by PSInet. Based in Herndon, Virginia, the company was a major early provider of Internet backbone services and hosted Server C of the root constellation.306 The com-priv list was created in the heyday of the ANS/CIX controversy to focus on the general question of Internet commercialization and privatization, so DNS issues were certainly in scope. On the Usenet, related discussions generally collected around the newsgroup. The Asian and European IP registries both maintained newslists where the DNS issues came up, and there were crossovers to another less well-known list called inet-access. NSI had started a list named domain-policy earlier in 1995, primarily as a venue for reaction to its dispute resolution policy. The range of topics covered there expanded over the years, and that list eventually became an important stop for anyone interested Internet policy as a whole, especially the DNS debates. There was also the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG) list, hosted by MERIT. It was the indispensable venue for discussion of technical issues relevant to ISP operators, broader policy discussions were not entirely out of bounds, but the DNS controversy was clearly not within its core mission. The preferred venue for conversation about the policy change quickly migrated to newdom (New Domains), a fresh list created and sponsored by Matthew Marnell, an Ohiobased computer consultant. He hosted it under the auspices of his own domain,, which he had created as the setting for his grandiose dream of an “International Internet

A set of COM-PRIV archives has been kept on a server at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The can be accessed indirectly, using a URL with parameters that search by message number. For example: . The last message in the list is number 33740.



222 Industrial Association.” Nothing came of that. Over the ensuing years, newdom discusions were the only significant activity of his site. Marnell’s inaugural posting on September 15 1995 was titled, “So what shall we do?” That phrase had a whiff of V.I Lenin’s “What is to be done?” A new mood was in the air, as if a momentous social upheaval was underway... as if the crisis had opened the door to a revolutionary response that would finish off the old order and bring about a more balanced distribution of wealth. In this case, however, many of the vanguards were openly promoting themselves as the rightful beneficiaries of the revolution. “The way I see it,” Marnell wrote, “is that NSI and NSF did a naughty thing by not including the general community in their decision.” He listed several options, leading up to the one he clearly favored.
We could all try to hijack the root domains and point everything at each other instead of at the root servers. Not a good idea. We could all drop our .com, .net, .org domains and [move to geographical] name space. Might force the NIC to rethink it's new policy. We might create some NewNIC for the express purpose of registering [top level] domains for domains that we as 307 Internet users want.

The NewNIC, he reasoned, would have to be funded so that it could operate as a competitive, commercial entity.“Before posting to the list you may want to think about which domains you'd like to possibly have root level control over.” In another posting later that day Marnell reiterated the general mood. “If [NSI] had at least put it before the community, then this may have all come about more slowly. But they dropped a bomb on us and now we're all scrambling for some solution.”308 Resentment of NSF’s move was coupled with an undisguised eagerness to get in on the registration game. All over the net, people were running the numbers. Anyone operating an ISP or a small network could see that with the technology presently available, operating
Matthew James Marnell, “So what shall we do?,” Newdom-iiia September 15, 1995. The original URL was The original Newdom archives are no longer maintained online, but URLS cited in this text can be located via A convenient entry point would be Also, see Appendix 3, “Comment on Sources.”
308 307

Marnell, “Re: Internet Draft on Top Level Domain Names” Newdom-iiia Sept 15, 1995.

223 a registry on the side was necessarily an expensive proposition. Now, with a benchmark of $35 per name per year, it seemed there was a lot of gravy to go around. Marnell laid it out.
Who does the most DNS out there? I'd say that the small to midsized ISPs still have the largest amount of domain name space. Maybe, I'm dreaming, but this chaos isn't so bad for any of us. The IANA and the NSF may have put a lot into the Net in the past, but money is the controlling factor now, and we can still vote with our dollars as well as with our hardware and software. I'm not advocating wrenching the root servers from their moorings and rewriting the Net, but we could be calling for 0 government control of the Net. Get their hands completely out of the honey 309 pot.

The earliest posters advocated creating alternate TLDs and registries to compete against NSI. A few used newdom to announce their plans to do so. The first to do so was Matthew R. Sheahan, owner of a New Jersey-based ISP called Crystal Palace Networking. *** The first day’s posts focused on creating an RFC that would lay out a fair and proper method for allocating new TLDs. The idea was to get the show on the road so that people could start making money. But “get rich quick” was not a unanimous objective. A few IETF stars on the list saw the crisis as an opportunity to explore some novel technical solutions. By the second day, the IESG’s Scott Bradner was steering the discussion toward a radically new idea, devising a system by which multiple entities could all sell names in the .com registry. He preferred a solution that would break NSI’s monopoly without creating new ones, “[Let’s not] duplicate the known to be problematic current design,” he wrote. Postel was more conservative, favoring the use of known technology to create a small number of new NSI-styled registries.310 He shared his views on newdom and with ISOC’s board:
I think this introduction of charging by the Intenic [sic] for domain registrations is sufficient cause to take steps to set up a small number of alternate top level domains managed by other registration centers.


Ibid. Jon Postel, “Re: Assumptions and misc ramblings,” Newdom-iiia September 20, 1995.


I'd like to see some competition between registration services to 311 encourage good service at low prices.

No quick consensus emerged. Whatever Postel’s own initial preferences, he seemed more than willing to engage in a process of deliberation, presuming it didn’t go on too long. Several private TLD entrepreneurs insisted that Postel add their zones to the root immediately. Arguably, there was a precedent. If a request to add a TLD had come from a prospective country code operator, Postel would have vetted it and passed on the details and a directive to Kosters. But new country codes were contemplated in RFC 1591, and private requests were not. So Postel simply filed the request and sat on it. Anyone with further inquiries was directed to join the newdom discussions. After one flurry of demands Postel even published instructions: Fill out a template, send it to IANA, and wait. “Be prepared to wait a long time... until the procedures we sometimes discuss on this list get sorted out.”312 When the designers of the DNS wrote the rules for adding new TLD suffixes, they had been so focused on the semantics of five or six generic zones and the question of whether or not to add country codes, they put almost no thought into the notion that hungry entrepreneurs would show up, hoping to plant entirely new continents in cyberspace. In 1994, when he published RFC 1591, Postel assumed the matter was settled. The signal was explicit enough: “It is extremely unlikely that any other TLDs will be created.” Some country codes were yet to be delegated, of course, but that was an uncontroversial matter. Now, in the new context presented by the unilaterally-promulgated Amemdment 4 and the surprise introduction of fees, Postel’s attitude about new suffixes had shifted. Still, he was temperamentally unwilling to respond in kind with his own fait accomplis. There would be no more unilateral changes. The gatekeeper’s rulebook would have to be amended in public before any other big step could be taken.

E-mail to, copied to ISOC trustees.


Rutkowski archived this at

Jon Postel “Re: Registering TLD’s” Newdom-iiia November 12, 1995.

225 *** If the brouhaha was cause for consternation, not everyone had succumbed to the political and economic distraction. As Paul Mockapetris once said of the Internet,“While a bunch of the engineering is painful, the challenges are extremely interesting.” The idea of creating a distributed system for placing new entries into a shared registry was – for people of a certain mind set – a challenge that was inherently fun to think about, especially if political notions could be smuggled in through technical design. A good, carefully thoughtout example of that approach appeared on Dave Farber’s Interesting People list.313 Postel thought enough of it to repost it on newdom himself.314 The author, John Gilmore, was one of the original employees of SUN Microsystems, a major vendor of UNIX-based workstations. He had made himself into a bit of an Internet celebrity, renowned in various circles as a defender of free expression, a proponent of open source software, and an opponent of a data encryption regulations proposed by the US National Security Agency.315 During his various battles with the US government, he became rather proficient at exercising his right to demand documents under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, even teaching journalists how to prepare their own filings. Along the way he coined the famous aphorism, “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Gilmore could be counted among those who were most deeply suspicious of SAIC’s involvement in the Internet. As a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), he had the ear of Internet-activist luminaries like Mitchell Kapor. EFF had already gotten formally involved in the question of DNS administration by providing legal support to for

For the original proposal see John Gilmore, “Proposal for a DNS market infrastructure,” IP September 19, 1995,


Jon Postel, “Sharing without a Central Mechanism,” Newdom-iiia October 20, 1995.

Members of the National Security Agency wanted to mandate certain encryption standards for USmanufactured telecommunications equipment. Opponents objected on many counts. See A. Michael Froomkin, “It Came From Planet Clipper: The Battle Over Cryptographic Key Escrow,” 1996 U. Chi. L. Forum 15.


226 one of the earliest challenges to NSI’s dispute resolution policy.316 A solution to the DNS issue which served to undermine the concentration of power in the hands of a central authority – NSI’s or anyone else’s – was nicely congruent with an EFF supporter’s view of how the Internet should be run. Gilmore proposed creating a new constellation of .com registries, chosen from among applicants “meeting particular criteria.” They would all rely on publicly-maintained, open source, “copylefted” software which was yet to be created. He offered to fund its development himself. There would be mandatory updates of the official .com database every three days, merging in new entries sold by each registry over the last period. Getting the merging process done right was critical, so he briefly outlined the kinds of algorithms and checksums that could be applied to manage the system. In case the same name had been sold by two or more registries over the same period, the earliest of the two would be declared the winner. Gilmore believed that the technical issues would be easy enough to resolve once social coordination was established. “It just has to be clear that a domain registration isn't over until the fat lady merges.”317 *** The first few weeks after the September 14th announcement, the engineering community rehashed the “Inquiring Minds” discourse from earlier in the year. Once again, participants tried to spin the history of the Internet in ways that would establish claims to ownership of the names and number space. Hans Werner Braun, a San Diego-based NSFNET veteran who had served on the IAB and the IEPG, was clear about the importance of US government support, but believed “the Internet evolved so much over the last ten years or so into the public realm, that the address and naming spaces have become public

Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Legal Cases - Knowledgenet v. NSI (InterNIC), Boone, et al.,” John Gilmore “Proposal for a DNS market infrastructure, IP ”


227 property.”318 In the same thread, David Conrad, head of the Asian IP registry APNIC, flatly proclaimed, “the Internet address space is a public good.”319 Others persisted in arguing that the US Government had never relinquished control. The revival of the debate exposed a pattern that would be repeated many times during the DNS War: Whenever it seemed like a big decision was in the works, people would trot out particular versions of history to support their own notions of where authority should reside. Randy Bush, a DNS specialist with a strong commitment to internationalization, at least had the sense to offer the government a dare, “Fess up and draw the damned org chart.”320 In short order the FNC produced not only a graphical depiction of its organizational hierarchy, but a charter and even a formal definition of the Internet.321 It was not done simply to satisfy critics who wanted to see evidence of US authority of the root. The FNC members now had to work out their own internal tensions, and it made sense to begin by describing the group’s internal hierarchy, its relationship with White House agencies, and the overarching outline of the FNC’s mission. To counter sentiments challenging US control, Mike St. Johns sent a lengthy note to both the IETF and NANOG lists. He took a strong position asserting US authority, arguing that when DCA funding was phased out and the InterNIC was created, the Defense Department continued to retain “first call” on the number space. “The deal,” he wrote, “was to ensure that the DOD didn’t give away the space and then have to start paying for it.” Presently, “the FNC (as the representative US organization) continues to own the space, but chooses to limit its control over the space to issues... that it considers critical.” The InterNIC,

H ans-W ern er B rau n “R e : 20 6 .8 2 .1 6 0 .0 /22,"


Septe mber



David Conrad, “Re: Authority over IANA & IP #s was Re:,” nanog September 23, 1995, Randy Bush, “draft-isoc-dns-role-00.txt” ietf November 14, 1995, See “FNC Organization Chart,”; “FNC Charter 9/20/95,"
321 320

228 he insisted, owned none of the number space or the registration data, but was acting as an agent of the US government. “The namespace is another matter,” St. Johns continued. “It’s unclear whether DCA or ARPA would claim ownership of the root domain, but it definitely vested within the DOD.” When the TLD space was created, he wrote, all TLDs were considered “undelegated.” After the DNS was deployed, the delegation process began. The .mil zone was delegated first, and then various country codes. The NSF eventually received .edu and the US Government took over .gov. (Parenthetically, RFC 1591 stipulated that .gov was for use by all governments.) St. Johns concluded his history with an opaque dig at the NSF. “At this time, COM, ORG and NET remain undelegated... which basically places policy control for them under the root authority which remains with the FNC.”322 The name and number spaces were therefore not public property. Fiduciary responsibility for the InterNIC and IANA, he concluded, remains with “the feds.” But which feds? St. Johns was still angry that the NSF had kept the rest of the FNC members in the dark so long about Amendment 4. Years of careful investment by the US that was meant to foster the creation of a publicly available name and number space had been converted into a commercial plum and handed to NSI as a fait accomplis. The trademark problems of the previous year had already led St. Johns to believe that the .com zone was a mess and needed to be shut down or phased out. This latest catastrophe confirmed that for him. Over the following weeks and months, St. Johns wavered between the idea of closing the .com zone altogether or imposing freeze on new registrations in perpetuity. In the latter case, he thought the zone could be funded by charging a one time maintenance fee of $25, putting all the receipts into an interest-bearing fund, and paying for costs from a percentage of the annual returns. In either case he wanted to see another 50-200 new top level domains created. His logic was that the number had to exceed the number of business sectors recognized by international trademark law – 42. By creating a greater number of TLDs it

Mike St. Johns, “Re: Authority over IANA and IP#s was Re:" nanog (and IETF) September 22, 1995,

229 would be possible to overlap those sectors and ensure there would be competition among the zones. St. Johns’ ability to pursue this overhaul strategy required both the clear establishment of the FNC’s authority over that part of the namespace, and also the confirmation his own authority to speak on behalf of the FNC. But not only was there no formal statute upholding the FNC’s authority, the lines of authority within the FNC were far from clear. Yes, Strawn was the chair according to the organization chart, but the FNC had been created to let executive agencies trade favors as peers on an ad hoc basis – to make “nodding agreements” as St. Johns called them.323 The FNC’s members were not there to take marching orders from a duly appointed captain. St. Johns didn’t have the power to impose his own conception on the system. Ironically, the merits of St. Johns’ design for the TLD space didn’t count for much. The dispute was becoming religious. Now that the NSF had opened Pandora’s box, any new plan would have to live or die on its ability to attract followers. Very few were predisposed to follow the lead of a US government agency. *** ISOC’s Board had been fairly quiet for the last several months, listless in the wake of its internal and external conflicts. The DNS administration crisis offered a new raison d’etre, revitalizing hopes that ISOC could play a more useful and significant role in the world. It still seemed like a useful vessel to people like Gilmore, who wanted it to serve as the credentialing authority for his proposed shared registration system. It wasn’t long after the September 14th surprise that ISOC’s President, Larry Landweber, began putting together a comprehensive plan by which the organization would assume responsibility for the DNS name space. According to that framework, released in November, ISOC would only provide financial oversight and serve as legal umbrella. The IAB would be required serve to define policies, undertake the selection and licensing of “Internet Name Providers,” resolve


Phone interview with Mike St. Johns, April 30, 2003.

230 disputes, and establish consultative and review bodies. The draft said nothing about how any new TLDs should be added.324 Postel agreed to sign on to Landweber’s plan, as did the IAB Chair, Brian Carpenter, and Nick Trio, an IBM executive who was also an officer of ISOC’s Advisory Council. Postel circulated the ISOC plan on the Newdom list about a week before the Harvard conference. He also circulated a related proposal under the heading, “Crazy Idea Number 37b” in which he suggested creating 26 new single character Top Level Domains.325 There would be one TLD added for each letter in the alphabet, but at an expansion rate of only five new zones per year. “These letters have no semantic significance,” he wrote. “Any type of business or organization could register under any letter.” Bradner dissented mildly, saying he saw no benefit.326 Stronger objections came from private TLD applicants, particularly Simon Higgs, who wanted quick movement on the creation of TLDS with meaningful suffixes. He had already tried to claim TLDs such as .news, and .coupons. Higgs became one of the strongest proponents of using classification schemes and familiar categories that might reduce consumer confusion.327


On the Roadshow – November 1995

The November 20th “Internet Names, Numbers, and Beyond” conference was chaired Brian Kahin, a Harvard-based academic who had been advising the government on Internet commercialization since the inception of the NSFNET.328 The event was organized as a series

Brian Carpenter, Larry Landweber, Jon Postel, Nick Trio, “Proposal for an ISOC Role in DNS Name Space Management” in Jon Postel,“A” Newdom-iiia, November, 10 1995.


Jon Postel “Crazy Idea Number 37b,” Newdom-iiia November, 10, 1995 Scott Bradner, “Re: Crazy Idea Number 37b,” Newdom-iiia November, 10, 1995


Simon Higgs, Scott Bradner, “Re: Crazy Idea Number 37b,” Newdom-iiia November 10, 1995 and days following. Harvard Information Infrastructure Project, National Science Foundation Division of Networking and Communications. “Internet Names, Numbers, and Beyond: Issues in the Coordination, Privatization, and Internationalization of the Internet: Research W orkshop,” Nov. 20, 1995. The conference papers were accessible via


231 of panels, featuring Mockapetris, Rutkowski, St. Johns, Postel, Mike Roberts, Landweber, and Paul Vixie, who was the lead author of the DNS resolution software used by nearly every ISP in the world. Some other participants were less familiar to the Internet community, but in most cases it made sense for them to be there, especially Bob Frank, co-chair of the International Trademark Association’s Internet Task Force, and Mike Corbett, the FCC’s specialist on the management of the toll free 800 and 888 zones. The audience was full of outspoken luminaries including Vint Cerf, David Johnson, Carl Malamud, and Elise Gerich, plus the managers of Asia’s and Europe’s IP registries, David Conrad and Daniel Karrenberg. During the course of the day, Vixie, St. Johns, Roberts, and Mockapetris advocated various strategies for closing .com. Rutkowski objected. Dave Graves and the others in NSI’s contingent must have been relieved to hear him speak up. Rutkowski played up the fact that the ITU favored reversion to country codes. (This tainted anyone else who supported the same strategy.) Moreover, businesses which saw themselves pursuing a global strategy in a global market wanted to avoid the expense and the extra difficulties registering and names in every country code. Rutkowski’s arguments apparently influenced Mockapetris, who switched to a position of “Let the market decide.” Mockapetris and Vixie were like the bookends of DNS software. Mockapetris had written the first implementation of a DNS server for the TOPS-20 operating system in 1984, while still at ISI. He called it “JEEVES,” after the smart butler from the P. G. Wodehouse tale, “Jeeves and Wooster: Ties that Bind.” Managers at the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) were eager to support development of a UNIX version, believing it would enhance the market for DEC’s TCP/IP-related hardware. In 1985 the company arranged to have an employee, Kevin Dunlap, work on the project with a team of graduate students who made up the technical staff at UC Berkeley’s Computer Systems Research Group, the publishers of BSD UNIX. The group evidently played on the Wodehouse theme by naming the new software “Berkeley Internet Name Daemon” – BIND. Vixie was a relatively young programmer working at DEC’s Palo Alto office in 1988 when he was given responsibility for running the company’s corporate Internet gateway and about 400 subzones of To simplify the task, he undertook a rewrite of the UC

232 Berkeley code (which he once described as “sleazy, icky, rotten” and, worst of all, unstable329). He then made his revision publicly available, including source code and an installation kit as part of the package. It was instantly popular. Vixie’s revisions were so highly acclaimed that the managers BSD UNIX replaced their version of BIND with his. DEC subsidized his continuing work on BIND even after he went out on his own in 1993, providing him with state of the art hardware as he set out to build a new star in the root server constellation (Hardware contributions came from NSI as well). In short order, Vixie also received a significant vote of confidence from Postel, who gave him official responsibility for Root Server F. In 1994, Vixie and Rick Adams of UUNET organized the Internet Software Consortium (now called the Internet Systems Consortium) to support Vixie’s work on major upgrades to BIND. As a result of all this activity, Vixie had become someone to be reckoned with in both the IETF (though he held no formal offices there) and the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG) A running theme in Vixie’s discussion at the Harvard conference was the undesirable effect of “domain envy,” especially the flattening of the namespace. As he saw it, nearly everyone who wanted a presence on the Web was trying to register in .com because there was virtually nowhere else to go. He articulated a theme that resonated for years to come: For the sake of introducing competition, root zone operations needed to be moved from NSI to the IANA, “where it should have been all along.” And he also insisted on the Internet’s exceptionalism. Since the DNS namespace was “universal,” he argued, it was “inappropriate for any regional government to take any kind of leadership role in designing, maintaining, or funding it.” He wanted to see IANA in charge, under the aegis of ISOC.330 Anticipating that as many as 250,000,000 domain names would eventually be registered, Vixie believed it was important to start as soon as possible steering new registrants into a more diverse array of TLDs. He offered different proposals for adding tens of thousands of TLDs to the root, either by creating short combinations of all the numerals
From an interview with Dave W reski, “Paul Vixie and David Conrad on BINDv9 and Internet Security,” LinuxSecurity October 3, 2002,
330 329

Paul Vixie, “External Issues in Scalability,”

233 and all the letters in the English alphabet (excluding known words), or by creating zones such as .a001, .a002, and soon. One of his metaphors was the concept of “Create license plates, but not vanity plates.” Postel opened his panel on a note of bemused exasperation, “Great – more work for the IANA!” He didn’t hide his disapproval of what had happened at NSI. “The reason we are here is that something changed and we don’t like it.” As he saw it, the challenge was to create a competitive environment that would provide good service to consumers. Postel raised a problem that later became known as the “lock-in” dilemma: An owner of a domain name would be unlikely to drop a name in one TLD and switch to a name under another suffix simply because of price differences between the two zones. Switching costs were simply too high to justify it. His logic echoed Vixie’s concerns about the way “domain envy” was creating a flat namespace. Because of the fast expansion of the .com registry, it was important to attract consumers into using new suffixes as soon as reasonably possible. Postel also adopted elements of Bradner’s and Gilmore’s arguments about the need to create “multiple registries for each domain” rather than simply create new .com style monopolies. When Postel announced his .a through .z TLD concept, it struck a chord with Kahin, who believed that new TLDs should be sold to the highest bidder through an auction. Kahin thought this would solve a host of funding problems, but most others at the conference weren’t so sure. If there was any confluence of opinion among them it was that the problem was not money, but trust. With so much demand for names, one could imagine many different ways of creating solvent – even lucrative – allocation regimes. Yet there was no organization that everyone could regard as an impartial but qualified authority. International participants and quite a few Americans didn’t trust the US Government. Too many others harbored lingering doubts about ISOC. Rutkowski was still nominally ISOC’s Executive Director at this time, but he was backhandedly critical of Landweber’s proposal for an ISOC/IAB joint authority. Rutkowski took the position that no existing organization was capable of providing the kind of oversight that should be expected of a global administrative authority. Moreover, the sort of leadership that could be provided by traditional governments was “vestigial and unnecessary.” Instead,

234 he wanted to see the “creation of some new kind of alliance” to do the job. Rutkowski touted his own World Internet Alliance as an organization that could speak for a broad swath of stakeholders, particularly ISPs, who were the rising forces of Internet commerce. Furthermore, he argued, the new organization should be incorporated in a way that would provide “significant immunities” from litigation, either through a special legislative enactment, or by siting itself in a jurisdiction such as Switzerland where the legal system was tilted toward providing such immunities. The fireworks had begun. Not surprisingly, St Johns refused to back down from his position that the US Government owned the number space and the root of the names space. Karrenberg shot back, complaining about US imperialism. For many of those who resented US power, it made sense to put ISPs in charge. Whoever owned the root, the ISP’s servers made the root the root. It wouldn’t be long before the number of ISPs outside US borders would exceed the number inside. And that trend would never reverse. With a joint effort, the world’s ISP operators could anoint a new root altogether. There was no law to stop them from doing so. ISP operators had real power to change things, presuming they could figure out a way to coordinate their actions. But there were problems with this line of reasoning. If ISPs could aspire to lead the name allocation regime, what about the numbers regime? Putting ISPs in charge of that as well seemed like a dangerous prospect. It wasn’t hard to imagine that one or two leading ISPs might end up having the strongest hand regulating the allocation of a resource that all ISPs had to share. This concern was expressed most strongly by Alison Mankin, who argued that it would be important to “decouple” the issue of IP numbers from domain names so that each could be dealt with fairly. The administrative connection between the names and numbers registries were really just a vestige of history... a result of Postel’s longstanding technical involvement, as well as the legacy of funding and operational ties that threaded through the DDN-NIC and InterNIC years. The whole point of inventing hosts.txt and the DNS was to decouple names from numbers at a network’s application-level. There was no technical reason to keep the two

235 technologies joined in a bureaucracy. The pragmatic virtue of unraveling them and pursuing separate solutions was starting to exert an appeal.


You Must Be Kidding - January 1995

The 34th meeting of the IETF was held in Dallas, Texas, the first week of December 1995. Hosted by MCI, it was only the second IETF meeting where attendance had exceeded one thousand registered participants. But it was the first to convene since the Netscape IPO and the release of Windows 95, and since the NASDAQ stock index had closed over 1000. Now the Dow was about to broach 5000, a gain of over 20 percent for the year. The Internet frenzy was well underway, drawing inevitable attention to the wizards of the IETF, who, behind the scenes, were finding themselves distracted from leading-edge technical work by the unsolved, age-old political problem of how to divide up and distribute a resource in a way that could allow all comers to feel were getting a fair share. Brian Carpenter, Chair of the IAB, took the lead, presenting a paper at a BOF on the IETF Role in DNS Evolution – DNSEVOLVE.331 His paper served as the basis for the first formal Internet draft on how to proceed, emerging after the holidays, on January 22, 1996, under the name “Delegation of International Top Level Domains (iTLDs).” Co-authored by Postel, Carpenter, and Bush (who identified himself as “Unaligned geek”), it was filed under an unusual name – “draft-ymbk-itld-admin-00.txt.”332 At first glance, it seemed to follow the normal style for documents in the RFC queue. Going from back to front: Geeks tend to start numbering at zero. ADMIN flagged administrative concern. ITLD was a fresh acronym. The “i” suggested international, but Postel defined it as a category reserved for “generic top level domains open to general registration.” This was convenient, since he had just arranged with NSI to eliminate

IETF Role in DNS Evolution BOF (DNSEVOLV) December 5, 1995. No minutes were published, but there was evidently a presentation, since lost, by Brian Carpenter. Randy Bush, Brian Carpenter Jon Postel “Delegation of International Top Level Domains (iTLDs)” Originally at .Forwarded to the Newdom archives by Matt Marnell as, “ITLD Draft,” Newdom-iiia January 23, 1996.


236 screening in .net and .org, giving them equivalent administrative status with .com. YMBK reflected less technical content. It stood for “you must be kidding.” The draft retained Postel’s goal of introducing five iTLDs annually, and fleshed out procedures for doing so. Selections were to be made sometime in March or April by a seven member “ad hoc” working group, whose members would be appointed by the IANA, the IETF, and the IAB. The ad hoc group would be required to develop the finer details of its own procedures and policies, “in an open process [that] will be clearly documented.” The draft also stipulated that “Multiple registries for the COM zone, and registries for new iTLDs will be created.” This formulation hints at the registry/registrar structure that finally emerged a year later. But the distinctions between the back-end wholesaler and frontend retailer were still quite vague. The authors didn’t even have the words they needed to help them say what they hoped to mean. There wasn’t much descriptive vocabulary yet beyond “domain” and “registry.” In any case, the point was that NSI’s monopoly on .com was to be terminated by the implementation of some new form of name registration technology that was still under development. This was a clear case of high level IETF members doing social engineering rather than Internet engineering. “There is a perceived need,” the co-authors wrote, “to open the market in commercial iTLDs to allow competition, differentiation and change.” Beyond their freelance anti-trust project, they were frank about wanting to perpetuate IANA and protect Postel. “As the net becomes larger and more commercial, the IANA needs a formal body to accept indemnity for the touchy legal issues which arise surrounding DNS policy and its implementation.” The body named, of course, was ISOC. IANA was seeking more than ISOC’s legal umbrella. Postel needed to find a longterm source of funding in order to wean IANA from US Government support. The draft envisioned a structure in which registries would have to pay ISOC $5,000 annually for their charters. Some of the money would presumably be passed on to IANA. Locating new sources of income was a pressing issue. DARPA was already scaling down its contribution to the IETF. The writing was on the wall for the IANA. It would have been unwise for Postel to count on getting support from the NSF’s new Information

237 Infrastructure Fund. Mitchell and Strawn had flaunted the original promise to solicit community input before allowing the imposition of fees, and they could just as easily overlook the pledge that NSF’s $15 portion of the fees would be used to subsidize IANA. Under these circumstances, Postel could conceivably do what Kahn and Cerf had done at CNRI – solicit corporate donations. But there was a better option than begging and becoming beholden to a benefactor. As the defacto overseer of the IP number space and the root zone, his gatekeeping power ostensibly included the power to collect tolls, and such power could be used to lever a steadier source of income. Postel concluded the ymbk draft with a short appendix that rejected the idea of “A Thousand Domains Experiment.” Despite its “social appeal,” he had serious concerns. The first was that dramatic expansion of the TLD space would be an “irreversible decision.” The second had to do with habits of working that were well known to computer programmers: “TLDs, like global variables, should be few and created with great care.” Both reasons were self-consciously moderate, reflecting a deeply ingrained cultural attitude. When moving into unfamiliar territory, Postel and those close to him preferred to acquire experience incrementally. When it comes to collective action, technologists tend to be a cautious lot. A consensus player, Vixie soon withdrew his proposal for thousands of new TLDs and endorsed Postel’s iterative approach. Karl Denninger, owner of MCSNet, a major ISP serving northern Illinois and outlying regions, submitted an alternate proposal just three days later, Jan 25. Postel circulated it on Newdom, where it drew favorable attention. Denninger had started the biz.* hierarchy on the UseNet several years before, and was now seeking .biz as his own TLD. He had clearly put some thought into the trademark issue (informed, no doubt, by careful attention to the knowledgenet controversy, since the domain holder had relied on Denninger’s hosting services). Newdom’s members were intrigued by Denninger’s radical approach.333 According to Denninger’s plan, IANA would take responsibility for vetting registries. It would be empowered to rescind charters, but would otherwise stay out of registry

Karl Denninger, “Top Level Domain Delegation Draft, Rev 0.1.” Circulated by Jon Postel as, “Karl Denninger’s Suggestion,” Newdom-iiia January 29, 1996.

238 administration. Most importantly, Denninger insisted that IANA and the IETF should have no institutional dependence on funds raised by imposing fees on registries, whether through charters or redemptions from operations. He believed this would solve the indemnification problem. If the IANA received no money from the registries, there would be no “deep pockets” to attract litigants. He was also wary of imposing any kind of registry/registrar distinctions that had been suggested. As an inveterate free marketer, Denninger’s vision required leaving any contract details up to the registry and the registrant, thereby fostering the blossoming (and self-organized weeding out) out of diverse business models. After a short amount of supportive hubbub, words of caution came from David Maher, the attorney who had represented MacDonald’s Restaurants during the negotiations with Josh Quittner. Opening with the disarming admission that “lawyers on this group are about as popular as a fart in church,” Maher warned that Denninger’s approach wouldn’t free IANA or anyone else from legal risks.
Indemnifications are worth the paper they are written on (if they are in writing) plus the net worth of the party giving the indemnity.... The only solution to the problem is to set up a system that is perceived as fair by as many users as possible (including trademark owners) and then provide a due process mechanism for expeditiously solving the inevitable disputes that 334 will arise. (creating dictators is not a solution).

*** Maher was a Harvard-trained patent and trademark specialist who liked to dabble in esoteric subjects like electronic publishing and artificial intelligence. He claims that he was actually sitting in his office, reading the issue of Wired in which Quittner’s article appeared, when a MacDonald’s representative called seeking help. After bringing the case to an amicable conclusion in 1994 he became active in the International Trademark Association (INTA), and was appointed co-chair of its Internet Task Force. The group produced its report in July 1995, just before NSI issued its trademark-friendly registration policy. INTA’s Board


David M aher, “K. Denninger’s Suggestion,” Newdom-iiia January 29 1996.

239 incorporated the report in a “Request for Action” issued on Sept 19, 1995 in response to NSI’s imposition of fees.335 The trademark community was pressing two types of demands. The first concerned the legal treatment of domain names: INTA wanted recognition of the fact that domain names were capable of functioning as trademarks and that their misuse would harm trademark owners. INTA’s second demand was intended to provide the trademark community with technical mechanisms by which they could seek to enforce their rights. In other words, they wanted surveillance mechanisms built into all DNS registries. The demand had been addressed directly to ISOC. [T]he Internet Society, its affiliated organizations and the parties operating under contract with them should make available to the public complete lists of the domain names in a database format that is accessible through existing commercial or private computer search techniques.336 Coincidentally, Denninger and Maher were both based in Chicago. But there was no alliance or meeting of the minds; their strategies diverged ever more widely over time. Maher was not a technologist by trade, but an outsider pressing a policy likely to cause discomfort among libertarian-leaning computer enthusiasts. Many such technologists were inherently suspicious of any attempt to require that Internet core resources – its protocols and essential infrastructures – be redesigned to serve the purposes of traditional governments and industries. But Maher showed he was an able politician. He managed to stay engaged while avoiding antagonistic exchanges. He patiently made his case on newdom, opened correspondence with many of the players, and even attended IETF meetings (At one, he sought to endear himself within that surveillance-loathing community by wearing a T-shirt branded with the logo of a popular encryption application – PGP). He finally won a speaker’s slot at an upcoming conference on DNS reform, and became a leading player in nearly every major development which followed.

International Trademark Association, “Request for Action by the INTA Board of Directors,”



240 Denninger, on the other hand, seemed a likely candidate to become a leader in the reform community. He was simultaneously entrepreneurial and technical, and came forward just at the time ISPs were becoming the darlings of the Internet boom. He was also an outspoken advocate of fashionable policy dogmas such open competition and letting markets pick winners and losers among innovators. Yet, as we will see, his style was far more abrasive than Maher’s. Within a few months Denninger would move to the periphery of the debate and lose any chance of effectiveness.


ISPs Ascending – February 1996

The next event on the conference calendar was on February 2, 1996, again in Washington. This one was co-hosted by ISOC and the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX), the industry group that had successfully challenged ANS’s control of the Internet’s highspeed data backbone. The co-chairs were Susan Estrada, now a member of ISOC’s board, and Bob Collet of CIX. The conference was titled – “Internet Administrative Infrastructure: What is it? Who should do it? How should it be paid for?” The title reinforced the assumption that control of the Internet ultimately rested with ISPs Anyone with a grand new vision for running the Internet felt it would be necessary would to win them over. Consequently, the conference agenda was organized to give numbers management as much attention as DNS administrative reform. David Conrad and Daniel Karrenberg were now deemed forces to be reckoned with. As managers of the Asian and European IP registries they were intimately involved in mediating relations between the providers of Internet services in their home regions and relevant parties in the US. At November’s conference they had been relegated to the microphone queues in the aisles. This time they would be dignified as featured participants on two of the day’s three panels.337 Tony Rutkowski, by this time fully separated from ISOC, led off with a PowerPoint show that laid out the current “Situational Analysis.” As he saw it, CIX was the Internet’s “principal international ISP organization” and his Internet Law Task Force was “emerging”


See the agenda and links to presentations at,

241 as the “principal legal organization.” Any Internet administrative structure would have to address concerns such as oversight, responsiveness to jurisdictional legal requirements, diminution of liability, and assurance of “public interest considerations.” Rutkowski also stressed the importance of “comity” among the many interested parties on the Internet, an arrangement that was clearly inimical to any restoration of overarching US Government control. He then argued that the only effective and stable institutional solution was likely to be a “federative international organization” which honored the Internet’s long-standing practice of “deference to Service Providers.”338 In hallway conversations during the day Rutkowski suggested that plans were reaching fruition to establish this type of federation in Geneva, taking advantage of legal structures would make it easier for the group to avoid liability challenges.339 *** There was growing acceptance of the need to move quickly to decouple numbers management from names. The names debate had gotten bogged down in discussions of basic principles. It was becoming apparent that resolution of the DNS issues might take a relatively long time. Moreover, there was already a good model in place for going forward with numbers. RFC 1174 had placed great stress on the need to decouple names from routing, and had paved the way for Postel’s May 1993 delegation of Class A Blocks to the Asian and European Regional Internet Registries – APNIC and RIPE. The managers of those registries were effectively free to set their own criteria for suballocation, presuming compliance with relevant RFCs. The registries appeared to be well run and successful. There were now good reasons to pursue the same course in the Western Hemisphere. The European registry, RIPE (Réseaux IP Européens), was created in 1989 as a “collaborative forum” run by volunteers, mostly university-based network specialists. In


Tony Rutkowski, “Situational Analysis,”

IAB, “M inutes for February 13, 1996 IAB Teleconference,” See also Gordon Cook’s interview with Dave Farber at


242 1992, RARE, the government-sanctioned networking association, granted RIPE formal legal status. RIPE began with a three member staff, including Karrenberg, and was funded by donations from a small number of academic and commercial networking associations. Postel allocated three Class A blocks to it just after the InterNIC transition was completed. The European Internet had grown so large by 1994 that RIPE implemented a policy of giving priority to requests from contributing members first. Subsequently, every registry seeking IP allocations became a RIPE contributor, and received the appellation Local Internet Registry (LIR) The formation of the Asian registry APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Center) differed from RIPE in that APNIC’s leadership was far less keen to establish formal links with traditional government agencies. Doing so would also have been a considerably more difficult endeavor given the lesser degree of political integration in Asia. APNIC was created in 1992 as a pilot project of the Asia-Pacific Networking Group (APNG).340 Its explicit mission was to “facilitate communication, business and culture using Internet technologies” and to provide a mechanism which could administer address space across the region in compliance with Gerich’s RFC 1366. Like RIPE, APNIC depended on “voluntary” donations from its member organizations, including ISPs (also called Local Internet Registries), as well as Enterprise and National members. APNIC also became an RIR after Postel granted it two Class A Blocks in 1993, but unlike RIPE, APNIC did not immediately take on a formal legal status. Conrad and the other APNIC managers consequently believed they operated directly under IANA. RIPE and APNIC had no corresponding organizational counterpart in the Western hemisphere. NSI was a private, profit-seeking entity. But Karrenberg and Conrad did have a personal counterpart in Kim Hubbard, who clearly recognized the virtue of following their lead. Hubbard had begun to worry that if numbers became a speculative commodity, or got

APNG evolved out Asia’s versions of the W estern CCIRN and the IEPG: the Asia Pacific Coordinating Committee for Intercontinental Research Networks (APCCIRN) and the Asia Pacific Engineering Group (APEPG).


243 caught in the political process that was confounding names management, the Internet itself would be jeopardized. I’d go to these meetings and it was all about money. Everybody wants to make money off of names. And I just knew the next step was going to be, “If I can make money selling names, I can make money selling numbers.” And that’s impossible. You just cannot do that.341 Whereas the TLD name space could be expanded by at least one or two orders of magnitude, the size of the IPv4 number space was fixed. The conventional wisdom was that, if one company were allowed to buy up the remaining available blocks, it could use its position to choke off the ability of new entrants to get a foothold in the market. Consequently, that single company would own the future of the net. So much for comity. The idea of creating a quasi-public numbers regulatory agency for the Americas had started to draw support after the November 1995 conference, and was quickly becoming a conventional wisdom, but the principle had to be firmly accepted before the details could be worked out. A dwindling few still hoped for full-out market solutions such as auctions One panelist, Paul Resnick, invoked the Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald H. Coase as a guiding authority, “As long as exchanges are easily arranged, property will end up in the hands of those who value it most, regardless of who owns it initially.”342 But his arguments gained little traction. There was a credibility problem. Resnick was an employee of AT&T, the company most likely to buy up the IP space if it were released to the open market. Nearly everyone who claimed to have technical savvy insisted on the need to prevent overloading of the routing tables. It wasn’t clear how a market-based solution could accomplish the sort of coordination that would guarantee sufficient attention to issues such as contiguity and concentration in the block allocations.


Phone interview with Kim Hubbard, February 17, 2003.

Paul Resnick, “Suggestions for Market-based Allocation of IP Address Blocks,” February 1996,


244 Like many, Hubbard viewed the prospect of full-bore marketization of the IP space as a disaster waiting to happen. From her perspective, an independent, responsive administrative organization capable of managing the registry properly had to be created soon. It was good in some ways that the DNS controversy had drawn attention to the question of who possessed authority to manage the numbers space in a commercial environment. But the conduct of the discussions was appalling, and the DNS mess was proving to be a huge distraction. People were climbing all over each other to design an open market model for names that, in her view, was fundamentally inapplicable to numbers. With sound management of IP numbers as her driving concern, she was convinced that its prospects would be diminished the longer the two discussions remained joined. Mitchell put things more bluntly. Look, this names obsession is going to fuck up the Internet. The really important thing is numbers... we need to get them separated, because people don’t seem to be able to deal with names rationally... If you start breaking the numbers, then you start breaking the network.343 Though the Hubbard/Mitchell strategy made good sense to most of the insiders, there was still a gnawing question about whether IANA even had the authority to delegate number blocks to regional registries. To sanctify IANA’s position atop the names and numbers hierarchies, it would have to be anointed with some legitimate, official standing. Who would or could do this, and how? That problem was dealt with at length during a panel called, “Who Should Set Internet Infrastructure Policy?” Toward the end, the chair, Susan Estrada, took an informal poll of the audience, “What I think I’m hearing from this group is we need to institutionalize the IANA. How many people here agree with that?” Nearly every hand in the room went up. “And how many of you disagree with that?” In the back of the room, one hand went up... Jon Postel’s. A few people didn’t get the joke. They thought he wanted to preserve IANA as his personal fiefdom. In fact, he clearly understood the need to institutionalize it. He didn’t


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003.

245 bother to state any reason it should not be. But it was clear that he did not enjoy being the center of so much attention. In 1996 he could still find the humor in the irony of that and poke fun at himself for it. Though the emphasis was on numbers, names were not forgotten. Maher, a member of Estrada’s panel, presented his own take on the domain names crisis and a critique of the leading proposals before the community. Reiterating the dogma that “the genius of the Internet is that no one really runs it,” he nevertheless conceded that NSI, by virtue of its contract with the NSF, “stands astride access” to the assignment of domain names. Even if (from his perspective) no one ran the Internet, there was no denying that NSI was “the only game in town” for anyone who wanted to establish a globally visible presence. The picture of a giant standing astride access to the promised land is as good a metaphor for a gatekeeper as any. Maher’s primary concern was that “there is no current basis for jurisdiction under any settled body of law.” He dismissed the FNC’s claims to ownership as “extraordinary”and “arrogant,” though he believed several other agencies that had sufficient standing to make a legitimate claim. He agreed with Rutkowski’s argument that the FCC in particular had “plausible statutory basis for asserting jurisdiction over the Internet.” He also believed that various actors at international, national and even local levels had grounds to assert jurisdiction. Perhaps even state Public Utilities Commissions could make jurisdictional claims over facilities and communications sited within their boundaries. Such assertions of jurisdiction by varied arrays of local and national agencies would not be, in Maher’s view, “a cheerful prospect.” Trademark attorneys did not want to have to defend their client’s interests across a complex, balkanized legal territory. The trademark community preferred a solution that would facilitate a uniform approach to dispute resolution, with recourse to local courts kept available as a last resort. Maher found fault with the various proposals he had seen emerge from both the technical community and Rutkowski. All were taking a “head in the sand” approach to business realities, looking for ways to escape liability for any disputes that might arise. Postel’s supporters were seeking to control the right of recourse by requiring adherence to

246 binding arbitration procedures executed within the technologists’ own institutional structures. Rutkowski’s strategy was to do as much as possible to sidestep challenges altogether. But disputes were inevitable, Maher insisted. It was necessary to face that reality and develop an approach that would be responsive to the interests of trademark holders. Therefore, any reform, concluded Maher, should incorporate due process, ensuring that “erroneous, illegal, arbitrary, biased, or corrupt actions” of the responsible administrator could be reviewed by a competent national or international tribunal. The best approach, he added, would be to promote the “creation of a new international jurisdiction, based on treaty.”344 That aspect of the proposal had profound implications. Over the previous few years, the rise of the Internet had inspired ambitious premonitions about the possibility of breaking the bounds of political sovereignty. The rise of the DNS controversy had sharpened the thinking about how this might be accomplished, and the ISOC/CIX conference had juxtaposed the fundamental differences among the different points of view. Whereas the engineering elite and the global free marketers had put forth various strategies for bypassing governmental authority, Maher had now introduced a strategy for co-opting it. Rather than clarifying anything about how to resolve the DNS controversy, Maher’s proposal only served to add yet another model to the mix. At that point, the political momentum was still in the hands of the ISPs, and it would take some time to assimilate Maher’s ideas into the discourse. *** One of the last presentations of the day, by APNIC’s David Randy Conrad, focused on how establish a hierarchy of trust within a new regime. “Depending on who you talk to,” he wrote, there were three models of the present situation. The first was the “historical model,” in which authority flowed through the following chain: DoD, FNC, IANA, InterNIC, RIRs, LIRs, End Users. Then there was the “politically correct” model, which he considered “less controversial.” ISOC, IAB, IANA, RIRs LIRs, End Users. Finally, there was the


David Maher, “Legal Policy,”

247 “pragmatic model:” ISPs, IANA, RIRs, LIRs, End Users. This last model recognized that ISPs had the power to ignore IANA and the RIRs by creating a new “Anti-NIC.” For Conrad, the historical model was “essentially irrelevant.” The Internet, he wrote, “has matured beyond the point where the US Department of Defense or the Federal Networking Council can exert any control.” Any attempt by the US government to reimpose control and take back address space would introduce “chaos,” because ISPs would be “unlikely” to “play along.” On the other hand, he considered the politically correct model to be almost as controversial. The IETF community – which had significant overlaps with the ISP community – still harbored deep mistrust toward ISOC and the IAB. And the pragmatic model would remain an unrealized vision until the ISPs built up their own distinct organization.
Table 2 David Conrad’s Models of Internet Governance Historical DoD FNC IANA InterNIC RIRs LIRs End Users Politically Correct ISOC IAB IANA RIRs LIRs End Users Pragmatic ISPs IANA RIRs LIRs End Users Proposed 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

David Randy Conrad, “IP Address Allocations,”

248 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.


The Rise of ARIN – Flashback

The crowding of the IP space in the 1990s was a vestige of allocation decisions made during the development phase in the late 1970s and early 1980s, well before the 1983 cutover to TCP/IP. Formal implementation of the 32 bit regime began in 1981. It was apportioned


Phone interview with Don Mitchell, February 11, 2003.

249 into 128 Class A slots, which collectively accounted for half the available addresses. Forty one organizations, all involved in TCP/IP research, were named as the first recipients of those slots. This expedited the transition from the preceding eight bit regime.347 RFC 790, authored by Postel and published in September 1981, carried a list of the original Class A assignments, setting things out in four columns: 1) The decimal value for the first octet of the 32 bit address, ranging between 000 and 127; 2) A short name for the network; 3) A long name for the network, and; 4) A contact reference, expanded in the endnotes as an email address. Quite a few blocks were listed as “reserved” or “unassigned.” The reference for those was simply Postel’s initials, JBP. There were regular RFCs listing the allocations until early 1987 when the list of Class B and C assignments grew so lengthy that the task was delegated to the DDN-NIC. An updated list of Class A addresses titled “Internet Protocol Address Space” finally reappeared at the ISI website in 1998, but not as an RFC. 348 It reflected interesting changes. Now there were only three columns: As before, it started with the Address Block. The middle column was labeled “Registry - Purpose.” The last column held the allocation date. There was also an introductory paragraph that offered a brief rendition of history. Originally, all the IPv4 address space was managed directly by the IANA. Later parts of the address space were allocated to various other registries to manage for particular purposes or regional areas of the world. RFC 1466 documents most of these allocations.349 Of course, there was no IANA as such when the IPv4 address space was created. It was simply convenient for Postel to equate the institution with himself. The RFC he cited was Gerich’s May 1993 “Guidelines for Management of IP Space.” Gerich had laid out the criteria by which an organization might become a regional registry, but said precious little about what policy governed assignments for “other purposes.” As with so many other things,


Jon Postel, “RFC 755: Assigned Numbers,” (also published as IEN 93), May 3, 1993.

A equivalent version is posted as “Internet Protocol v4 Address Space (last updated 2006-10-03),” The cited version is on file with the author.



250 the matter had been left up to Postel. “While it is expected that no new assignments of Class A numbers will take place in the near future,” she wrote, “any organization petitioning the IR [the DDN-NIC function run at that time by NSI] for a Class A network number will be expected to provide a detailed technical justification documenting network size and structure. Class A assignments are at the IANA's discretion.” Not surprisingly, a handful of American, British, and NATO military agencies had received Class A blocks in the 1981 list, as did businesses which were actively involved in TCP/IP development. These included BBN, IBM, AT&T, MERIT, Xerox, Hewlett Packard, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and Performance Systems International (PSI), a major provider of backbone services that later become the operator of Root Server C. A few universities such as Stanford, MIT and UCLA were included, as were overseas research networks such as Nordunet and University College London. The regional registries had some slots, of course, and several blocks were set aside as “IANA - Reserved.” The US Postal Service had received a block, as did a body named Amateur Radio Digital Communications. Over the following years, there were also some unlikely recipients. They included private corporations such as Ford Motor Company, Eli Lily, Merck, Prudential Securities, Halliburton, and foreign agencies such as the UK Department of Social Security. Apple Computer Inc. also received a Class A allocation, though the company was not a significant participant in the development of Internet technology.350 Ironically, when controversies began to erupt in the early 1990s most of the criticism of the IP allocation process was directed at Hubbard, who exercised day-to-day authority over considerably smaller blocks of space than Postel. In IETF nomenclature, this was an “existence proof” of an overarching principle... the tendency of individuals and organizations tend to focus disproportionately more attention on the details of smaller expenditures, skimming over the largest ones. One of the few Class A allocations made by Postel that received any public attention at all was dated July 1995, listed as “IANA- Cable Block.” Several prominent alumni of the

An Apple employee and long-time IETF participant told me that after he recognized the size of the opportunity at hand, he solicited Postel personally and received the allocation on Apple’s behalf.

251 Internet engineering community had gone to work for California-based venture named @Home, founded in 1994 by NASA’s Milo Madine. Paul Mockapetris was the second employee. The company later attracted notables such as Elise Gerich, Mike St. Johns, and Robert F. Schwartz (chair of the 1994 InterNIC Interim Review). @Home’s business model was based on delivering Internet connectivity via the cable television system. As the business got underway, Mockapetris requested a Class A block on behalf of @Home from Hubbard, based on the belief that the company’s client base was going to mushroom. When she turned him down, Mockapetris went directly to Postel, promising that @Home would manage the space on behalf of the entire US cable industry, rather than only for itself. Hubbard recalls that Postel was “dead set against it for a long time.” She and Postel also shared many doubts about the ability of the Internet’s routing system to accommodate @Home’s plans.351 Postel finally gave in, despite his previous reservations. As Hubbard recalled, “He said, ‘Just go ahead and issue it to them for all of cable... It’s not going to be routable anyway. They’re not going to be able to do anything with it. And once they figure that out, that will be the end of it.’” She thought she had found a way to finesse the decision without allocating the entire block to a single vendor. “We put it in the database in such a way that it wasn’t really @Home’s numbers. It was just reserved [as an industry-wide block]... Any cable company could come to us and get address space directly from that Class A.” Thus the listing “IANA - Cable Block.”352 The ultimate solution for the @Home matter was considerably more reasonable than the remarkably quiet arrangements that permitted monster allocations to be made to the likes of Apple, Halliburton and Eli Lilly. Nevertheless, the event provided grist for the mill of the those who were unhappy with the ongoing allocation regime. The story could be twisted to make it sound like Postel caved in to pressure from a friend, granting him an entire Class A


Phone interview with Kim Hubbard, February 17, 2003. Ibid.


252 block while less well-connected petitioners were left scrambling for tiny morsels of the precious numbering space.353 *** The Cable allocation was not the only time Postel had reversed one of Hubbard’s decisions. Since she was generally the first point of contact for anyone seeking allocations in the available Class B and Class C spaces after the DDN-NIC was moved to NSI, she often had to turn applicants down, or give them less than what they wanted, or tell them to rearrange their existing space more efficiently. There were some companies, she said, “who complained all the time about everything.”354 The better connected or litigiously predisposed of them had few qualms about trying to go over her head and present their troubles to Postel. “Jon understood what I was trying to do and why it was important. And for the most part, he was great about it.” But there were exceptions. An early incident involved the US Navy. As she recalled, They came [to me] and requested some huge amount and there was no way that they needed it. So they went to Jon and Jon had his discussions with them and came back to me and said basically, “Go ahead and give it to them.” I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t my job at that time to say no to them.355 The Navy could have used its own address space less wastefully, just as others were being told to do. However, instead of undertaking the task of renumbering its networks, the Navy insisted on taking fresh Class Bs from unallocated space in the existing research network. This was manageable at the time, since there were still quite a few Class B slots remaining. But as the Internet boom accelerated the pressure to conserve space became more intense, so Hubbard remained attentive to these sorts of problems. When investment in small startup web design shops and private “mom and pop” ISPs began to explode in 1994 and 1995, Hubbard was swamped with requests for IP numbers

See, “Letter to US Rep. Tom Bliley from Jim Fleming,” nettime July 18, 1999, http://


Phone interview with Kim Hubbard, February 17, 2003. Ibid.


253 from “everybody and their mother.” Now there were hordes of newcomers who wanted to get in on the action, but “had no clue what they were doing.” She told of getting phone calls “constantly” from people who told her they were planning to become an ISP, and then asked her what TCP/IP was. ISPs were also getting pressed by their customers who wanted more address space. She encouraged the ISPs to blame the InterNIC. “Say, ‘You know, I’d love to help you but these mean old people... say no.’” I did it and I didn’t have to do it. I could have been very popular by just giving people what they wanted instead of what they actually needed, but I recognized, along with a lot of other people, that would have eventually done damage to the net. 356 An incident in 1996 finally convinced Hubbard that Postel had to be taken out of the allocation loop altogether. Her recollection of the story was that representatives from Bank of America contacted to her request “eighty Class Bs or something crazy like that.” After spending “many hours” talking to the bank’s personnel about the configuration of their network, she concluded they actually only needed three. When she confronted a bank representative, he admitted the request was excessive, but said that his bosses wanted all of the blocks anyway.“Well, it can’t hurt to ask Postel,” he imposed on her, “ Just give it a shot.” Hubbard called Postel and said, “I’ve been told to ask you this.” She explained her position that only three Class B blocks could be justified. He answered, “I’ll get back to you.” When he did, he directed her, “Go ahead and give it...” After that, she said, “I just stopped sending things to Jon.” Unhappy applicants tried going over her head anyway, but the power to impose gatekeeping discipline was now concentrated in her hands. By then the domain controversy was beginning to make significant demands on Postel’s time, and the move to constitute ARIN was well underway. He was probably relieved to find that at least one kind of problem was becoming less prominent among the many on his plate.



254 *** The need to create North American counterpart to APNIC and RIPE traced back to Elise Gerich’s 1993 plan to avoid the projected exhaustion of IP address space. The DNS controversy finally created the political space to get things moving. NSI’s improving financial turned out to be another boon. The company committed to fund the American registry’s first year of operations. Hubbard was given a virtual carte blanche to travel wherever she needed to go to make her case for the new organization. Her challenge was to set up a fee structure where none existed before. She not only had to convince the ISPs to pay for something previously given for free, she needed to persuade them that the new allocation regime was fair. But these were not insurmountable problems. Educated stakeholders were well aware of the physical realities – the possibility of exhausting the address space and the limitations of the routers. Also, the success of APNIC and RIPE proved there were good models – “existence proofs” in IETF parlance – for regionally-organized number registries. The European and Asian approaches were simultaneously idealistic, virtuous, and practical. Clear ground rules reduced the likelihood that the process could be manipulated or the participants intimidated. New recruits found themselves in a broad-based organization that had open, transparent, and clearly-documented processes well in place. Those models convinced Hubbard of the need to spell out the registry’s policies with as much detail as possible prior to launch. That way, people would know “exactly what they could expect to get before going in.” She picked a small group of insiders from NANOG and the IETF to help her draft the rules. Perfect fairness was not feasible. There was no way to get around the fact that ARIN’s “jurisdiction” would not extend to the original Class A recipients. They would be able to keep their blocks and reap the advantages without having to contribute anything to keep the system going. Over the years – before and after the creation of ARIN – Hubbard lobbied them to return space voluntarily, but only a few agreed. Given the fights she had been through while working for the DDN-NIC and the InterNIC, the road to creating ARIN was relatively peaceful. The process was not short,

255 however. A preliminary step came in November 1996 when RFC 1466 was replaced by RFC 2050, “Internet Registry IP Allocation Guidelines.” The next step was to secure US government approval. This was easier said than done. The spectacular new prominence of the Internet and the obscure but vexing turmoil of the DNS controversy was drawing the attention of successive new crops of officials at higher and higher tiers in the government. The members of each new crop would need time to get up to speed on the issues. They would also seek to impose their own decision-making systems within the process and to make their own determinations of how the outcome should be structured.


The Alt-Root Backlash – Spring 1996

Distilling the IP numbers issue from the crucible of the Internet governance debates did little to improve the level of discourse about names. Fundamental differences came into sharper relief. Participants became more emotional. Opposing camps became more stubborn in their commitments. Promising steps forward were frequently undermined by perturbing steps back. One refreshing sign of progress was a collaborative effort by Bill Manning and Paul Vixie to isolate and clarify objective performance criteria for new TLD registries.357 It addressed mundane concerns such as time synchronization, minimum transaction rates, the need for uninterruptible power supplies, and staffing levels. Their draft was ostensibly prepared under the aegis of “alt.scooby-doo_is_the_true_messiah,” indicating that someone was still trying to maintain a sense of humor. Manning posted it to newdom on March 17. Later that same day, Eugene Kashpureff made his first appearance on the list, ruining the mood. An up-and-coming entrepreneur, Kashpureff styled himself as a crusader for freedom of choice in the market for Internet domain names. He had distinguished himself as a math
Bill Manning and Paul Vixie, “Technical Criteria for Root and TLD Servers,” March 1996, published as draft-manning-dnssvr-criteria-01.txt. Text of the first revision is still available via Manning, “Re: RIPE24 DNS-W G proposed agenda,” April 19, 1996, dns-wg/1996/msg00024.html.

256 and electronics prodigy in 1975 at just ten years old, building a computer from fairly rudimentary components. He went on to endure a troubled adolescence, but ultimately prevailed over homelessness and the lack of a High School diploma to build a career for himself in the information technology business. He began to find success after forming a tow truck company in Seattle. He computerized its operations and began marketing his software throughout that industry. Over time he became quite familiar with the operation of popular dial-up computer bulletin boards and news sharing systems.358 Kashpureff became so excited after seeing the Internet demonstrated in early 1995 that he put aside (“hung up,” in his words) the towing business and invested in a floundering ISP. Within short order he created one of the largest local yellowpages-like directories then available on the Web. He also became a professional spammer, sending out massive quantities of unsolicited email advertising across the Internet. This was augmented by involvement with a startup company that focused on hosting personalized email addresses, a business that paid off quite handsomely, he claimed. In February 1996 Kashpureff was also involved in launching, which was perhaps the first online service dedicated to brokering the transfer and resale of domain names. He simultaneously began looking for ways to sell new names rather than simply broker existing ones. Since there was no immediate way to get NSI to share the sales of names ending in .com, .net and .org, the obvious strategy was to offer to sell names using an appealing new set of suffixes. This was more easily said than done. The problem was getting NSI to enter new suffixes in Server A’s master database. That’s what the fight on newdom was all about. Kashpureff and his wife were expecting a child (their fourth) and this must certainly have contributed to his money-seeking resolve. He and Diane Bohling, one of his business partners, decided to create a business called AlterNIC that would let them offer names for sale in their own TLDs, bypassing NSI. Laughing about it during an interview, he described how the decision to start this longshot business was made:


David Diamond (1998), “W hose Internet Is It, Anyway?”

257 Me and Diane were getting drunk one night. And she kind of posed the question, “Well, what’s to stop us from doing our own root name service? To hell with them!” And I thought about it for about five seconds, and I said, “There’s absolutely nothing technically stopping us from doing our own root name service network. And we could probably do it better than them....“ It was literally, we were up drinking one night and AlterNIC was put together at four o’clock in the morning. The domain name was registered, the root zone files were put together. The whole nine yards...359 It sounded crazy: Build an entirely new alternate root server system and get people to use it. During their alcohol-enhanced brainstorm (perhaps in spite of it) Bohling and Kashpureff realized that the technical challenges of mounting their own root service were minimal. The DNS was a long-proven technology and the BIND software was well understood. The financial challenges did not seem terribly formidable either, especially in light of the potential payoff. NSI had gotten into the domain name business at the “ground floor,” and was raking in millions with no end in sight. These were still the “early days” of the Internet, as far as most people could tell, and the chance to be the second in line for such a promising market was a tantalizing prospect. By March they were experimenting with techniques that would provide a way to route around the legacy root constellation. *** When Kashpureff finally found his way onto newdom and other online domain policy discussion groups, he distinguished himself with a rash, playfully arrogant, sort of bluster. He was outspoken about his willingness to undertake a go-it-alone approach, showing scant regard for anyone’s objections. He made repeated professions of faith in letting “the market” sort things out. Closing his messages with the salute, “At your name service,” he made it clear that he wanted to offer new names for sale, in spite of whatever the Internet’s old-guard might have to say about it. Kashpureff and several other “alt rooters” antagonized the old-timers on newdom by openly playing around with suggestions about which TLDs they would soon create. Postel


Phone interview with Eugene Kashpureff, August 21, 2001.

258 stepped in, tacitly appealing for patience, with the announcement that a “slight revision” to the January ymbk draft was in the works.360 That wasn’t enough to placate Denninger. The next day, March 18th, he launched a sharply provocative thread, claiming that Postel was disregarding the list’s open discussion, and was making decisions unilaterally. The charge came in a lengthy posting titled, “New Top Level Domain policy may be set be fiat! Read this NOW!” Rutkowski took the cue and chimed in with a dig less focused on Postel as a person, but even more pointed. Rutkowski argued that Denninger’s comments had made the case for “rapid transition to international bodies of appropriate jurisdiction, authority, and public accountability.”361 A faction was now organizing around the proposition that Postel’s processes were inappropriate and illegitimate. As the criticism from Denninger escalated, several Postel supporters decided to take time from pounding on Kashpureff to counterattack in Postel’s defense. The first evidence a DNS War casualty appeared within that series of exchanges, when a member from Britain spoke up for the first and last time... “Can you please get me off this list!!!”362 Compared to other newcomers, Kashpureff made far fewer complaints about process and legitimacy. He was more of a publicity seeker. Recognizing that there was no law requiring that Internet users or ISPs point to Root Server A, his goal was to entice customers to give his root server system a try. Metaphorically, his challenge was like attracting new listeners to a radio station in an environment where all the radio sets were sold pre-tuned to the NSI broadcast network. Before that time, no one had bothered to touch the dial and select an alternate program. Getting them to change the setting was a clever idea, but risky. Given the power of convention, Kashpureff had a lot of persuading to do. To his advantage, the radio


Jon Postel, “Plans for new top level domains,” Newdom-iiia March 17, 1996.

Tony Rutkowski, “Re: New Top Level Domain policy may be set be fiat! Read this,” Newdom-iiia March 18, 1996.


Jasmin Sherrif, “Re: I need a new red pen,” Newdom-iiia March 19, 1996.

259 metaphor isn’t perfect. From a regulatory perspective, the TLD “spectrum” was wide open to pioneers like Kashpureff, Bohling and the others who soon followed. There was no need to apply for a license in order to start broadcasting. The key to an alternate root strategy is to build up a base of cooperative ISPs. Any name server operator who wanted to use Kashpureff’s root system would only need to make small, if unconventional changes in BIND’s configuration files. It would be easy... even fun... Just a tweak could deliver a whole new world of data. In the jargon of ISP operators, they would literally “point to” the IP addresses of the AlterNIC’s root servers. Instead of relying on the legacy root name service for directions on how to find the .com database, ISPs which pointed to AlterNIC would get the same information, and then some. AlterNIC provided everything from the legacy root, which Kashpureff monitored for updates, plus addresses for his own TLDs, and those of a few friends. The equivalent analogy would be to dial 311 instead of 411 for directory information, knowing that all the listings from 411 would be available, as well as listings in some cool-sounding area codes that 411 refused to service. The AlterNIC would become a superset of DNS data. In the honored Internet tradition of routing around censorship, Kashpureff and his supporters claimed they were circumventing NSI’s exclusion of alternate TLD name spaces. With so little movement forward in the effort to break NSI’s monopoly, and with Postel increasingly under fire, accused of being an obstacle to progress, times were ripe for fresh faces in the DNS business. *** AlterNIC was essentially up and running by the end of the month. The formal launch was, appropriately, April 1st. Kashpureff was already publishing his own TLDs .xxx, .ltd, .nic, .lnx, .exp, and .med. and had started adding others, including .earth and .usa, on behalf of John Palmer, an aspiring TLD operator who had earned a reputation on the USENET as a confrontational kook. The alternate rooters took on an haughty attitude, and exalted their actions on Newdom under the thread, “Bypassing the Politburo.” Kashpureff wasn’t the first of the alt-rooters, just the most audacious. The true pioneer of their movement was a small ISP that had begun offering service under the suffix

260 .dot at the end of 1995. Soon after, in January 1996, Paul Garrin, a New York-based media artist doing business as, launched a pick-your-own-TLD service offering names in an ever-widening range of suffixes. What distinguished Kashpureff, however, was his talent for remaking himself as a public persona – a true advantage in a culture where most people are so woefully unable to distinguish fame from infamy. Journalists found him to be an engaging and colorful interview subject (as did I), and he was clearly the most politically adventurous of all the altrooters. He was willing to meet the old-guard engineering community on several fields – the newdom list and other online domain-policy fora, and even its home turf, the IETF. The engineering community was full of iconoclasts, so it wasn’t inconceivable that Kashpureff would fit in. But members of that community tended to value its processes very highly, especially in the wake of the IPv7 crisis. Kashpureff was too obviously a loose cannon to ever be accepted as a peer. Despite Kashpureff’s odd charm, Vixie loathed him, almost without restraint. To make an alternate root “visible,” it would be necessary to alter a configuration within BIND. Vixie never intended for the software to be exploited this way. Shortly after Kashpureff arrived on newdom, Vixie announced to the list that he felt he had a special responsibility to “rail against this kind of bullshit in the strongest possible terms.”363 An alternate root hierarchy was, at best, an “unpleasantly bad idea,” Vixie wrote. “It fails to scale; its average case performance is hideous or awful (take your pick). It does not solve any real problem, while creating many new ones.” His missive included a passage which revealed a deeper, philosophically-motivated reasoning. The key section was a parable about maturity and appreciating the necessity of law.
When I was a child, it seemed to me that adults had unlimited power and I could hardly wait to grow up so that I, too, could live above the laws of man and of physics. Now, as a nominal grown-up, I have found that the world is a fragile place and that 364 there are more, rather than less, laws I must operate within.


Paul Vixie,“Re: No Traffic - W hats going on (fwd),” Newdom-iiia April 14, 1996. Ibid.


261 Juxtaposing the “ignorant savagery” of children with the responsibility of grown-ups, Vixie insisted that adults must do all they can to give their own kids “the illusion that they are safe and that nothing can hurt them while they work on growing up.” He cast the altrooters as children who preferred “mob rule.” Unwilling to restrain their infantile urges, they wanted create any snide names they could string together, even if it meant turning the DNS into a polluted cesspool like the USENET, an early showcase of online freedom that had fallen into decadence. Conceding that Postel’s strict sense of discipline probably seemed “fascistic” to the alt-rooters, he was nevertheless certain that the Internet was in good hands.
I don't always agree with the IANA's way of doing things, but I recognize that we are better off under the benign dictatorship of someone who (a) has been around a lot longer than I have and (b) genuinely wants the Internet to grow and take over the 365 universe.

The objective of having the Internet “take over the universe” was a goal that resonated with everyone participating in the discussion. Any disagreement was about means, not ends. The alt-rooters wanted to claim they had inherited the Internet’s spirit of predatory innovation.366 To his credit, Vixie had a visceral understanding of the extent to which rules are simultaneously constraining and enabling; he combined this with an appreciation of their value and their delicacy. Vixie wasn’t alone. Many other old-guard IETF members rejected the idea of alternate roots. Scott Bradner feared they would give the Internet a bad reputation in parts of the world where it had not yet established a strong foothold. Another IAB member, Steve Bellovin, was sure they would foul up the caches in the routing system. Some insiders, including Randy Bush and Perry Metzger, considered Kashpureff and his ilk an annoying distraction, but essentially harmless. They portrayed the alt-rooters as laughably marginal loons who were destined to remain at the periphery of the Internet, presuming they could stay in business at all.



Bill Frezza, “The ‘Net Governance Cartel Begins to Crumble,” InternetWeek, October 28, 1996. Http://www.internetweek/102896/635frez.htm,


262 *** Though there was a diversity of reactions in the engineering community about the rise of alternate roots, the prospect was pure nightmare for the trademark community. Trademark owners were obliged by law to protect their marks when threats were apparent, or risk undercutting their ability to demand production in the future. If the creation of grassroots TLD registries continued, the owners of “famous names” might have to defend their marks in a rapidly proliferating variety of venues. In practical terms, this would mean registering their names in several alternate TLD registries, regardless of whether those registries had any visibility. The strategy would at least ensure that no cybersquatter could get the name first, holding it hostage if that TLD were ever added to the list of zones in Server A. It was conceivable that this proactive registration practice might take on a life of its own, enriching people who would offer up a new TLD simply for the purpose of collecting tribute from the owners of famous names. If Ty and Tupperware weren’t safe, no one was. To avoid this blackmail, some trademark lawyers believed the best strategy was to choke off the alt-rooters by doing whatever possible to restrict the expansion of the TLD space. The next step would be to build strong mechanisms that would protect trademark holders against infringement, or perhaps even privilege the access of “famous mark” holders to domain names. The strategy of seeking to block the creation of new TLDs was not a universal position in the trademark community, however. Maher argued that the creation of many new TLDs was preferable because it would ensure that no trademark holder would be denied access to the Web; infringement problems could then be dealt with case by case.367 Other trademark attorneys had joined newdom by March 1996, gamely trying to make themselves heard above the din. The experience was like teaching Trademark Law 101 to an overtly rebellious class of heathens. Some of the most outspoken engineering mavens refused even to allow that basic legal concepts such as national jurisdiction might be applied to the


David Maher, “Draft 42-B,”newdom-iiia April 4, 1996.

263 Internet. Instead, they insisted that domains were immune to trademark law because iTLDs were “international.”368 There was an even deeper disjoint between the techies and the attorneys over basic semantics. The argument hinged on the meaning of the word, use. For attorneys, what counted was that domains were being used in commerce. There was simply no getting around the fact that domain names could function as trademarks and that trademark holders could be harmed by their misuse. Recognition of this was, after all, the main demand of Frank’s and Maher’s Internet Task Force. Trademark attorneys had been trained to treat the word use as a term of art, and there was little flexibility in their definition. The techies, however, tended to view domain name space as a distinct new open space which had nothing to do with trademarks at all. Its purpose was simply to “translate somewhat mnemonic and relatively stable alphanumeric addresses into the cryptic and changeable numeric addresses used by the Internet infrastructure” (my emphasis).369 Consumers could presumably be taught to appreciate the difference. And if national governments didn’t get the point, that was their problem. “[T]he internet doesn't have, or need, a government... Congress really has no role here other than to stay the hell out of the way.370


Draft Postel – May 1996

Postel circulated his first revisions to the ymbk draft in late March. The most significant change was to explicitly emphasize the goal of raising funds to support IANA’s operations. Toward that end, Postel proposed that registries pay $100,000 for their initial charter, and $10,000 thereafter for annual renewals. Denninger was outraged. To assuage him, Postel raised the possibility that instead of going to IANA, the money might go


Michael Dillon, Newdom, “Re: A little more trademark law,” March 27, 1996. Michael Dillon,“Trademark Law 101,” Newdom-iiia March 28, 1996. Perry Metzger, “Draft 42-B,” Newdom-iiia April 1, 1996.



264 elsewhere, such as ISOC or to the payer’s choice from a list of approved charities. Still, Denninger could not be placated.371 Postel finally published an official Internet Draft on May 3, 1996. Titled “New Registries and the Delegation of International Top Level Domains,” it became known as simply “draft-postel.” His text staunchly proclaimed the conventional wisdom of the antigovernment technologists: “Domain names are intended to be an addressing mechanism and are not intended to reflect trademarks, copyrights or any other intellectual property rights.”372 Postel listed himself as the sole author, but acknowledged help. “This memo is a total rip off of a draft by Randy Bush, combined with substantial inclusion of material from a draft by Karl Denninger.” Indeed, despite Maher’s warnings, Postel incorporated Denninger’s suggestions about indemnifying IANA, ISOC, and the IETF against any trademark infringement proceedings resulting from action by new registries or their clients. Postel also used ideas suggested by IAB Chair Brian Carpenter concerning the organization of an appeals process. As before, Postel set out a timetable by which an ad-hoc committee would review applications and select new registries, suggesting the process could be completed by November. Though Postel hadn’t compromised on the issue of trademark doctrine, he had given up his earlier goal of five new registries per year, each with a one-character TLD zone. The unofficial draft he circulated in March had moved to the idea of creating five new registries per year, each now having three, three-character TLDs (equivalent to NSI’s three... .com, .net, and .org). The official version published in May stipulated that there might be as many as fifty new registries chartered the first year. No more than two thirds of them could

Jon Postel, “InterNIC Domain Policy,” Newdom-iiia June 21, 1996.

The text was suggested by M ichael Dillon, See Jon Postel, Newdom “Draft 42-B” April 2, 1996. In a followup, to Postel’s response that the statement would be ineffective, Dillon wrote: I understand the law's point of view on this, it's just that I don't think that IANA or the DNS system is the party "using" the name if indeed a name is being used in a confusing way. Even the registry is not "using" the name, they are just recording the domain holder's declaration of "use" in a public list. Is there no wording that can convey this? The technical mechanisms underpinning DNS require that domain names be publicly recorded and be unique. W hy should any legal liability accrue to the central authority who records and publishes this list which is essential to the functioning of the underlying mechanism?


265 be in the same country, and each would carry up to three exclusively-managed threecharacter TLDs. The idea of shared registries was put aside. The bottom line meant starting out with 150 new TLDS. There would be another ten such registries created annually over the following four years – 30 more TLDs annually. Once again, Postel added text that explicitly opposed the idea of creating “enormous numbers” of new TLDs. Charters would be granted for five years, and registries could be rechartered if given good reviews. Where the preliminary draft in March had stipulated a $100,000 fee for a registry charter, the new version named no specific amount.373 The only explicit remaining mention of money was the requirement of a $1000 non-refundable application fee, payable to the Internet Society. Postel’s draft incorporated some of the technical and administrative requirements that had been accumulating in a series of Manning-Vixie drafts, including a provision that the registry escrow the databases needed to generate its critical files. If the operator failed for some reason (or if its charter were rescinded), this would ensure that the zones and Whois customer information could be taken over and managed by another registry. In June 12, 1996 Postel published a second official draft of the "New Registries and the Delegation of International Top Level Domains."374 It primarily tightened up language regarding ISOC’s role in the oversight process. There were few substantial changes, and it generated little reaction. There was an apparent lull on newdom as the pace of complaint and counter-complaint slowed down, but this was simply the calm before the storm. *** ISOC’s Board of Trustees had eliminated the office of Executive Director when Rutkowski left, creating the positions of President and CEO in its stead. A brief search ended in April with the hiring of Don Heath. Heath had previously worked for a number of data services and telecommunications firms, usually as a manager in sales-oriented departments. His previous employers included Tymnet, XtraSoft, MCI, and Syncordia, a subsidiary of
Compare section 6.3.3 Business Aspect of Jon Postel, “Draft 42-B” Newdom-iiia March 30 to the same section of draft-postel-iana-itld-admin-00.txt.
374 373


266 British Telecom. That long resume allowed him to tout himself a “seasoned executive.”375 Since Heath and Cerf had both been at MCI, many observers inferred there was a direct connection between the two men. For example, Mueller’s history asserted that Heath was Cerf’s “protégé.”376 Nevertheless, both denied knowing the other before Heath interviewed for the ISOC position.377 Temperamentally, Heath was quite unlike the unmanicured know-it-alls who populated the IETF and ISOC’s board. His stylish, blow-dried haircut flagged him out-ofplace. Not only that, he was outgoing, pleasant, and affable. These qualities distinguished him even further from the community of hardened cynics he could now claim to lead. What was most surprising about him, however, was that he seemed so much less technically articulate than the others at the top. Despite an undergraduate degree in Mathematics, he didn’t project the tough nerdy sharpness so typical within the engineering culture. And, he had little prior involvement in the Internet’s development from either an administrative or legal standpoint. In fact, before he was hired, some IAB members felt it necessary to state for the record that they knew Heath was not an “Internet guy.”378 He did, however, have experience with fund raising (for community groups in San Diego), and his corporate background suggested he was likely to give higher priority to ISOC’s bean-counting responsibilities than his policy-driven predecessor. During the interview process conducted by ISOC’s board, Heath had said he wanted ISOC to change its “academic engineering research-founded” orientation toward a “commercial” orientation. He also wanted it take a “proactive” role addressing “issues that are very controversial.” In the context of the time, this would have meant taking public


Internet Society, “Donald M. Heath,” Mueller (2002: 143).


Personal interview with Vint Cerf, November 15, 2001. Personal interview with Don Heath, November 11, 1999. IAB, “Minutes for February 13, documents/iabmins/IABmins.1996-02-13.html





267 stances on issued related to encryption controls and the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Moreover, he favored boosting ISOC’s membership tenfold, to about 60,000.379 In his favor, Heath’s point of view seemed philosophically compatible with the “let’s use the Internet to route around governments” attitude that was endemic in the engineering community. He simultaneously gave an air of affinity with the “suited and booted” sappiness that many engineers and academics presumed was dominant in the corporate world, where it was nevertheless so important to cultivate alliances. Rutkowski had also insisted on the importance of working with the business community, but Heath didn’t seem to have any particular political agenda of his own. By the time the Postel’s Internet Draft was published, Heath was ready to undertake a series of trips to lobby on behalf of ISOC’s vision of DNS reform. His first was to a major European conference on Internet Regulation held at Dublin’s Trinity College on June 20 and 21.380 Most of the business there concerned the pricing of connection and access services, and the possible consequences on the regulation of telephone access. “Hot” Internet issues such as DNS reform and the recently-defeated Communications Decency Act were also on the agenda. Heath was scheduled to appear on a panel with David Maher, Albert Tramposch, Senior Legal Counsel for the World Intellectual Property Organization, and Robert Shaw, the ITU’s Advisor on the Global Information Infrastructure. Shaw’s background included employment as a Systems Analyst for the ITU. Through this, he had acquired first-hand experience building office networks. He was promoted to a Policy Advisor post at the ITU after receiving a Masters in Telecommunications. He had met Rutkowski along the way, and the two had clashed, ostensibly over cutting off Carl Malamud’s Bruno publication project. No doubt, it also had something to do with their

See his comments to the June 28, 1996 APPLe W orkshop, D_Heath.html. “Access Pricing for Information Infrastructure Regulation and the Internet” was jointly sponsored by the OECD Directorate for Science Technology and Industry/Division for Information and Communications Policy, the European Commission (DGXXIII) and Dublin University’s COMTEC Research Center, June 20-21, 1996.


268 diverging notions of the virtues of government and the ITU. The conflict became personal, and would sharpen over the years, especially after the DNS War erupted in full force. Shaw had written a paper for the ITU which investigated the question of who in the US had authority over the root and the power to initiate fees. Tracing the bureaucratic chain of relations from the InterNIC, to IANA to DARPA, across to the NSF, and on to the FNC, till they faded off into the White House, his paper was the most detailed explanation of the “authority” issue available at the time, and was directly pertinent to the Dublin conference.381 During the formal discussion, Shaw made it clear to Heath that he was “totally opposed” to Postel’s draft. He charged it “would just create lots of mini-monopolies and wouldn’t solve anything long-term.” It would only replicate the “lock in” problem Postel himself had worried about, while making a unified dispute resolution policy even harder to implement. He also suggested that the appropriate US agency to handle DNS management would be the Office of International Affairs (OIA) of the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration (NTIA) which was under the Department of Commerce. Heath, of course, opposed any repatriation of US power over the Internet. Their debate continued on during a pub crawl around Dublin that went late into the evening, joined by Maher and Tramposch. Maher later wrote about it. There really should be a plaque in one of those pubs that would say: “Sitting at this table, in June [1996], Don Heath, David Maher, Bob Shaw and Albert Tramposch crated the basic concepts that now govern the technical coordination of Internet addresses and domain names.”382 *** Traffic on newdom began to pick up again. The message feed in late June often reached around thirty messages per day, and sometimes over fifty. In addition to the brouhaha over the proposed cost of registry charters, the attacks on Postel and the counter-

Robert Shaw, “Internet Domain Names: W hose Domain is This?,” in Brian Kahin and James H. Keller, eds. (1997), Coordinating the Internet. David M aher, “Reporting to God,” CircleID March 27, 2006. reporting_to_god_icann_domain_names_dns/.


269 attacks, the derision of the alt-rooters and those counter-attacks, NSI’s troubles were once again competing for attention. There were now at least four cases where NSI had been sued for either declaring its intention to put a domain name on hold due to complaints made by trademark holders, or for doing so. In one of the first cases, an Arizona ISP named RoadRunner was challenged by Warner Brothers for infringing on the mark associated with the cartoon character. NSI had put the name on hold, prompting a countersuit by the defendant. When Warner Brothers and the ISP finally settled matters out of court, the suit against NSI was dropped. NSI’s policy had survived without a real test. A spokesperson claimed that NSI would have prevailed anyway, and the company’s attorneys tried to spin the outcome as an endorsement of its policy.383 Despite the fact that NSI’s policies were so friendly to the trademark-holding community, the trademark attorneys wanted more. On June 21st , CORSEARCH, a trademark industry lobbying group, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, demanding that NSI provide a copy of its registrant database. The trademark community complained that the WHOIS online search features were insufficient, and that access to a full, up-to-date copy of the source database was necessary to support timely and thorough searches for “name nappers.” Kim Hubbard responded for NSI, countering that the company had an obligation to protect the confidentiality of customers.384 Near the end of June there was an announcement from NSI that domain name owners who had not paid their required maintenance fees would from then on be given a 30 day notice to make payment. If the fees were not received by the deadline, their names would be purged from the database. Not surprisingly, NSI experienced a surge in phone calls from customers who were trying to straighten out billing issues.

Tom Newell, speaking for NSI as “NIC Liaison,” distributed a press release titled “NSI Moves for Dismissal of ‘Roadrunner’ Lawsuit as Moot,” posting it to several relevant email lists. See, Newell, “Roadrunner Lawsuit,” June 3, 1996. See also, “Stipulated Order,” June 7, 1996. nsistip.sht, and; Rony and Rony (1998: 379-457). Kim Hubbard, “Re: A fourth lawsuit against NSI by a domain name owner to try,” Newdom-iiia June 20, 1996.


270 The company had now registered nearly half a million names, adding over 50,000 new registrations in May alone. Paying for renewals under these circumstances presented a severe logistical problem. In fact, getting any customer service at all was a test of luck. Incoming callers were getting nearly constant busy signals. NSI upped its service contract with Bell Atlantic to provide for 40 incoming lines, but even this could barely keep up with demand. And despite the phenomenal growth in sales of names, the company had yet to turn a profit. Lots of money was being plowed into investment, but also to lawyers and consultants. *** Starting with a mid-April thread titled “SOCIALIST BUREUCRACY [sic] RESTRICTS FREEDOM ON THE INTERNET,” the tone on newdom was getting steadily nastier. On the Internet, using capitalized text in emails is considered the equivalent of shouting. Spelling errors, while usually ignored, are nevertheless grating. More and more, people were shouting rudely and not shutting up. The late-June messaging spike brought the level civility to a calamitous new low. Bob Frank, Maher’s increasingly frustrated colleague from the INTA, tried to cope with the noise by developing a list of the most active posters within a specific period. He then announced that, in order to screen out “garbage” and preserve a joyful life, he had decided to delete any messages he received from those individuals without even reading them.385 This was the first of many times that volubilitymonitoring was attempted in the course of the DNS War as an attempt to shame certain people into better behavior. Such attempts were never effective. Perhaps Franks’ life improved, but few chose the luxury of filtering out unpleasant noise. And there was a lot of it. Denninger’s language had become particularly vicious. He was now denouncing Vixie and Postel outright, insisting they “cut the crap” or risk a lawsuit. “I have *already* postulated a way to solve this problem,” he wrote on June 21st. “Postel has

Bob Frank,“my trash can is full (of $%&#@),” Newdom-iiia June 24, 1996. The most frequent posters were M ichael Dillon, Greg W oods, Simon Higgs, Karl Denninger, Eugene Kashpureff, Perry Metzger, and Karl Auerbach.


271 ignored it, you [Vixie] have ignored it, and the fundamental truth is that both of you are attempting to protect a monopoly interest and impose a tax where none should exist.”386 In later messages, Denninger insinuated that both Vixie and Postel were unfairly exploiting their positions for the sake of financial gain. Postel received the brunt of it.
One man, Postel (he IS effectively the IANA) has decided to take what would normally be "due process" and turn it into a funding mechanism for his pet project, adding legal protection for 387 himself and others on the so-called board while he's at it.

Postel’s grouchy response was striking, if only because he responded at all. It was his habit to avoid conflict, especially if it descended to mudslinging. This time he defended himself and took a shot of his own. “I’ve got plenty to do,” he answered. “I get a university research salary whether I do IANA stuff or work on the next generation local network, or whatever.”
The point of collecting money from the operators of top-level domains is to do the work to support them. Maybe there will be enough money to support other good infrastructure things in the Internet. That would be decided by the board of the Internet Society. A board elected by the members of the Society (sign up and elect the board you want). I can imagine a day when someone else will be so lucky as to have the tasks of being the IANA and have the joy of dealing with the Karl's [sic] of the world. They may need a funding source. This 388 is a relatively painless way of setting one up.

Rutkowski took Postel’s intervention as another cue to promote his Internet Law and Policy Forum... and to denigrate Postel and ISOC along the way. “Reality needs to enter into a space that seems oblivious to externalities...” he wrote, insisting that the “processes and arrangements for a small DARPA networking experiment are no longer applicable.”
The Internet Society per its charter is a nice little US based, primarily R&E technical professionals organization to further research and educational networking; controlled by a board on which Jon sits, with election processes that primarily recurrently elect people from this same community. It publishes a nice monthly magazine about their Board members. Somehow it


Karl Denninger,“Re: InterNIC Domain Policy,” Newdom-iiia June 21, 1996. Ibid. Jon Postel, “InterNIC Domain Policy,” Newdom-iiia June 21, 1996.



seems a stretch that it should become benighted to control the Internet for all the enterprises and peoples of the world, and manage a 100 million dollar a month revenue stream in the world's 389 public interest.

The ILPF members had just drafted a charter in which they declared their group a “disinterested neutral organization.” They were also preparing to undertake a “Notice of Policy Making,” a formal proceeding to be modeled after the public notice and comment process used by the FCC. The timetable called for the ILPF to publish its proposed recommendation by September 1st, take comments for two months, and deliver its final recommendations by Jan 1st, 1997.390 Those rumblings from the ILPF increased the pressure on Postel and ISOC’s board members to move the DNS reform process forward. With further delay, the initiative might drift to others. This set the stage for the next ISOC board meeting, to be held alongside the 35th meeting of the IETF in Montreal. *** People in close orbit of the IETF community often found it convenient to schedule meetings of related groups at the same venue around the same time. For example, the IEPG generally met just prior the start of IETF week. ISOC might meet at the beginning or the end. Traditionally, any IETF participant who was a paid up member of ISOC who and wanted to sit in on the board meeting was allowed to do so. Few ever bothered. This IETF meeting would be sandwiched between ISOC and an Asian networking group. ISOC’s Board would convene on the 24th and the 25th, just as most of the IETF participants were arriving. Postel presented his June draft to ISOC’s Board members, hoping to get them to fund a committee that would develop guidelines for an organization that would handle the assignment of iTLDs to new registries. This would be a big step toward constituting the ad


Tony Rutkowski,“Re: InterNIC Domain Policy,” Newdom-iiia, June 23, 1996.

The June 13, 2006 draft circulated to ILPF members by Rutkowski was later republished on the IETF list. See Gordon Cook, “Re: Has the IETF outlived its Usefulness? (This is what I tried to post yesterday),” IETF July 15, 1996,


273 hoc committee he had been advocating since the previous November. The Board members seemed particularly interested in what his draft had to say about stipulations regarding indemnification. They agreed to “endorse” Postel’s draft “in principle,” but asked him to “refine the proposal by providing a business plan” for their review and approval.391 The response was more tentative than what Postel might have preferred. If his goal was to delegate the work to a responsible committee, the outcome was, yet again, ‘More work for the IANA.’


IRE BOF – June 1996

Nearly 1500 participants registered for the Montreal IETF meeting. About sixty fullfledged working group sessions were scheduled, and just under twenty Birds of a Feather sessions. One BOF in the Operations Area was titled “Internet Registries Evolution,” with the devilishly appropriate acronym “IRE.” It was hosted by, as best anyone can recall, David Conrad. Unfortunately, no minutes were kept, and there is no written record of it, other than an entry in the official proceedings marking its occurrence. But it did take place, providing an inadvertent occasion for many newdom participants to meet in the flesh, share their hopes, and vent their antagonisms. It was inadvertent because the IRE BOF was intended for IP registries, not DNS registries. But Kashpureff was there, working to bend events to his advantage, and doing his best to leverage the IRE BOF for his own purposes. Kashpureff had come to Montreal believing he could work out a modus vivendi with various community leaders. It was a multi-pronged strategy intended to demonstrate that AlterNIC was a Network Information Center on par with any other. To prove his bona fides he had begun emulating other NICs, mirroring copies of the RFC series and other technical materials at the AlterNIC site. Mirroring was a useful and time-honored practice within the far-flung Internet community that distributed the burden of hosting information. Also, he tried to build relationships with the people he considered to be the elite of the DNS governance community. Kashpureff desperately wanted to buy Vixie a beer. He wanted to

Geoff Huston, “M inutes of June 1996 meeting of ISOC Board of Trustees” June 24-25, 1996.

274 break bread with anyone from IANA. One of the first things he did at the conference was to approach Joyce Reynolds and apologize for his past sins as a professional spammer.392 Online, Postel had referred to the alternate TLDs as “renegade domains.” In person, however, he treated Kashpureff graciously. Postel and Manning met Kashpureff for lunch one afternoon, an act Kashpureff and other alt-rooters such as Simon Higgs took as morethan-tacit approval of AlterNIC’s activity. The biggest coup of all was persuading Conrad to let him have a slot at the IRE BOF, immediately following presentations by representatives of APNIC, InterNIC, and RIPE. This was the kind of public acknowledgment he wanted. Vixie would have none of it, however. He subjected Kashpureff to a public tonguelashing. The IRE BOF became a face-to-face confrontation.393 The stewards of the legacy system were now denouncing alternate roots as “the second coming of the UUCP maps.” They had labeled Kashpureff a “DNS terrorist.” Vixie insisted that the publication of names by the alternate roots was unethical. He refused to even discuss any administrative reform process with Kashpureff until the AlterNIC root was turned off. Kashpureff could only retort that “experimentation is the Internet way.” He retreated, having failed to achieve formal legitimacy for his root service. From then on, by embellishing the story about his exchange of pleasantries with Postel, he could at least claim a moral victory and heightened status.394 More importantly, Kashpureff had won publicity – the true currency of advertising – so his adventure was far from a loss. The IRE BOF was fairly well attended by DNS mavens. At one point, someone asked for a show of hands to assess the level support for Postel’s draft. A majority was there, but it wasn’t strong enough to merit the IETF’s threshold for dominant consensus. Moreover,

Phone interview with Eugene Kashpureff, August 21, 2001. Reynolds recalled the meeting, but did not recall the apology. Part of this account is derived from the Kashpureff interview. For Vixie’s side, see Paul Vixie, “con men,” gtld-discuss December 16, 1996. See an early recounting in, Eugene Kashpureff, “The Truth,” newdom-iiia July 4, 1996. Months later, he put it this way: “I was led to believe at IETF in June, by Jon Postel and Bill Manning, that they were attemting [sic] to garner support for the draft, and for forming a W G...all the way down to Jon asking me to find the folks with dots on their nametags, to lobby the issue.” Eugene Kashpureff, “Re: NEW DOM: Re: bogosity,” Newdom-ar October 29, 1996.
394 393

275 there was no clear sense of how to proceed in order to develop that consensus. The various positions represented in the room were far too fractious. *** As IETF week drew to a close, yet another DNS-focused meeting began, the Asia Pacific Policy and Legal Special Interest Group (APPLe). It was the brainchild of Laina Raveendran Greene, a Singaporean who had met Rutkowski while working at the ITU. Instrumental in creating APNIC and its public interest counterpart, the Asia Pacific Networking Group (APNG), Greene was also an early participant in the ILPF discussions, but was put off by its US-centeredness. She helped initiate APPLe in January 1996, during a BOF at the APNG called "Introduction to Legal and Regulatory Issues on the Internet.” The June APPLe meeting was sponsored by CIX, APNIC and GLOCOM, an Asian News agency. It provided yet another opportunity for Heath, Conrad, Rutkowski, Maher, Shaw and others to present their positions, publicly, but now in light of ISOC’s formal move to assume authority over the DNS. From the perspective of participants at the APPLe conference, ISOC had overreached by asserting itself as the arbiter of DNS policy. Shaw and Rutkowski and others ganged up on Heath, challenging the legitimacy of IANA and ISOC to set DNS policy. Rutkowski, who was now employed by a Silicon Valley startup called General Magic, took things further. He stressed the need to “lift the veil” that would reveal IANA to be “still an entity of the US Department of Defense.” Persistence of US government control, he insisted, was “untenable.”395 On the other hand, his own policy group, the ILPF, represented a “new young breed of Internet attorney... throughout the world” coming together, he wrote, “in a common dialogue” within an “industry driven forum.”396 Many APPLe participants wondered out loud why ISOC, with only six thousand members, was better suited than many larger industry groups to assume the mantle of policy leadership for the Internet. In response, Heath invoked the Internet Society’s “altruistic”

“APPLe Q&A Session”, June 28, 1996, APPLe W o r k s h o p ,” June, 28 1996,

“Tony R utko wski’s remarks at


276 desire to perpetuate “the principles that built the underlying characteristics of the Internet.” Namely, keeping it, “unencumbered by regulatory agencies constraining its growth or constraining its use.” The best he could do to justify ISOC’s legitimacy as a broad-based organization was to invite anyone who shared those goals to join.397 *** Prior to June, Postel had not been a voluble newdom participant. His mid-June response to Denninger was unusual, but it was also a singular moment. Never before had Postel been attacked so blatantly. His normal patterns were to post only twice a month or so, and those tended to be brief citations of text from RFCs, unequivocally germane announcements, or references provided in some other form. Such posts were delivered flat, without comment. Occasionally, responding directly and succinctly to the text of someone’s draft, he might ask a question. He certainly took the first and more important half his own aphorism to heart: “Be conservative in what you send, and liberal in what you receive.” He rarely broke form, except when he occasionally sent ISOC promotional materials to the IETF list. Therefore, it was an exceptional event for Postel to initiate a thread on a DNS policy list. On June 30, 1996, just after the APPLe conference closed, he started two. Both reflected a man in a satirical and grumpy mood. In one he sought to answer the question, “Close Out COM?” This was an idea that was exercising an enduring appeal among a small number of existing country code operators and prospective TLD operators. Clearly jealous of the desire for .com suffixes, they were looking for ways to generate more demand for their own products. Their rationale for closing .com often played up jurisdictional concerns or the virtues of forcing a clean break that would ensure transition to a new modus vivendi. Postel called the notion “a non starter.”

Imagine, just close the COM (and NET and ORG) domain to new registrations and tell all those making registration requests "were [sic] sorry, COM was a mistake, those 200,000 companies already registered got those names by accident".



I think that a few companies might take the view that if their competitor got a COM name and they can't, that something is 398 unfair. The [sic] might even ask a court to review the matter..

Postel’s other thread – “ISOC vs.” – was posed as a rhetorical question. Its purpose, he wrote, was to answer those who had expressed “some concern” about whether ISOC was the “appropriate” organization to the funds that would be collected and distributed in accord with his registry management proposal. He insisted there was no better alternative. ISOC was a membership organization able to provide “representation.” If the US Government were put in charge by placing TLD administration under the FCC or the National Institute for Standards (NIST), new zones would be licensed like radio stations. “How much do you think you would have to spend to get into the TLD registry business in that case?” There were prospects even worse than US Government intervention, he warned. “[M]aybe because the Internet is international we could be so lucky as to have the ITU take us under their wing.” Consider the traditional criticisms of the ITU – its inattention “to what individuals think,” its subordination to the European state telephone monopolies, and its slowness at making decisions. “These are the folks that brought us the wildly successful OSI protocols,” he sneered. For Postel, the facts spoke plainly enough. “So when you wish for an alternative, think about the likely choices.”399 The message settled nothing. Denninger accused Postel of “FUD mongering” for playing on the technical community’s fears, uncertainties and doubts about the ITU’s slowness, even as the current process meandered. Rutkowski responded with a copious analysis of organizations in the global telecommunications system, including multiple pointers to further analysis published at his own WIA web site. He then took another shot at Postel.
[I]t isn't helpful that the present US government contractor's staff person responsible for the domain name/numbering work has chosen to suggest that one organization among many of the choices and alternatives - i.e., the Internet Society - on which the staff person also sits as a Board member with many colleagues


Jon Postel, “Close out COM?” Newdom-iiia June 30, 1996. Ibid.


over many years, should somehow unilaterally and permanently assume the global addressing responsibilities for the entire Internet/WWW/whatever universe, and garner a huge revenue stream 400 and unfettered power in the process.

Volleys of attacks and counterattacks ensued. Denninger complained that Postel had “sandbagged” the issue.401 Over the course of several months Denninger had expressed rising frustration with the IETF’s draft-writing process and its cliquish culture. Now he was in a catastrophic rage, venting without restraint. He claimed that the proposal he and several others were simply being ignored as part of a strategy to shut then out intentionally. Even though documents he and Simon Higgs submitted had been republished as full-fledged Internet Drafts, the process felt like a “black hole”which allowed them no say over the creation of the final, all-important RFC. The business climate mandated the need to move quickly, but the insiders had decided to go slow, Denninger accused, in keeping with their “‘merge, take and plunder’ mentality.” Denninger had convinced himself that participating in the construction of an alternate root was his only remaining option. “I have every right to lead a net.revolution RIGHT NOW on this matter,” he wrote. “IT IS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF MY CUSTOMER BASE TO DO THIS, AND THEY ARE THE BOSS IN THIS MATTER. OTHER ISPS ARE IN THE SAME POSITION.” Once again, Postel’s allies jumped to his defense. Metzger insisted that Denninger’s technical approach was utterly unworkable. How could a proliferating numbers of zones be guaranteed universal visibility without resort to a single authoritative Network Information Center? Denninger had an answer. Periodically, ISPs would have to download zone files from both the InterNIC and the various competing NICs. The ISPs would then amalgamate those zone files and provide name-to-number lookup services directly, bypassing the lookup services offered by the DNS. In effect, there would be no roots at all. Publishers of zone files would have to work as a group.


Tony Rutkowski,“ISOC vs.” Newdom-iiia June 30, 1996. Karl Denninger, “ISOC vs.” Newdom-iiia June 30, 1996.


279 Metzger dismissed the idea. “[W]e didn't abandon HOSTS.TXT only to end up with something at least as bad to manage.”402 Not only that, he argued, the growing dominance of Microsoft in the marketplace meant the world was moving toward “drool and play”modes of operation. Just as BIND was pre-configured to use the legacy root, new generations of servers and desktop systems would be as well. Few users would even bother to investigate their settings, let alone change them.403 Obstinate and undeterred, Denninger said he was prepared to launch .biz regardless of formal approval. Having concluded that IANA’s official sanction was unattainable, Denninger recast it as meaningless. But, despite this shocking apostasy, the promise of IANA’s blessing still carried great weight in the Internet community. In fact, other aspiring operators now sought it more lustfully than ever, imagining it to be an anointing that could deliver wealth of heavenly proportions.


Blessed Envelopes – July 1996

The intense partisanship of the newdom discussions presented a strategic dilemma to Christopher Ambler, a relatively new member of the list. The ship-jumping threats of the alt-rooters were especially problematic. At the beginning of July Ambler had announced that his own TLD was “ready to go now,” hinting that he might bet on the alt-root community. Yet he hedged, saying he preferred “to be a part of the solution” even if it meant waiting for the official process to take its course. Ambler was temperamentally impatient. One of his earliest postings to the list demanded, “What’s the bottom line?” He never hid his motivation. He didn’t want to antagonize the powers-that-be, but he didn’t want to be a chump either. The alt-rooters seemed to have momentum. For Ambler, the bottom line was to be a “winner” in the coming “land grab.” If push came to shove there would be no ambivalence. “I’d hate to lose out because I wanted to play fair.”404


Perry Metzger, “Re: ISOC vs.” Newdom-iiia June 30, 1996. Perry Metzger, “Re: ISOC vs.”Newdom-iiia July 1, 1996. Christopher Ambler, “Next IANA meeting & minutes?,” Newdom-iiia, July 1, 1996.



280 To newcomers like Ambler, Denninger’s strategy offered a compelling logic: Stake a claim now and fight it out later. Put the TLD you want into service immediately, whether visible across the Internet or not. Down the line there might be lawsuits, but the legal costs of defending that claim should be considered a normal cost of doing business. If litigation did occur, being able to demonstrate an application of prior art and, more importantly, first use in commerce, should help to establish superior standing before the court. Ambler was willing to give the formal process a little more time, presuming he could guarantee an inside track for himself. “I need to attend the next IANA meeting and just get more involved in the discussion and policy-setting directly in whatever capacity is allowed,” he wrote, naïvely unaware of IANA’s ambiguous standing.405 *** Ambler wasn’t the only one looking for a face-to-face meeting as a way to accelerate things. Some wanted to create a working group under the aegis of the IETF. Rick Wesson, an ISP operator in Sunnyvale, California doing business as “Alice’s Restaurant,” drafted a charter for an Integrated Network Information Centers (iNIC) Working Group within the IETF’s Operations Area. The proposed group would promote an “open market in iTLDs”and “support diversity in iTLDs through the creation of private NICs.” The concept of “integrated” NICs was clearly aimed at granting new registries the status of NIC, and therefore some equivalence to NSI and the InterNIC. Newdom’s host, Matthew Marnell, was particularly smitten with Wesson’s initiative, and jumped in with friendly revisions. Wesson and Marnell reflected a contingent of newdom members who clearly aspired to operate their own TLDs, but who, for the time being, had ruled out the confrontational go-it-alone approach typified by Denninger and Kashpureff. Wesson’s draft proposed Bill Manning as chair. Metzger gave him a resounding endorsement. Manning seemed as good a choice as any. Technically adept, and close to Postel, in person Manning was by far among of the most pleasant of the bunch. His online comments tended to be relatively high in signal to noise ratio. Manning was actively



281 involved in managing the root server based at ISI and worked closely with other operators in the root constellation to coordinate performance upgrades. He led the work that ultimately facilitated expansion of the constellation into new sites in Europe and Asia. He was also administrator of the .int domain, dedicated to international treaty organizations. Manning’s public approach often lamented “US centric” solutions.406 Like Rutkowski, he spoke out in favor of involving of global (read non-US) business communities. But Manning moved comfortably within the IETF’s inner circles, and still believed that groups like the IAB and ISOC could open the way to a global solution. Rutkowski, of course, sought to undermine those groups, avidly soliciting participation in his Internet Law and Policy Forum, though gaining little traction in the anti-Postel camp. Leading IETF members weighed in on both sides of the working group question. Some thought the IETF’s processes might help structure the debate and move things forward. Others thought that sponsoring a working group was a bad idea, and the trouble should remain someone else’s problem. Postel was against it, too, but for different reasons. “I am pretty sure that having a working group would add at least a year to the process”407 Thus far, of course, there had been no shortage of face-to-face meetings about new TLDs. Postel had just gotten his full of it at the ISOC/IETF/IAB/APPLe marathon in Montreal and was in no mood for more. Rather than create a process that might foster even more bickering among more people over more time, he wanted to delegate the issue to a group that would be in a position make something happen. Unlike a working group, the ad hoc committee he had been asking for might be small enough and reputable enough to pull it off. But to move forward (and finally get DNS reform his back), he first had to steer the community’s thinking toward a narrow and defined agenda... namely, the introduction of new TLDs. He made the case to newdom on several occasions, reiterating it again on July 3rd.


Bill Manning, “Re: Biz Domains” Newdom-iiia June 30,1996. Jon Postel, “Re: W orking Group ???” Newdom-iiia July 1, 1996


What are the priorities here ? My list is: 1. Introduce competition in the domain name registry business. 2. Everything else. So lets [sic] focus on how to accomplish the top priority. General observation: Changing separate new things is easier. things is hard, introducing

The proposal in my draft is to introduce new registries with new iTLDs, and leave every thing that currently exists alone. (We may want to make changes to existing things later (or not), but we don't even have to talk about those possible changes now.) So issues for discussion later (like in 6 months from now) might include: a. sharing a TLD among several registries This is a very interesting idea and i'd like to see it made workable, but i don't think it is essential to get some simple competition off the ground. We can add it later. I agree that we have the technology to do this. I don't understand the business model. b. transitioning [sic] out of the COM domain and eventually closing it. This may be difficult in pratice, [sic] and after some competition is in place, may be less interesting. c. solving the internal contradictions trademark registration procedures This is fundamentally impossible. --jon.




Not surprisingly, the responses were unfocused and unproductive. Rutkowski answered first, questioning the utility of new TLDs at all. Ambler insisted on a timetable. Higgs, Manning and a few others started to rehash their discussions of trademarks and business categories. But it didn’t take long for the thread to spin off into a fight over the legitimacy of IANA’s authority, the virtues of the IETF’s RFC process, the viability of alternate roots, and, the perceived lack of character among various participants to the discussion.


Jon Postel, “priorities,” Newdom-iiia July 3, 1996.

283 Back in meatspace, DNS had made the news once again. Beside the predictable trademark disputes and the associated legal battles, careless mistakes at NSI were making headlines. While purging about 9,000 unpaid names, an operator at NSI had inadvertently deleted some paid ones as well, such as That domain was registered under a joint venture between two corporate giants... Microsoft and the National Broadcasting Company. The implications of the coverage was clear. If those companies weren’t safe from NSI’s errors, who was? *** During July’s acrimonious newdom exchanges, a few habitual hotheads attacked each other, slinging epithets from “idiot’ to “net.kook.” Metzger accused Denninger and Kashpureff of preparing to “go to war.” Several quit the list in disgust. Some called for civility and tried to set an example of how to continue the discourse in a professional tone. It was to no avail. A few members were shamelessly inconsiderate, in a class by themselves. Jim Fleming, an Illinois-based developer, had been posting frequently since the middle of March, often several times a day. His posts occasionally included perceptive questions and comments, but the lion’s share were tangential, highly speculative, intentionally provocative, and ultimately alienating. Fleming regularly touted his own imaginary upgrade to the IP protocol (IPv8 StarGate), and lectured the list on history, politics, and business strategies. He also became an infamous nuisance on important Internet management and operations lists such as ARIN and NANOG. Fleming never seemed to miss an opportunity to annoy. He harassed Postel for any hint of a shortcoming, from the alleged assignment of a Class A address to @Home to the presence of students on IANA’s staff. The first online reference to the “DNS War” as such appeared on July 21 1996. It punctuated a relatively amicable discussion between Stephen R. Harris and Richard Sexton. In a message thread titled “The Name Game” they compared the addition of TLDs in the DNS to the addition of newsgroups in the Usenet, an older, once-cherished newsgroup

284 distribution service which had fallen into a maddening controversy.409 Though still large and active in the mid 90s, the Usenet was eventually overshadowed by the World Wide Web. There were interesting similarities between the Usenet and the DNS, most notably a hierarchical naming structure that could be wholly or partly visible depending on the choices made by those who connected to it. For the most part, those choices were made for the Usenet community by a group that came to be known first as the Backbone Cabal, and later as the Usenet Cabal. Having started out with a fairly limited top level hierarchy – net., mod. and fa. – the Usenet experienced several contentious episodes as new ones like soc., talk., and alt. were added.410 (Unlike the DNS, Usenet hierarchies read from left to right.) Sexton, a web developer and ISP operator living outside Toronto, had been involved in networking for some time, and was particularly active on Usenet, creating alt.aquaria in 1987. In 1988, while goofing off at the financial services firm where he worked as a computer technician, he inadvertently inspired a series of events the led to the creation of the newsgroup hierarchy.411 It didn’t take long before the Usenet’s collection of subhierarchies exploded. Around the same time, John Gilmore initiated alt.drugs. Not surprisingly, alt.rock-n-roll appeared soon after. The unintended consequences of Sexton’s and Gilmore’s actions had undermined the power of the Usenet Cabal. Control of the newsgroup system dispersed across the Usenet community. The whole enterprise became associated with a strong flavor of either sleaze or full-throated liberty, depending on the aversions or preferences of one’s taste. This had implications for the ongoing DNS debates. An Internet naming cabal had been broken once before. Why not do it all over again? This time it could be done

For a highly positive description, see M ichael Hauben and Ronda Hauben (1997), Netizens: On the History and Impact of the Net, The meanings of the hierarchies were as follows: Net, unmoderated discussion; Mod, moderated discussion; fa, from ARPANET; soc, society, talk, talk; alt, alternative. As Sexton tells it, he was showing a colleague how to perform the basic commands to send a message that would create a new newsgroup. In his example he requested the creation of rec.fucking. The example was supposed to be contained by designating “local” distribution, but he mistyped as that part of the message as “lical.” The rest is history. Richard Sexton, “The Origin of” richard/ See also his “Internet DNS Governance Model - Draft,” Open-RSC February 18, 1998.
411 410

285 intentionally. Given the ubiquitous popularity of pornography, Sexton believed history was about to repeat itself. Someone would soon disrupt control of the DNS by creating a .xxx or .sex TLD. Insiders knew that the ongoing centralized form of DNS management was based more on convention than technical necessity. The general public had already become so dependent on the DNS, it was considered indispensable. But in fact, it was possible to consider alternatives that carried a different set of social and technical benefits. For Sexton, the attraction of bypassing the legacy institutions run by the engineering community’s “old guard” was the promise of a freer Internet and the opening of new business opportunities. Nothing about the legacy system was concrete. By his logic, if alternate roots were feasible, they were desirable. But Harris, well aware of the volatile history of Usenet management, responded, “DNS wars? Agh! No thanks!”412 *** The newdom list was now well over nine months old and no new TLDs had been born. Waiting in an unmoving queue is hard enough. What if it’s the wrong queue? Several aspiring TLD operators started to get anxious about whether the had submitted their requests to the right place. Someone suggested that, to cover all the bases, it would be wise to forward a request template to three different addresses: 1); 2) postel@ISI.EDU, and; 3) Manning responded, “the last two are wrong.” He offered an alternative set: “,, myself.”413 With that, he had unambiguously inserted himself into the chain of command for TLD creation. As an ISI employee with operational responsibility in the root system, and as the man with the inside track to become chair of a prospective working group on TLD creation policy, and with no objection from Postel, Manning’s words carried considerable weight. But


Stephen Harris, “The Name Game,” Newdom-iiia July 21, 1996. Bill Manning, “Re: with whom to setit up with.” Newdom-iiia July 3, 1996.


286 he had overreached. It wasn’t long before he had to qualify his status, and make it clear his words were not the authoritative voice of IANA. Given that the main thrust of Manning’s amended notification list was to exclude Alternic, Kashpureff took it as a direct snub, and a surprising one at that, after having had such a nice lunch with him. Newdom immediately, and once again, fell into rancor. Sexton, in a thread titled “Usurping the Current Nameservers,” threatened ultimatum, insisting that “decision time” was at hand. Manning’s response was uncharacteristically satirical:
Fragmentation of the Internet... brought to you by quickbuck, flyby-night ISPs. ask yourself... 30 years of reliable service or... 6 months by folks who think they know it all. 414

Fleming shot back. “Is this an official position of the IANA...or the State of California...?” It was a smart, tricky question... rhetorical sounding, but aimed right at the nub of the problem. What was the source of Manning’s authority? Manning responded only minutes later, “Jim, you are not reading your mail carefully. IANA postion [sic] is stated by Jon Postel. This is Bill Manning. This is not the State of California or the United States of America or King of the World.” That hasty retort would turn out to have legal implications. Fleming wanted clarification. Hadn’t Postel said Manning was a member of IANA? This time, Manning responded more politely. “Part of my time is spent working with the IANA, yes. I, Bill Manning, do not make any announcements as or on behalf of the IANA without prior permission and then I'll indicate that the statement is an IANA position and made with the approval of the IANA.” For Manning, dealing with newdom’s restless wannabe TLD entrepreneurs was proving to be a surprisingly new kind of leadership experience. The technically-focused groups he led in the IEPG and the root server community had been successful, because, like the IETF, IEPG members were deeply immersed in a consensus culture. People could behave


“Re: Usurping the current root nameservers” Newdom-iiia. The thread ran July 16-19, 1996.

287 more or less collegially because they usually had an immediate interest in productive collaboration. The folks on newdom, however, were all potential competitors. In consensus settings, members generally trusted that the leader wouldn’t exploit his or her gatekeeping powers to impose faits accomplis. But in newdom, with an unusually high percentage of members who seemed temperamentally predisposed to paranoia, trust was in short supply. And whatever trust remained was imperiled by charges that the Internet old guard was scheming to shut out the newcomers and keep the profits of TLD expansion space to itself. Thus, every statement of Manning’s and Postel’s was inspected for hidden meanings and ulterior motives. That penchant to for reading tea leaves could also play out in reverse. There had been a fleeting moment in June when Kashpureff thought he had found favor in the eyes of Postel and Manning. Now, at the end of July, Christopher Ambler and Simon Higgs began to believe that the momentum had swung their way Ambler was so excited by the prospect of making a fortune he could hardly contain himself. He was utterly confident about his technological solutions. Securing investors looked like it would be easy. Best of all, he had thought of a great name for his new TLD... .web. That suffix promised a category-spanning “coolness” factor that few other prospective TLDs could match. Instantly marketable, .web was perfectly positioned to challenge .com’s share of new registrations. To be sure, “dot-com” was a lovely phoneme, but the term hadn’t yet been identified with the Zeitgeist of the era. In 1996, to speak of the “web” was much more fashionable. In those days conventional wisdom was already moving toward the notion that business on the Internet was all about branding. If true, service and price would be secondary concerns, at least at first. For the long run, Ambler had some ideas about how to compete in those areas as well, but his driving imperative was to move forward as soon as possible. He needed to stake his claim to have it recognized. If any new TLDs ever came to fruition, it was logical that .web would have to be one of them. The name was that good. Ambler wasn’t the first claimant to the .web TLD to submit a template to IANA. He wasn’t even the second. As third in line, he couldn’t just let IANA’s process play out on its

288 own. The name might go to someone in front. Under those circumstances, Denninger’s advice about establishing proof of prior use looked very sensible. One might call it the “fire up the servers and line up the lawyers” principle. Ambler filled out AlterNIC’s TLD registration template and sent it to Kashpureff.415 At least he could be first in someone’s queue. But he knew his chances for success would be far better if he could find a way to push to the front of IANA’s line as well. To do that, he was ready to buy his way in. Ambler knew he would have to find someone to open the door and take his money. Since joining the list, Ambler had frequently announced his readiness to go live with .web. By mid July the announcements were coupled with a plea to the effect of, “Where do I send my filing fee?” But Postel and Manning weren’t taking any money. Given the pressing need to bolster his legal standing and move his claim to .web to the head of IANA’s line, he had to find a way to get someone there to accept his check. On July 23rd , during a Fleming-initiated thread about developing common registry procedures, Ambler made a hard kick at the door.
Each and every day I get less confident that this is ever going to be resolved. Jon? Bill? Is there *anything* being done? I don't see a WG ever being established here in newdom because of the constant off-topic arguing. How about setting up a real meeting someplace and inviting all interested to attend, lock everyone in a room, and have thai food sent in until something is approved. I'll buy my plane ticket today and pop for the first 24 hours of food. Come on, people. We've got a company sitting on its thumbs waiting for this to happen, an application and check *literally* sitting on my desk waiting for a procedure to send it in. We're *ready* now. 416

Not content to sit on their thumbs either, Denninger and Kashpureff decided to kick off what Kahspureff called “AlterNIC’s 1996 World Tour.” It would start in Chicago on August 1st in the facilities of Denninger’s ISP, MCSNet. Kashpureff would travel the country, installing the servers that would enhance responsiveness and redundancy in the AlterNIC root constellation. The configuration work would take some time, but each stop

AlterNIC allowed three TLDs per applicant. His other two requests were .www and .auto. Christopher Ambler, “TLD Registration with AlterNIC,” Newdom-iiia July 16, 1996.


Christopher Ambler, “Re; Common Registry Procedures,” Newdom-iiia July 23, 1996.

289 on the tour could also provide the occasion for a some kind of meeting – part local, part conference call – where alt-rooters could discuss policy under the banner eDNS (enhanced DNS).417 There was open speculation that adding a .xxx TLD to a fully-fledged AlterNIC/eDNS root would be the final step that would put the alt-rooters on par with the legacy InterNIC zones. Now, under even greater pressure to find some way of advancing the official process, Manning proposed a meeting at IANA’s offices in Marina del Rey. It was also scheduled for August 1st, ostensibly as an interim meeting of the planned working group.418 Perhaps it would be possible to bite off a small piece of the problem and try to develop registry evaluation procedures. Ambler was after bigger game. This was just the opportunity he was looking for. The beginning of August was shaping up as a watershed for another reason. Newdom was moving to a new host. Marnell had operated newdom as an unmoderated list, in which anyone could post anything. But he had become utterly frustrated with the list’s acrimony and lack of focus. In late July, seeking to impose discipline, he made private attempts to contact those he considered to be the greatest offenders. Denninger was chief among them. Rather than tone down, however, Denninger escalated. Marnell, in turn, warned that he might terminate Denninger’s posting privileges altogether. Denninger then threatened to sue. Marnell simply folded. “Bye bye list,” he wrote, announcing he would close it by July 30th. There was only a brief moment for expressions of sympathy for Marnell, gratitude for his efforts, and introspection about the atrocious behavior that seemed so endemic on the list. Another fight broke out almost immediately over who would take over as host. Denninger, Higgs, Sexton, and Wesson all announced new lists. Wesson’s ultimately captured the momentum.

AlterNIC’s name servers were stationed in Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, and Bremerton, W ashington. George Lawton, “New top-level domains promise descriptive names,” SunWorld Online September 1996


Bill Manning, “Coffee, Tea or Thai?,” Newdom IIIA, July 25, 1996.

290 *** Marnell’s newdom remained quite busy till the end, no doubt because such important events lay ahead. On July 30, the day before the Marina Del Rey meeting, Manning participated in a goal-defining exchange with Paul Mockapetris. Mockapetris considered anything that aimed at establishing “consistent policies” to be “a bug, not a feature.” He believed that a consolidated policy would “artificially restrict the growth of the Internet,” while diversity would “embrace the largest set of endpoints.” Mockapetris then listed a set of specific goals, all intended to accelerate the pace of domain name registration. The last was, “Begin the process by allocating TLDs to 5-10 independent organizations to manage as they choose. Let users vote with their feet.”419 Manning agreed with all of it, particularly that final goal. “Some of us have the idea that the focus is on the process to do [that one].” Manning submitted two documents just under the wire of newdom’s closing. One was a list of “some items for consideration as selection criteria for iTLD creation.”420 To Ambler’s great interest, the first item was prior use. The others were domain integrity, audit compliance, and published registration policies. Manning’s other last minute submission was a memo that relied on Postel’s last draft to describe how an IANA administrator might calculate and collect a new iTLD’s 2 percent annual registration fees. The title revealed some trepidation... “Do I really want to do this?” The Marina Del Rey meeting turned out disastrously. Its everlasting legacy is a hotly disputed tale of Ambler’s attempt to acquire formal authorization for .web. Only six people were present, Manning, Higgs, Ambler, Jonathon Frangie (Ambler’s attorney), plus Dan Busarow and Michael Gersten, aspiring TLD operators. Higgs later insisted that “explicit permission” was given to go ahead and start up registration services,421 but Bill Manning’s

See Paul Mockapetris and Bill Manning’s response, “Re: One more time (and the history behind,” Newdom-iiia July 30, 1996.


Bill Manning, “naughty pine,” Newdom-iiia July 29, 1996. Simon Higgs, “Re,” domain-policy January 28, 1998.


291 notes on the meeting do not bear this out.422 A more sensational outcome was the question of Christopher Ambler’s “smoking check.” Had IANA accepted Ambler’s $1,000 application fee, virtually ensuring his priority claim to .web? As Higgs later recounted:

Chris says "Bill, can I give you a check for the application fee?" Bill says "no". Chris then says application?" Bill says "yes". Chris says "do you have an envelope?" Bill says "hang on a tick" and walks into Jon's office and comes back with an envelope and gives it to Chris. Chris stuffs the check inside the envelope. Bill pretends he is Stevie Wonder. Chris hands envelope to Bill. Bill adds envelope to the mountain of paperwork he has with him. We finish off the meeting, and I finished off the sweet & sour pork ... Within several hours, someone leaks this story to the newdom mailing list. IANA check the envelope and say "Bless my soul" and promptly return the check to Chris to prove to the world they weren't taking any advanced application fees. I think everyone was guilty. Especially the special fried rice.










It is polite but mistaken to blame an MSG-fueled giddiness for the ensuing confusion. The real problem was a mix of Ambler’s predatory opportunism, Manning’s overly accommodating demeanor, and Postel’s inattention. The Marina Del Rey event was originally supposed to be about fleshing out details of the long-anticipated RFC, not picking a winner in the race to become the Internet’s first major commercial competitor to Network Solutions. In any case, twelve hours after the meeting was over, .web was up and running.

The notes were sent privately and then reprinted on various mailing lists. Some reprints may be found in current archives, some are only cached archives. See Gordon Cook, “the .web lawsuit against IAHC let the record speak,” February 28, 1997,


Simon Higgs, “Re:,” domain-policy January 29, 1998.

292 Word got out right away, suggesting that some kind of sweetheart deal had occurred, and that Denninger’s warnings had been justified. Postel stepped in immediately. The following day, August 2nd, he issued a statement insisting that no commercial TLD registrations were being accepted. The envelope and the check were returned to Ambler. But the damage was done. Things looked sloppy. Postel’s once unassailable reputation as IANA and as steward of the Internet’s core resources was truly damaged. Past problems such as ambiguous IP address allocations hadn’t reached public consciousness because they were technically complex and had occurred in relative obscurity. But now the Internet was booming, and there was swelling interest in TLD allocation and the surrounding controversy. Money changing hands in exchange for a favor was a primitive, easily understood idea. This event became one of the “bloody shirts” of the DNS War. Afterward, whenever it seemed something important was about to be decided or discussed – perhaps because Congressional hearings were announced, or because the Administration was preparing to release a new recommendation, or because a significant conference was about to take place – the .web episode would be replayed and embellished. The ‘How did we get into this mess?’ debates added the feud about whether IANA sold .web to Ambler that day, and whether it had the authority to do so. Still, the DNS debates remained as mired as ever in traditional arguments. Did the Internet’s name and number resources rightfully belong to some US Government agency or to the Internet community? If the former, Which government agency was it? If the latter, Who represented that community? Nothing had been simplified. Nothing had been advanced. And in the meantime, Network Solutions alone continued to reap the benefits of the .com windfall.

[T]echnological innovations inherited from the past ... cannot legitimately be presumed to constitute socially optimal solutions.... Paul David On the information superhighway, national borders aren’t even speed bumps. Timothy C. May


a. A Chorus of Critics – September 1996 The attacks on IANA had a lasting effect, nicking the armor of Postel’s once-stellar

reputation, and tainting the image of the Internet’s old guard. But those setbacks didn’t boost the fortunes of alt-rooters like Kashpureff and Denninger. The big retail ISPs were content to stay with the legacy DNS constellation, keeping alt-roots on the periphery. NSI reported a ten-fold increase in average daily DNS queries over one year, from about 100 million hits per day in autumn 1995 to over 1 billion in autumn 1996424 At best, only three percent of the Internet’s users ever tried AlterNIC for name resolution.425 Under those circumstances, putting out money for a domain name registration in one of its TLDs amounted to either a bad bet or a wistful token of encouragement. Entrepreneurial TLDs never gained enough market share to even hint that a “tipping point” might be within view. As enthusiasm for alternate roots subsided, NSI continued to enjoy the ever-mounting windfall of .com. And the “formal” new TLD process sustained its inexorable, if glacial, movement ahead. In late August Postel published another draft on TLD registries.426 This time he suggested launching thirty new ones right away, with a goal of one hundred fifty by the end


See graphic in David L. Margulius, “Trouble on the Net,” Infoworld November 24, 2003, 42.

According to Kashpureff, AlterNIC’s penetration reached three percent during the summer of 1996. See Diamond (1998). Critics claimed AlterNIC never surpassed 0.5 percent. See Dave Crocker, “Re: Just do it (or ‘Death of the Net? Film at 11...’),” domain-policy April 20, 1998. Jon Postel, “New Registries and Delegation of International Top Level Domains,” August 1996. It can be found in various archives under “draft-postel-iana-itld-admin-02.txt.”



294 of 1996, a far more aggressive schedule than his original suggestion of only five per year. He still preferred to see any new TLD business operations modeled after NSI’s combined registry/registrar functions. For parity, new operators would be limited to a maximum of three TLDs each. To stimulate growth outside the United States, Postel recommended that no more than half the new startups could be in the same country. A significant portion of the draft concerned the creation of a “legal and financial umbrella” for IANA, in explicit coordination with ISOC. There was also a discussion of dispute resolution processes that included Postel’s first mention of the Internet DNS Names Review Board (IDNB) since the publication of RFC 1591 two years earlier. The role of this phantom board would now be “expanded” to handle a new class of technical disputes. As before, nothing was said about how the IDNB would be constituted. *** The August draft came shortly in advance of yet another grand meeting on Internet governance... the “Conference on Coordination and Administration of the Internet,” funded by the NSF, and hosted by the Harvard Science and Technology Program’s Information Infrastructure Project. Scheduled for September 8-10, 1996, it promised to be the biggest and most serious one yet. The chair, Brian Kahin, had authored the 1990 RFC that documented the NSF’s plans for Internet commercialization. At this time he was working simultaneously as Lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School while heading the Working Group on Intellectual Property, Interoperability, and Standards of the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy. A Harvardtrained attorney, an academician, and a quasi-officer of the U.S. government, Kahin had established himself as an elite policy wonk who could be counted on to be highly attentive to the concerns of trademark and copyright interests. Unlike previous meetings and conferences motivated by DNS reform, papers presented at this one would be published as an edited compilation. That raised the bar on the quality of submissions.427 As usual, getting a handle on how the DNS worked and who


Kahin and Keller, (1997)

295 controlled the root was a top concern. But this conference targeted broader issues, and at a relatively high level. Topics included trademark legalities, NSI’s dispute resolution policy, IP performance metrics, and ISP traffic settlements. Names and numbers arcana were to be explored in rigorous detail, but this was not the place to negotiate who would get which new TLDs The venue also allowed lots of room for discussion of “big picture” items, including intriguing meta-questions such as whether the Internet had become an entity immune to the dictates of national sovereignty. It was a timely discussion because a recent US District Court ruling had struck down pieces of the Communications Decency Act. Most members of the Internet community had long believed that the CDA presented an onerous threat to the free speech rights of adults.428 Even if the Internet had not been proven impervious to

sovereignty, it appeared as if the community’s freewheeling culture had withstood an attack, and had shown itself as a force that had to be accommodated. Not only was the outcome a cause for revelry, the Court’s decision included heartening language about the nature of the Internet itself. No single entity – academic, corporate, governmental, or non-profit – administers the Internet. ... There is no centralized storage location, control point, or communications channel...429 Such wording bolstered the increasingly popular notion of the Internet as sui generis... “chaotic,” and therefore ungovernable. There was no shortage of perspectives about who should rule the Internet, and how, even among those who pronounced it ungovernable. The NSF conference presented the latest opportunity to give them a hearing. Mitchell Kapor, a leading EFF activist, and Sharon Eisner Gillett, an MIT Research Associate and former BBN employee, co-authored a paper disputing the Internet’s “popular portrayal as total anarchy.” Despite lacking a central information “gatekeeper” or a network connectivity-mediating “king,” they wrote, the Internet was actually a decentralized

Earlier in 1997, CDA opponents had coordinated a “black ribbon” campaign, signaling their protest by resetting web pages to display black backgrounds.


ACLU vs. Reno, 929 Fsupp 824 (Eastern District of Pennsylvania 1996) paragraph 11.

296 confederation founded on the principle that “networks will relate as peers.” New norms, embodied in the Internet Protocol and the community’s “sacrosanct” regard for “interoperability,” were taken to be profoundly transformative, fostering a culture of business and commerce called “co-opetition.” They credited unique Internet characteristics for impeding the emergence of “chiefs” while promoting a style of coordination called “decentralized interoperation.” According to Gillett and Kapor, “ninety nine percent” of the Internet followed these new, decentralizing norms. The remaining “one percent” of the system accounted for routing, protocol standards, and unique identifiers. That portion was “exceptional” in that it was critical to the Internet’s function, and thus required management by “Authorities.” Namely, Postel. But perhaps only for the time being. What worked for a small Internet in the past might not work for a big Internet in the future. They considered the legitimacy of incumbent overseers to be increasingly problematic. “IANA’s authority depends on how close Jon Postel comes to performing [his] role with the wisdom of King Solomon.” 430 IANA derived its authority from the Internet community’s shared history and trust in Jon Postel. It would be naive to expect such authority to remain unchallenged as the community grows to encompass large numbers of stakeholders who share neither of those.431 The tone of the Gillett and Kapor analysis was austere, but the thrust was hopeful, even triumphalist. “It would not surprise us,” they wrote, if those last few of the Internet’s centralized functions “ended up taking place in a bottom-up, ‘anyone can’ manner,” which “eventually looked a lot more like coordination of the rest of the Internet.” In other words, they weren’t advocating outright anarchy, but an outcome which would firmly and finally establish that no one was in charge of any portion of the Internet – a world where guiding principles would be fixed and gatekeepers would be gone.

Sharon Eisner Gillett and Mitchell Kapor, “The Self-Governing Internet: Coordination by Design,” in Kahin and Keller (1997: 24).


Ibid. p.32.

297 A more self-avowedly radical piece, “And How Shall the Net Be Governed?: A Meditation on the Relative Virtues of Decentralized Emergent Law,” came from two attorneys, David Johnson and David Post. Their involvement in the creation of Counsel Connect, a popular online service for lawyers, had secured their places at the forefront of computerization within their profession.432 But they had also distinguished themselves as activists on free speech and privacy issues. Now they were taking up the cause of the Internet as an independent sphere of legal authority. And they were on a roll, having recently published a major article in the Stanford Law Review on a similar theme.433 Johnson and Post saw the Internet as “a new global space that disregards national borders and that cannot be readily controlled by any existing sovereign.” Not only did its decentralized nature allow for a new approach to rule-making (about which the two authors had much to suggest), anyone engaged in that incipient rule-making process had to recognize what Johnson and Post deemed to be an essential fact of the new reality: No existing sovereign territorial government “possesses legitimate authority” to serve as a source of rules for Internet activity. Any attempt to impose the “traditional model of governance,” they believed, “represents... an extraterritorial power grab... a form of colonialism long rejected (and rightly so) in the non-virtual context.”434 Such bold talk was not unusual during the Internet boom, but Johnson and Post were far more sophisticated than most self-declared citizens of cyberspace. They understood the utility of making a big splash. Building on the momentum of the Stanford article and the popular fascination with the Internet itself, they leveraged the media tie-ins of the Harvard venue for maximum return. They had consciously embarked on a world-making agenda, thinking through the legal and political implications as skillfully as anyone before them.

A short biography of Johnson can be found in John Brockman (1996), Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite, online at


“Law and Borders – The Rise of Law in Cyberspace,” 48 Stanford Law Review 1367 (1996).

David R. Johnson and David G. Post, “And How Shall the Net Be Governed?: A Meditation on the Relative Virtues of Decentralized Emergent Law,” in Kahin and Keller (1997: 62-92).


298 *** Though Postel did not attend the conference, other leading characters from the DNS debates were there, including Heath, Shaw, Rutkowski, Mitchell, and Bradner. The latter two, along with Katherine Claffy, put together a rather brusque, counter-intuitive argument. For them, DNS technology was ultimately “irrelevant.” The real problem was scale; over the long run DNS wouldn’t be able to handle the problem of locating resources on the Internet. A true directory service would be needed for that (The kind of service that AT&T had failed to deliver to the InterNIC under its share of the Cooperative Agreement). In fact, they argued, debates over the future of the DNS were a distraction from the more important problem of Internet governance. The Internet community prides itself on its anarchic nature. [The expected] withdrawal of U.S. government support and authority for its intellectual infrastructure will render inadequate the boundaries that have isolated and protected that anarchy. The community must create new authorities and/or coalesce around globally credible institutions of governance, and determine and establish mechanisms which are likely to insure the long-term viability of these institutions. And all of this must occur quickly. We fear, and thus caution the community, that there is much truth to the old adage that those who are unable to govern themselves will be governed by others.435 The real challenge, they believed, was “to institutionalize the IANA function as quickly as possible.” Only that would guarantee survival of the Internet community’s intellectual infrastructure. For these cynical old hands of the Internet, TLD allocation was just an irrelevant sideshow. *** There was something so palpably radical about the Internet those days, that pinning down its meaning and purpose had become a matter of some interest. What was the desired intent of all this effort? What project was being projected? Descriptions drawn from past and present society often felt inadequate. Notwithstanding competing semantics, terms like “selfgovernance” were too tame. Even “anarchy” fell short. New coinages – oxymoronic

Don Mitchell, Scott Bradner, and K Claffy, “In W hose Domain? Name Service in Adolescence,” in Kahin and Keller (1997: 267).


299 morphologies like “dis-intermediated,” “stupid network,” “co-opetition,” and “decentralized interoperation” – helped capture the early Internet’s thrilling sense of exceptionalism. But that very exceptionalism had produced a crisis. It was no longer enough to be a geeky insider who could intuit a tacit awareness of the Internet’s catalyzing values. It was no longer enough to rely on a community of insiders to embed those values in every newly-built piece of the Internet’s burgeoning infrastructure. Mystical faith in taken-for-granted principles could not sustain those principles against attack, attrition, or entropy. For the Internet’s exceptional traditions and institutional forms to be preserved, they would have to be articulated, promoted, defended, and advanced. *** The NSF conference was an intriguing detour, but the DNS street-fight never dropped entirely from view. NSI published a new revision of its dispute resolution policy that same week.436 Intended primarily to make the policy clearer and more easily understood, its appearance did as much to aggravate old wounds as to prevent new ones. The restatement did nothing to satisfy those who believed the policy was designed to benefit selfaggrandizing corporate opportunists at NSI who had tilted too heavily in favor of trade-mark holding complainants. And it provided even more grist for the mills of legions of analysts who were developing expertise in this chic new area of law. NSI’s own terms of service regarding trademark policies were again attacked for undermining the principles of free speech and first-come first-served.437 The company was also criticized for not reporting basic statistics about domain name disputes, and for leaving many unanswered questions about how widely and how consistently its policies were applied. NSI wouldn’t even report how many names had been removed.


For NSI’s “Domain Dispute Policy Statement – Revision 02,” see Rony and Rony (1998: 157-9).

See Carl O p p e d a h l, “NSI F la w e d D o m a in Name P o lic y in fo r m a tio n page,” See also, M ilton Mueller, “Trademarks and Domain Names: Property Rights and Institutional Evolution in Cyberspace,”


300 Excessive fear of being sued for contributory infringement produced an overreaction. The company’s attorneys undertook a hyper-vigilant strategy that leaned hard to the benefit of trademark holders, even when traditional concepts of infringement did not apply. Some incidents were sensational. At one point, at the request of a Michigan lamp retailer, Juno Lighting, NSI was on the verge of deleting the name Its operator was a well established ISP which had nothing to do with the manufacture or sale of lamp fixtures. More than 500,000 people depended on’s free email service. The owners of Juno Lighting demanded the name anyway, and NSI announced it would delete the juno,com entry until the legal issues were settled. An emergency court order prevented disaster for Juno’s email account holders. NSI eventually revised its policy so that a contested name could remain visible on the Internet if the name holder agreed to indemnify NSI. But the basic flaw was left in place, allowing trademark holders to invoke their presumed “rights” to various names, despite clear lack of infringement. Many of the domain names disputes which finally reached court had a kind of David and Goliath feel. Roadrunner, an Arizona-based ISP, was challenged by Warner Brothers, claiming dilution of the cartoon character brand. (A weak flyer, but fast and agile on the ground, the roadrunner is a distinctive, popular bird often seen in the Southwestern US, and especially Arizona.) Perhaps the most mismatched of such cases pitted Uzi Nissan against the Nissan Motor Company. Nissan, who ran a computer business in North Carolina, was born in Israel where Nissan is both a common family name and the name of a calender month in Hebrew. He registered in June 1994, shortly after Josh Quittner made an issue of But no Solomon stepped forward to engineer a quick and happy solution to this case, and Mr. Nissan was under tough legal pressure from the motor company for years thereafter. One of the most celebrated David and Goliath standoffs did not reach litigation. Chris “Pokey” van Allen, a twelve year old Pennsylvanian, received a challenging letter from the Prema Toy Company demanding he abandon his website (a gift from his father, David van Allen, an ISP operator) and surrender the name. The younger van Allen’s nickname happened to be the same as a claymation character named Pokey (the horse who

301 was Gumby’s sidekick). The father responded to Prema’s demand by hiring an attorney and undertaking a remarkably effective web-based public relations campaign that generated over 4,500 sympathetic email messages. Prema’s attorneys withdrew their demands after a friendly intervention by Art Clokey, Gumby’s and Pokey’s creator.438 Then there was matter of satirical sites. Michael Doughey registered to support content on behalf of “People Eating Tasty Animals.” The animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, were predictably offended. There was also elaborate parody site called, which announced “the acquisition of Englandtm, a leading country.” The site described new licensing terms for England’s main product. Englishtm will no longer be made available on a public domain basis. All users of Englishtm must register with Microsnot. A trial version of Englishtm will be made available with a limited vocabulary.439 To be sure, there were truly predatory name-nappers. Dennis Toeppen, an Illinoisbase entrepreneur, registered about 200 names in 1995, shortly after fees were established, including several he knew to be coined words. Such trademarks generally receive the toughest protections under law because they have no other prior use in natural language. At first Toeppen’s gamble seemed to work; rather than litigate, a few of his targets chose an expeditious course and paid his greenmail demands. Others – most notably Intermatics and Panavison – sued and won, establishing what Toeppen later described (in an expression of ennobled suffering, if not redemptive contrition) as “the foundation of modern Internet trademark law.”440

Jeri Clausing, “Boy's W eb Site Becomes a Domain Name Cause,” New York Times, March 25, 1998, and; Jeri Clausing, “Gumby Creator Grants Boy Pokey Domain,” New York Times, April 24, 1998 cyber/articles/24pokey.html


See Ronald B. Standler, “Trademarks on the Internet,” See Toeppen’s recounting at


302 *** By October 1996, domain names were a recurring media story, particularly when there was news of the skyrocketing sums being paid for prized names. By now the bounty had reached as high as $50,000. Coverage of the NSF’s latest Harvard conference fueled more interest, especially within the segment of the computer industry trade press that focused on ISPs. Savvy journalists were acquiring a more sophisticated appreciation of how much hinged on the creation of new TLDs. A few were starting to take sides on the DNS debates, and most of them favored the alt-rooters. Postel, consequently, was taking harder shots than ever. Drumming up criticism of Postel’s latest draft, Communications Week ran a story headlined “Net Plan Masks Power Bid.” Robert Shaw played the foil, denouncing the draft as “totally without legitimacy.” The domain name server space is a global resource and neither IANA nor ISOC have the right to appoint themselves as the taxing authority for the root level to the tune of potentially millions of dollars a year.441 There was more. Bill Frezza, a columnist for InternetWeek, described Postel as “a godfather-like figure within the [Internet’s] ruling cartel.” Frezza believed that AlterNIC’s “homesteading” efforts had changed the landscape so significantly, the cartel might begin to “crumble.” Presuming the Internet’s “old insiders” refused to “embrace the renegades,” certain outcomes could be predicted: 1) An eventual “DNS war probably would settle into sovereignless anarcho-syndicalism similar to the structure of international drug cartels,” or; 2) “real politicians could use the fracas as an excuse to grab control, kicking out the geeks” and ultimately subordinate the Internet to the FCC or the ITU.442 A Boardwatch report provided a detailed background on the evolution of Postel’s new iTLD RFC drafts. The article also recounted Ambler’s $1,000 “application” for .web, incorrectly implying that Manning had been fired after the incident. The authors were


See Ken Hart, “Net Plan Masks Power Bid,” Communications Week International, September 9,

1996, 170. Bill Frezza, “The ‘Net Governance Cartel Begins to Crumble,” InternetWeek, October 28, 1996. Http://www.internetweek/102896/635frez.htm.

303 relatively gentle with Postel, allowing, “It seems inevitable that an organization which has never attempted to make money in the past should have a few problems handling cash the first time it tries.” Nevertheless, they lauded Kashpureff and sought to promote access to AlterNIC’s root, printing step-by-step instructions for ISPs and home users who might want to reconfigure their machines or operating systems in order to try it out.443 *** DNS reform was a strange kind of hot potato. It got hotter the longer one held it. Postel had hoped to hand it off in June, but very little had been accomplished since ISOC’s Board postponed sponsorship of his requested “blue ribbon” committee. Technical details about operational requirements for root servers had been fleshed out, but tougher questions about liability and authority remained open. In the wake of Harvard conference Kahin might have felt that the power to take the initiative and move things forward had come within his reach. Evidently hoping to settle the authority question once and for all, he wrote to the co-chairs of the FNC asking for clarification about U.S. government claims to ownership over 1) the IP address space; 2) the .com .net and .org TLDs, and; 3) the root.444 But Kahin was not the only one trying to seize the initiative. On the heels of Kahin’s move, Don Mitchell circulated a memo titled “Declare Victory and Leave.”445 The Cooperative Agreement should be terminated immediately, he argued, 18 months ahead of schedule. His logic was that NSI’s financial solvency made contract termination both possible and necessary... The Internet had evolved into a full-blown commercial entity, and was therefore beyond the scope of the NSF’s educational support mission.


David Hakala and Jack Rickard, “A Domain By Any Other Name,” Boardwatch, October 1996.

Original sources have disappeared, but notes indicate the letter was dated September 23 1996. The letter was later referred to by the FNC Advisory Committee . See “Draft Minutes of the Federal Network Council Advisory Committee (FNCAC) M eeting,”


Letter dated October 4, 1996, forwarded to me by the author.

304 Where Mitchell was eager to help NSI consolidate its power, others still hoped to diffuse it. Not that things had any gotten easier. Total registrations in .com and .net had now reached 600,000, with the pace of registrations growing 15% each month. NSI was not only solvent, it was flush with cash, and its future was bright. Market watchers speculated that the company was preparing to “go public” with an Initial Public Offering (IPO). If so, its current owners were about to become quite wealthy. Given how badly Postel had been burned by the process so far, and given that agents of the US government were either preoccupied with analysis or exceedingly friendly to NSI, and given that alternate roots had failed to break through, only one entity might conceivably challenge NSI’s monopoly and disperse the windfall – ISOC.


Blue Ribbons – November 1996

Like most of the people associated with the technical community, Don Heath lacked a straightforward, comprehensive, popular goal for DNS reform. But even if he didn’t know specifically what to do, given the mounting pressure for someone to finally step up and act like a responsible agent, he had a unique opportunity to move things forward. IANA may have been down, but it was far from out, and Postel was still touting ISOC as the legitimate voice of the Internet community. Moreover, despite rough beginnings and persistent controversy, ISOC’s standing in the technical community had achieved preeminence. As new users rushed onto the Internet, and as new contributors joined the IETF, ISOC no longer appeared to be such a usurper. Now it was just part of the landscape. In early October Heath began floating plans for an International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC), the “blue ribbon” that Postel had longed for. There was a new sense of urgency, in part because that Mitchell had become so much bolder in advocating his own ideas. Also, the FNC Advisory Council was scheduled to meet in Washington on October 21-22, establishing a deadline of sorts. If ISOC didn’t act decisively by then, control of the initiative might fall to the NSF, or to Kahin, or just slip away altogether in another round of analysis and fact-finding.

305 When the FNCAC meeting convened, the report requested by Kahin was not ready. (It seems unlikely that it was ever completed. There was no record of it in any archives or at the FNC’s website.) Nevertheless, DNS problem were discussed at length, and heatedly. Peter Rony, researching a book on how to “win” in the domain name market, attended the discussion and transmitted a partial record.446 Mitchell was there, avidly pressing his case for ending the NSF’s responsibility for InterNIC support. He wanted out almost immediately. Many were reluctant to recommend such precipitous action, since it would drastically reduce US leverage in shaping future reforms. There was lingering criticism of NSF for the way the institution of fees had been managed. There was also some discussion of shutting down .com altogether. And there was general amazement about how profitable the DNS business had become. The group passed a resolution to stress “the urgency of transferring responsibility for supporting U.S. commercial interests in iTLD administration from the NSF to an appropriate entity.”447 Who that “appropriate entity” might be was left vague and unspecified. Over at ISOC, however, people had very definite ideas. Though the details of the IAHC weren’t complete, Heath had made a lot of headway. Primed by Shaw, Maher and Tramposch in Dublin, and helped along behind-the-scenes more recently by Larry Landweber, organizational work was racing forward. Throughout the Internet community, especially on newdom, people were preoccupied by speculation about the committee’s composition. Several were even jockeying to be appointed. Postel had been held up by jury duty, so the final membership wasn’t yet known, but there was enough in place to launch a fait accomplis. Just as the FNCAC meeting got underway, ISOC issued a press release describing the nine member IAHC. Belying the goal of launching a whole new framework for DNS

Most comments were not attributed to any particular speaker. Peter Rony, forwarded by Ellen Rony to Michael Dillon, “NEW DOM: FW : FNCAC Meeting, Oct 21-22, 1996; NSF, Arlington, VA (fwd)” newdom_ar 10/24/1996. “Draft Minutes of the Federal Network Council Advisory Committee (FNCAC) Meeting” See also, “FNCAC Agenda Topic – Governance of the Internet,”


306 governance, its understated objective was to “resolve controversy . . . resulting from current international debate over a proposal to establish global registries and additional international Top Level Domain names (iTLDs)”448 IANA, ISOC, and the IAB would each appoint two members, and the ITU, WIPO, and the INTA would each appoint one. This was an unlikely alliance: the globalizing elite of the Internet engineering community and the bureaucratic agents of the old world telecommunication, patent and trademark regimes. The FNCAC’s reaction was first to ask for a seat at the table, and then to hedge its bet. According to its minutes: “While not endorsing the [Postel/ISOC] RFC, FNCAC members urged NSF and the FNC to seek membership on this advisory committee, in recognition of the government's historic stewardship role in this sector.449 Leaving the FNC off the invitation list was just one remarkable oversight of ISOC’s announcement. Another was the lack of explicit representation for the ISP community. Asking CIX or RIPE or APNIC to appoint a member would certainly have been considered appropriate, especially after so much attention over the previous year had been given to that community’s importance and the legitimating role. Some thought it was a mistake not to invite NSI.450 Yet, as the entity most likely to lose from introducing new TLDs, one can see how Postel and Heath might have expected NSI’s behavior to be obstructive. Still, including NSI in order to negotiate some kind of “buy in” would have been the more astute move. But no one acts with the benefit of hindsight.


IAHC - Late 1996

With the IAHC taking shape, it seemed like the reform process was taking a real step forward. But appearances had been misleading before. After all the fuss of the past year, little had been achieved. Expiration of the Cooperative Agreement was now less than 18 months

ISOC Press Release. 1996 “Blue Ribbon International Panel to Examine Enhancements to Internet Domain Name System,”


FNC Draft Minutes and FNCAC Agenda Topic. See fn. 447. Mueller (2002:143).


307 away. Concerned that momentum would be squandered on another round of dead-end drafts and eternal argument, Paul Vixie laid down an ultimatum to the major players. And, to underscore the point, he made it known on the Alt-root community’s newdom list.

I have told the IANA and I have told InterNIC -- now I'll tell you kind folks. If IANA's proposal stagnates past January 15, 1997, without obvious progress and actual registries being licensed or in the process of being licensed, I will declare the cause lost. At that point it will be up to a consortium of Internet providers, probably through CIX if I can convince them to take up this cause, to tell me what I ought to put into the "root.cache" file that I ship with BIND. 451

Vixie believed that he could play the initiative game as well as anyone. His ultimatum included a noteworthy assumption, implicitly equating the IAHC with “IANA’s proposal,” and therefore Postel’s latest draft. Most observers of the process thought the purpose of the IAHC was to flesh out an existing set of ideas, pulling together the best parts of Postel’s drafts and contributions that had been made on public email lists. It was an unquestioned premise. Few expected the outcome would be something altogether new. *** IAHC members weren’t expected to serve as representatives of the groups that appointed them. They were to participate as individuals, IETF-style, presumably free to act as they saw fit, beholden to no one. Both the IAB’s appointments were from outside the United States. Geoff Huston was founder and President of Telstra, the leading ISP in Australia, and a key figure in APNIC. Hank Nussbacher was an Israeli-based engineer who was deeply involved in designing an IBM-mainframe-based store and forward network called BITNET (the “Because It’s There” Network) while enrolled at the City University of New York. When he returned to Israel he was instrumental in building IBM’s presence as an ISP there, and operating Israel’s TLD, .il. Those two choices seemed to help redress the gap in ISP representation, but another


Paul Vixie, “requirements for participation:” October 31, 1996, IETF and newdom-vrx.

308 explanation is more likely... a mix of personal and professional associations. Brian Carpenter, the IAB Chair, was a distinguished computer engineer at CERN who later joined IBM. He eventually became Chair of the IETF. Carpenter was also an avid ISOC supporter, an enthusiasm he held in common with Nussbacher who was active in his home country’s ISOC movement, and with Huston, who became an ISOC Board member, and would serve for a time as its Treasurer. Postel apparently searched for appointees among people who had been active in DNS and Internet governance debates. Christopher Ambler later said he had declined Postel’s invitation, expecting there would be a conflict of interest when it came time to grant TLD licenses. Simon Higgs said he was invited, but had declined on the grounds that the IAHC process was anti-competitive. Karl Auerbach said Postel had asked him to consider serving as well. In the end, his choices were Dave Crocker and Perry Metzger. Crocker had worked with Postel and Dave Farber at USC in the mid 1970s, no doubt getting his foot in the door with some help from his famous older brother Steve. He had even shared an office with Postel for part of that time. The younger Crocker went on to distinguish himself as the sole author of RFC 822, the first widely-accepted standard for Internet-based email. He worked on the MCI Mail project in the mid 1980s and afterward remained professionally involved with development of application standards, including electronic data interchange (EDI) and Internet faxing. He was also quite active in the IETF, contributing to many RFCs. He served as an IESG Area Director (AD) in the early 1990s, remaining a voluble member thereafter. (More than a few IETF veterans I spoke to regarded Cocker as unbearably haughty and disputatious, but those quirks weren’t so unusual in that group. Before the appointment, his comments pertinent to DNS reform often advocated on behalf of the interests of people outside the United States. Parenthetically, according to Heath, it was Crocker who had talked him out of inviting CIX’s President, Barbara Dooley, to serve on the panel.452


Personal interview with Don Heath.

309 Postel’s other appointment was the youngest member of the group, Perry Metzger, a security specialist who had chaired the IETF’s working group on Simple Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). Metzger had a reputation from the Usenet as an exceptionally energetic and prolific member of whatever list was his current passion. An effusive advocate of the Libertarian Party, he was an invariable critic of U.S. government controls restricting the export of products containing strong encryption algorithms. Not shy in front of a crowd, Metzger was a presence in the IETF, engaging in polemics wherever it suited him. He had been particularly outspoken on newdom since its inception, pushing for shared registries, taunting the alt-rooters, and defending Postel against any insult. Metzger had an especially strong personal affinity for Postel. He would seem to drop his harsh edge and light up in the elder’s presence, becoming happily animated and, at the same time, softer. Heath’s selections for ISOC were David Maher, the rescuer of, and Jun Murai, an eminent Japanese computer scientist. Murai was one of the heros in Malamud’s Internet Travelogue, where he was portrayed as a no-nonsense but easygoing dynamo. Murai played a significant part in building his country’s Internet infrastructures, leading an advanced research and operations effort known as the Widely Integrated Distributed Environment (WIDE). WIDE became an essential component of Asia’s Internet backbone, and a pioneering hub of IPv6 development. WIDE was also a big player in DNS, slated to host a new root server as soon as the legacy constellation expanded from eight to thirteen machines.453 That server would be under Murai’s control. He was also an ISOC Board member. When Maher began showing up at conferences on in DNS issues, Postel and Cerf were quite put off. Postel, Maher recounted, initially observed him “as if I had crawled out from under a rock.” Cerf’s reaction to Maher’s first presentation was “close to apoplectic.” Yet Maher had earned high regard from Heath and others in ISOC over time, and had become nearly ubiquitous in DNS policy-making discussions. That prominence ultimately provoked a falling out between Maher and his managers on the International Trademark

Manning and Vixie presented “RFC 2010: Operational Criteria for Root Name Servers” in October 1996 as part of this process.

310 Authority’s Board. They demanded that he stop speaking to the press and restrict his activities to preparation of background reports exclusively for INTA’s use.454 Rather than comply, Maher resigned from his INTA post on September 1st. His co-chair Bob Frank resigned shortly thereafter. All along, evidently, the plan had been for INTA to get a spot on the IAHC, presumably to be filled by Maher. Now it went to another member of INTA’s Internet Task Force, Sally Abel, who was clearly in step with trademark community’s general opposition to new generic TLDs.455 Heath made sure Maher got appointed anyway. That turn of events was clearly advantageous to trademark interests. Whatever differences Maher and Abel may have had over the creation of new TLDs, and whatever other nuances distinguished their approaches to policy-making, they shared a visceral affinity for the needs and interests of trademark holders. It was the common cornerstone of their professional careers. The same was true for another veteran of the Dublin pub crawl, Albert Tramposch, who was appointed as expected by the World Intellectual Property Organization. A seasoned international attorney, Tramposch had led WIPO’s trademark treaty negotiating efforts for most of the 1990s. The International Telecommunications Union selected one of Postel’s best known antagonists, Robert Shaw. Again, it was no great surprise. Like Maher, Shaw had been virtually living and breathing DNS issues for the better part of the year. And, like Maher, he had been cultivating relations with Heath and others in ISOC since the OECD meeting in June. Mutual aversion to Rutkowski would have quickened their bonding. What distinguished Shaw was that he seemed to be the engine of the ISOC/ITU, newtechnology/old-bureaucracy alliance. He had been posting official-sounding comments about IAHC plannning to newdom since the first public announcement in October. He had justified

David M aher, “Reporting to God,” CircleID, March 27, 2006, reporting_to_god_icann_domain_names_dns/. See her retrospective comments to W IPO’s domain name consultation, September 23, 1998. “As to new gTLDs. Don Heath can tell you that I have always been opposed to new gTLDs.” processes/process1/consultations/series1/usa-sanfrancisco/transcript5.html.


311 its membership roster as an “interesting experiment in widening the concept of the traditional 'community.'” He had also raised the prospect that the “outcome” should be “a more permanent 'commission' [to be] 'bootstrapped' for when it is needed.”
One idea that appeals to me is to create something like a Internet Policy Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) group (e.g., as was used for GSM agreements). This is an interesting model because it allows many stakeholders to join it (including both the private and public sector), is self-regulatory in nature, widely diffuses responsibility for complex policy decisions, can have a legal character, and if formulated loosely, can be quickly 456 adapted to new problems.

The selections from the technical community were, not surprisingly, people whose approach to problems tended to narrow things down and focus on the matter at hand. To the extent engineers engaged in grand, long-term solutions, they preferred strategies that let them identify and focus on critical pieces of a structure. Doing so, they could pursue designs that were robust and scalable, and most importantly, build-able with the resources available. Engineers were comfortable with tangible things. But the IAHC was about to undertake the framing of a comprehensively new institutional vision for management of a complex, hardto-understand problem. The challenge was to establish a jurisdictional link between a domain name hierarchy of obscure provenance and a patchwork of national intellectual property systems. If the case at hand was almost entirely novel, the idea of institution building was not. People who were already familiar with the construction of legal edifices within international organizations were far better prepared for the task. The policy specialists on the panel were familiar with the business of making dispersed institutional things that require long-term care and feeding. They were used to thinking more broadly and farther ahead at the expense of immediate specificity. The engineering specialists were temperamentally reactive, preferring situations in which they could fix things and confidently walk away. That mismatch worked to the benefit of the lawyers and international bureaucrats on the IAHC, and thus to the great benefit of the trademark and intellectual property communities.


Robert Shaw, “Re: NEW DOM: Update,” newdom-ar October 30, 1996.

312 Cultural differences may even explain why Heath was so much more receptive at the end of the day to the arguments of the policy specialists than the engineers... the lawyers were better schmoozers. *** With the addition of Strawn, and with Heath as chair, the panel of eleven members was announced on November 12. Expectations were running high, at least among those who still had faith in the integrity of ISOC and IANA. NSI was now taking in about $4 million per month (on over 15,000 registrations per week), with no plateau in sight. Postel’s supporters were counting on the IAHC to cut to the chase. That meant, in short order, blessing new TLDs, breaking NSI’s monopoly, and fostering real competition in the domain name registration business. A new mailing list, iahc-discuss, was inaugurated on November 16. Crocker kicked things off with a polite message titled “Let the games begin,” inviting participants to read the IAHC charter and other web-based materials. Rutkowski was the first to respond, contending that an unincorporated group couldn’t have a real charter since the word implied “a grant by sovereign authority.”457 And so the games began. Posting was immediately voluminous, quickly spiking beyond sixty messages per day. Postel made few contributions to the list. He put up a couple of invitations to join ISOC and some very brief explanations of country code TLDs and the .int domain. His only policy-related comment came during a thread initiated by Paul Vixie. Punctuating his earlier ultimatum, he warned against the IAHC becoming “another think tank or debating society.” The time to ask “what should we do?’ was largely past, Vixie wrote.458 Postel chirped in,“Admitting to a small bias in the matter... Do what the ‘Postel draft’ says to do.”459

Tony Rutkowski: “Re: Let the games begin” gtld-discuss November 17, 1996. (Note that iahcdiscuss postings have been merged into the gtld-discuss archives.)


Paul Vixie, “re: don heath’s comments,” gtld-discuss November 21, 1996. Jon Postel, “Re: don heath’s comments,” gtld-discuss November 22, 1996.


313 Soon after, anticipating the upcoming work sessions of the IAHC, Postel published a date-sorted list of the TLD requests that had been submitted to IANA by aspiring operators over the preceding fourteen months. He made no comment about how the IAHC should assign priority among them.460 Several newdom members wanted to get together at the upcoming IETF meeting in San Jose, hoping again to use the Internet Registries Evolution (IRE) Working Group meeting as a venue. But its chair considered DNS out of scope. The IRE group had evolved a stronger focus on IP registry issues. If there was any truly technical issue area left in common between the names and number specialists, it was the problem of identifying and communicating with registrants. Figuring out how to consolidating a registrant’s “handles” across different systems was an important concern in both communities. But the IRE group preferred cutting its ties with the DNS policy zoo. Consequently, Rick Wesson organized a separate New Top Level Domain BOF. The IAHC held a “greet the public” session at the same venue. It also reserved a room for its first private working session. The session was not only closed to the public, Metzger made a show of sweeping the room for bugs. For the time being, the public would have to wait for specifics about what the IAHC was up to. There was some vague foreshadowing from Heath, who announced at the IETF plenary that the IAHC would be working out the details of the reform process, not Postel.


Constituting CORE – December 1996

Despite the NTLD BOF, and despite the creation of a public email list, the IAHC members conducted their deliberations in a manner far at odds with normal ISOC or IETF practices. Instead of using their public list for developing drafts, they relied on private exchanges. When they met in person, the sessions were closed and a staff counsel was present. There were no minutes or other formal records to chronicle the proceedings. What

Jon Postel, “The IANA’s File of iTLD Requests,” gtld-discuss December 5, 1996. Postel published two versions. The second excluded names that Postel surmised were pranks.


314 is known of the debates within the IAHC has been reconstructed through conversations and interviews. In short, Postel’s ideas were put aside and Shaw’s prevailed. The panel took a “clean slate” approach, ignoring the much-discussed public drafts aimed at generating a community of NSI-styled competitors. What emerged instead was a series of entirely new models for administration, dispute resolution, and customer service. There would be a centralized, nonprofit shared registry fed by a globally dispersed network of commercial registrars. It would be called the Council of Registrars – CORE. The IAHC also adopted new nomenclature; where Postel had used iTLD (for international), the new acronym would be gTLD (for generic, and hinting at global). Most of the IAHC’s time was spent preparing a document called the Generic Top Level Domains Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU), the instrument that would be used to constitute the appropriate institutional arrangements. Other business involved coming up with procedures that would be used to select the registry database operator (DBO) and vet the CORE members. The first draft of IAHC report, issued December 19, described a procedure by which businesses from around the world would be allowed to apply as prospective CORE members. Only 28 were to be accepted... four registrars from each of the seven global regions recognized by the World Trade Organization: North America; Latin America; Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe and some former Soviet States; Africa; the Middle East, and; Asia.461 Applicants would be required to provide evidence of capitalization, insurance, creditworthiness, and number of employees. These applications were to be vetted by Arthur Anderson, LLP which, at the time, was still considered a highly reputable “Big Five” accounting firm. Finally, a lottery would to determine which of the qualified applicants would become CORE registrars in each region. With one exception, the trademark interests got nearly everything they could wish. There would be a 60-day waiting period on the registration of new names, allowing

“Regions as defined by the W orld Trade Organization (WTO),” docs/countries.html.

315 designated authorities to check the names for possible trademark violations. Not only that, the new central registry’s hardware and software would be configured to provide expedited access to those monitors. This would speed up their ability to run searches for specific strings of characters. Down the line, in order to bring the legacy gTLDs under the new regime, NSI would have to give up control of the lucrative .com registry, as well as .net and .org.462 The company was encouraged to apply to be a CORE registrar. Given the lottery gamble, however, it had everything to lose. The Internet veterans probably didn’t spend much time lamenting NSI’s reduced prospects. Nevertheless, the trademark community did make one big concession. All along, the conventional wisdom within most of the Internet community had been that competition would come through the rapid creation of many new TLDs. Trademark hardliners had hoped to block new TLDs altogether, but the ISOC members on the panel wouldn’t give in. They believed in the introduction of TLD competition and they had staked their reputations on following through. Even Postel, the ultra-conservative, had recommended a first wave of thirty. Plus, the “flatness” of a registration system that channeled so many new names into .com remained technically worrisome. The compromise was seven. Further additions would be considered after April 1998, the expected date for the expiration of the Cooperative Agreement. As Crocker told the story, it was he who was leading the discussion when the new names were finally selected, writing prospective suffixes on a whiteboard. One particularly attractive candidate was .web, but Crocker was aware of Christopher Ambler’s claim. IODesign’s version of the .web domain was already visible through the AlterNIC constellation, and the company was billing registrants. According to Crocker, when he asked the attorneys in the room whether the IAHC should be concerned, he was told that IODesign had no legal standing.

The relevant wording December 1996 draft was at paragraph 3.2: “The IAHC recommends that all existing gTLDs be shared in the same fashion [as new gTLDs].” The wording was strengthened in the February 1997 Final Report at Paragraph 3.2.3: “It is intended that all existing gTLDs eventually be shared.”


316 Dismissing the alt-rooters as flaky pirates, the group also dismissed the wisdom of avoiding unnecessary conflict, no matter who the opposition might be. It was an ill-fated choice, akin to driving a car through an intersection when you are sure you have right of way, despite seeing another vehicle in your path. But perhaps there was an ulterior motive. If ISOC/ITU coalition could act unilaterally to assert itself over IODesign now, it would be in a stronger position to do the same to NSI later. So .web was included in the final seven. The other six were .arts, .firm, .info, .nom, .rec, .store, and, .web. Crocker later said he was unaware that .arts was already in AlterNIC’s root. (That TLD was run by the Canadian Jason Hendeles, owner of Skyscape Communications, Inc. In 2005 Hendeles’ application for .xxx would be accepted by ICANN and then reversed under pressure from social conservatives in the US Congress.)


Blocking the MoUvement Jan-April 1997

The first IAHC draft came out just before the winter holidays, allowing a short period of quiet before critical reactions erupted in full force. In mid-January, members from CIX and a handful of large North American and European ISP associations published a critique that amounted to a direct attack. They challenged the panel’s “authority and legitimacy,” citing the lack of ISP representation and the failure to use an open, consensus-building process. They predicted that the gTLD-MoU would produce a “chilling effect on the development of electronic commerce,” in part because the 60-day wait for new name registrations was onerous, and in part because the creation of new, take-all-comer TLDs that lacked “specific purpose” or “clear charter for their intended use” (like .com) would exacerbate problems for trademark holders. In a remarkable shift, given the earlier pressure to add suffixes, the authors of the CIX document recommended that further action be delayed until later in 1997, leaving time for the US Patent and Trade Office and the European Commission to conduct public hearings on domain name issues.463


CIX Comments on IAHC Proposal,” Januaary 17, 1977,

317 Another scathing rejection of IAHC came from the corporate offices of PSINet, a company which had initially been one of its most important proponents. Renouncing their earlier sponsorship of the IAHC, the authors called for “an open global Internet convention” to be moderated by “a high profile Internet advocate such United States Vice President Al Gore.”464 Gore was highly regarded in the Internet community for his initiatives as a Senator on behalf of digital infrastructure expansion. That reputation was bolstered as the Clinton Administration showcased its support for developing the “Information Superhighway.” (Gore, by the way, never actually claimed to have “invented” the Internet, as his opponents charged during the 2000 Presidential campaign. ) Yet more negative reaction came from the Domain Name Rights Coalition (DNRC), a group of Internet-savvy DC-area attorneys who had been vigorous critics of NSI’s dispute resolution policy. The President, Michaela “Mikki” Barry, a skilled software developer with business ties to PSINet, was strongly motivated by free speech concerns. The Executive Director, Michael Doughney, was known for the attention-grabbing “People Eating Tasty Animals” website He managed other provocative sites as well, including the “Biblical America Resistance Front” under Other notable DNRC members were Kathy Kleiman, an activist in highly-regarded professional groups such as the Association for Computing Machinery, and Harold Feld, a magnum cum laude graduate of both Princeton University and Boston University Law School, who had established himself as an expert in telecommunications law. For proponents of the gTLD-MoU, inciting the wrath of the DNRC was an inauspicious turn of events. Feld, Barry, and the others redirected their considerable passions and talents away from battling NSI into a sustained effort to block the IAHC’s plan. They started by publishing a lengthy, carefully-argued attack. Its centerpiece was a vehement critique of the requirement that domain name registrants submit to a sweeping waiver of their rights to raise jurisdictional challenges in case of disputes. They denounced the shared

“PSINet Positon Paper on the Global Top Level Domain Name Proposal by the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC),”


318 registry model and they derided the IAHC’s list of proposed new TLDs, especially for overlooking the need for categories that would serve personal and political speech.465 First reactions from key movers and shakers in the European Internet community were no more promising. Joyce Reynolds, representing IANA, got an earful at January’s RIPE meeting in Amsterdam. “The general consensus,” she reported, “is that this group is NOT happy with the IAHC as a body and the draft proposal they have out.”466 Nearly everyone there complained about the lack of European representation (Shaw and Tramposch, though Swiss residents, were actually American expatriots). No one was happy about the narrow time frame available in which to evaluate the document and submit comments. RIPE’s chair, Rober Blokzijl, went further, describing the IAHC plan as an attempt by Americans to solve a vaguely-understood problem by exporting it to Europe. To make matters worse, the meeting was monitored by Christopher Wilkinson, an official of the European Community’s Telecommunications Directorate, who was on a fact finding mission in preparation for a formal EC response. One of the few items in the IAHC draft that received wide support was the recommendation that the .us domain should add functional second level domains, emulating the organization of most other country codes. In the UK, for example, commercial organizations registered under, limited liability companies under and, and academic institutions under But the .us domain was designed to reflect American political geography. States were at the second level, cities at the third, and there was a complex array of intersecting subcategories for businesses, schools, libraries, and local agencies. IANA was at the top of the chain, receiving a share of the funds that the NSF

The groups’s original site was See “Comments of the Domain Name Rights Coalition to the IAHC Draft Specification for Administration and Management of gTLDs,” January 17, 1997, Joyce Reynolds, notes/imr/imr9701.txt.







319 provided to NSI, as stipulated by the Cooperative Agreement.467 The arrangement reflected Postel’s faith in the collective contributions of volunteers, community servants, and small businesses. This was the delegation motif implicit in RFC 1591. Responsible agents at one level would provide hosting services on behalf of registrants at the level below. In fact, the American country code was a complex, jumbled mess. Anyone wanting to enter a name within the .us hierarchy had to make arrangements through the proper local registration authority. Finding the agent wasn’t simple. Dealing with one could often be a frustrating ordeal, if not a dead end altogether. For these and other reasons, American consumers looking to establish an Internet presence shunned .us and purchased names under .com. Many foreign observers believed that long-term mismanagement of .us had led to the DNS mess. It appeared to them as if the IAHC was doing a a poor job of reinventing the wheel when the Europeans had several of their own that were rolling along quite nicely. The British had just upgraded their own registration model, creating what appeared to be the epitome of a shared registration system, called Nominet. It was a non-profit, spawned by the academic community. Its director, Willy Black, proudly claimed that Nominet operated in “the true spirit of trusteeship inherent in RFC1591."468 Back end prices at the registry were kept low, but sufficient to keep the registry solvent. Nearly anyone could be a registrar, and most British ISPs were, setting prices as they saw fit, typically bundling hosting services with the sale of names. Nominet had a structural advantage in that registrants had to use completely spelled out names within specific third level categories; this reduced the likelihood of conflict. In case of rival claims to a name, Nominet encouraged contenders to avoid “suspension” by “the use of shared web-pages which point to the two

See Ann W estine Cooper and Jon Postel, “RFC 1386: The US Domain” December 1992. It was published about the same time the Cooperative Agreement was being finalized. See also the revision, RFC 1480, June 1993. See also Erica Schlesinger W ass, “The United States’ .US: Striving for the American Dream,” in W ass, ed. Addressing the World: National Identity and Internet Country Code Domains. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Oxford 2003. W illy B lack, “Nominet UK's submission to IAHC on their proposals,” January 17, 1997. The submission included a comment from James Hutton of the United Kingdom Education and Research Network Association. See


320 parties in dispute and incorporate URLs to enable the user to quickly get to the two home pages.” The rest was left to “commercial negotiation or Court order.” The bottom line was a fear that the IAHC was only compounding the problem of the American-style, wild-west, free for all. Black sent a lengthy comment to the IAHC explaining the Nominet model, “which has much to offer.” He opposed the introduction of multiple new generic TLDs, arguing that it would oblige trade mark owners to register in yet more spaces, and would be seen as a “cynical attempt... to milk money” from them.469 *** Compared to those reactions, NSI’s seemed lukewarm, “As a key stakeholder and participant... our consensus is also needed.”470 But the existential threat presented by the IAHC was well understood. The company’s officers recognized they needed new and stronger allies to survive. George Strawn had been quite helpful in the past, yet his presence on the IAHC had failed to yield any explicit protections for NSI. Now the stakes were higher than ever. A huge upgrade to the back end name registration system was coming online, and the company was poised for another remarkable stretch of growth in demand. Preparations for the IPO were ramping up. Moreover, ARIN was beginning to take form, raising public awareness that new costs would be associated with IP address allocations. If this was war, a Machiavellian response was in order. Therefore, it made sense for someone at NSI to warn members of the European Commission’s Directorate for Telecommunications that American-led groups were bringing about major changes to Internet administration without having first solicited European input.471 And it made equally good sense to warn officials in the US executive and legislative branches that the site of Internet administration was about to be moved to Europe and away from US control. Moreover, it made good sense for NSI to cultivate a surge of public protest against the IAHC.



J. Christopher Clough, “Network Solutions' Response to IAHC Draft,” January 14, 1997. Clough was NSI’ Director of Communications. See In a personal conversation with Christopher W ilkinson, he recounted receiving calls from NSI personnel intended to prompt his criticism of the gTLD-MoU.


321 To do so, it would be useful to take steps intended to undermine the reputation of the plan’s most important supporters, namely Postel, ISOC, the IETF old guard, and their new allies at the ITU. NSI found a collaborator who was exceptionally eager and uniquely qualified to make the case... Tony Rutkowski. Rutkowski was once an incessant opponent of government interference in Internet policymaking, and a leading voice in favor of relocating the seat of Internet administration to Geneva. But now it was in his interest to cultivate the US government as an ally against the presumed greater enemy – the ISOC/ITU coalition. As it turned out, the beginning of 1997 was an opportune moment for lobbyists, policy advocates, and otherwise interested experts who wanted to catch the ear of someone in government regarding the future of Internet administration. Government employees recognized they needed to learn more about the topic, and fairly quickly. It was an interesting issue, nerdy but newsworthy, and “hot” enough to merit the effort it would take to get up to speed, especially if you worked for an agency that presumably had a say about Internet administration, or might want to have more of a say down the line. The same was true for legislative staff, especially if an important constituent had a strong interest in the issue. There was a real demand for beltway-savvy resources like Rutkowski and the DNRC clique. Government personnel needed to get their arms around the issue quickly. This would put them in a better position to prove their expertise and authority to set the agenda, or just throw in their two cents. *** The senior Administration official charged with overseeing Internet-related affairs was not Al Gore, but Ira Magaziner, a business strategist with a penchant for futuristic thinking. Magaziner had established an enduring friendship and political partnership with Bill Clinton when they were students at Oxford, and became a prominent figure in the first days of the Clinton Presidency, serving with Hillary Clinton to lead the new Administration’s Health Care Task Force with. Like the Clintons, Magaziner believed the US health care system to be so broken that only a comprehensive overhaul would put things right. Their ambitious initiative was quickly and totally routed, however, leading to a major political

322 setback for the Administration and the Democratic Party. The outcome also saddled Magaziner with an ongoing legal dilemma... perjury charges pressed by a Federal trial judge. The case involved sworn statements he had given during the course of a politically motivated civil suit against the Task Force. The heart of the matter concerned the composition and conduct of the Task Force, and whether there had been a transgression of rules regarding the secrecy of some deliberations.472 The charges weren’t cleared until August 1999. Magaziner lost his prestigious office inside the White House after the health care endeavor, but remained in the Administration as Senior White House Advisor for Policy Development. In 1994 he projected that the growth of Internet-driven commerce was likely to become a key factor in the US economy during a hoped-for second term. In keeping with the generally business-friendly “third way” approach that characterized Clintonian economic policy, mixing laissez-faire commercial and trade policies with selected interventions, Magaziner suggested a compatible institution-building strategy for the Internet. That became his bailiwick. In mid 1996, with legal clouds from the Health Case Task Force still overhead, Magaziner remade himself as a globetrotting evangelist of Internet neo-liberalism, campaigning against regulatory fetters that might hamper Internet’s transformation into an engine of economic expansion. There was also time for hobnobbing with the leading impresarios of computerization, members a self-congratulatory elite called the digerati – the digitial literati. One of the best known was Esther Dyson, author, publisher, celebrity journalist, and future chair of ICANN. Rutkowski was another. Though not a celebrity, he happened to be based in the DC area where access to Magaziner was more convenient. Some believe Rutkowski significantly influenced Magaziner’s positions on Internet commerce. One reporter commented, “It was the Tony and Ira show in ‘96.”473 Mindful of his unhappy litigation experiences stemming from the health care initiative, Magaziner opted to use the Web as much as possible for any upcoming comment


See Neil A. Lewis, “Court Clears Clinton Aide in Lying Case.” New York Times. August 25, 1999. Phone interview with Gordon Cook, November 20, 2002.


323 and rule making processes. A policy statement titled “A Framework For Global Electronic Commerce,” appeared as a first draft in December 1996, with the expectation that a fullyfledged version would be worked out over the first part of 1997. The leading priority in the draft framework was “Fostering the Internet as a Non-Regulatory, Market-Driven Medium.” Its most famous sound byte was, “Establishing cyberspace as a duty free zone.” The driving focus was to prevent the imposition of any new taxes on the Internet, beyond those already imposed on existing commerce. Magaziner liked to think in broad historical terms. He sometimes compared the Internet’s development with different historical phases of cultural evolution, particularly the second Industrial Revolution and the development of commercial rail systems. The challenge in such situations, he believed, was for leaders to set up institutional structures that would facilitate healthy expansion. This was another one of those pivotal moments. On the Internet, growth was inevitable. The number of users was expected to grow from a few million mostly in the US to over a billion worldwide by 2005. A well-designed structure would be needed at the international level to reduce the likelihood of stifling encumbrances such as jurisdictional disputes, endless litigation, and unreconciled case law. The visionary, long-term projects that motivated Magaziner were very different from the nitty gritty challenges of reforming the Internet’s name and number assignment systems. In fact, surveying the situation at the close of 1996, it seemed like there were good reasons to postpone any reform processes. Despite all the fuss, the Internet’s “plumbing” seemed to be working just fine. As Clintonians liked to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” From Magaziner’s perspective, the most significant weakness in the domain system was not the lack of new suffixes, monopolistic registries, or the trademark dilemma, but the nearly spread-eagle vulnerability of the root server constellation. The linchpin resource of Internet was essentially in the hands of volunteers, most of whom – however trustworthy – were unaccountable to the US government. Even worse, few of them had made more than token investments in physical security. During a visit to one of the sites in the root constellation, Magaziner was alarmed to discover how easy it was to get access. If he could wander the hallways unattended, find his way inside the server room and even put his hands

324 on such an amazingly important machine, who else could? As it turned out, only NSI’s servers approached the level of protection that satisfied government auditors. So the need to promote the “stability” of the Internet became a paramount goal. Pending changes like the gTLD-MoU, the accelerated termination of the Cooperative Agreement with NSI, and the final phase of ARIN’s startup all looked risky. They seemed like the kinds of shakeups that, done wrong, could put Internet expansion on a bad track or derail it altogether. Though officials at DARPA and the NSF wanted out of the Internetoversight business as soon as possible, Magaziner preferred they stay involved. He needed time to articulate his overarching framework for electronic commerce. There would be opportunities to tinker with plumbing after that. Moreover, the Patent and Trademark Office was ramping up a fairly large scale public Notice of Inquiry into the domain name issue, and this would take time to complete. These were new issues for the White House, and there was no sense of consolidated expertise (other than among folks at NSF who had become so overtly friendly to NSI). Therefore it made sense to convene an Inter-Agency Working Group, drawing in highly qualified people who could provide a fresh and thorough review. Getting the personnel in place and up to speed would take time as well, implying that any major modifications in Internet administration would have to be blocked until the changes could be clearly understood and fully vetted. “Stability” had other merits. The opposition party still controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate, and it was no secret that NSI’s parent company, SAIC, was controlled by elite members of earlier Republican administrations. The health care fight had taught Democrats that any new battles should be chosen very carefully. Giving unequivocal backing to the IAHC before all the facts were in was just asking for trouble. A premature alignment with SAIC-bashers from ISOC and the EFF would bring little benefit to the Administration, yet would antagonize some of the wealthiest, best-connected members of the other side. For the time being, it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. The domestic virtues of stability were complemented by the exigencies of international politics. Europeans had conceded a lot to Clinton’s predecessors during the

325 effort to bring about deregulation of their telephone monopolies. It would have been impolitic for the Clinton Administration to wear out that welcome with a fait accomplis engineered in America. Even though the ISOC/ITU agenda was intended to reduce US government control of the Internet rather than fortify it, those details weren’t fully understood within government-level policy-making circles on either side of the Atlantic. Again,“stability” mandated not rocking any boats. For the time being, smooth sailing was more important. *** The IAHC members were apparently oblivious to Magaziner’s go-slow strategic agenda. They had built up tremendous momentum, utterly convinced they were in full control of the situation. Their last meeting, hosted by the ITU in Geneva, produced a Final Report, issued on February 4, 1997, that spelled out more details of the planned new order.474 CORE registrars would be required to pay a surprisingly steep $20,000 entry fee (only $10,000 in less developed regions of the world) plus $2,000 per month, plus whatever fee would ultimately be charged per registration once the system went into operation. CORE was to be incorporated in Geneva as a non-profit organization, governed by a nine-member Policy Oversight Committee (POC). POC’s composition would be identical to the initial plan for the IAHC – two appointments from ISOC, IANA, and the IAB, plus one each from the INTA, WIPO, and the ITU. The FNC seat was gone, Heath was gone, and nothing was added for the ISP industry. The most elaborate innovation was CORE’s dispute resolution structure, evidently modeled on mechanisms used in places where trademark litigation was uncommon, like Sweden. The new system envisaged a permanent role for WIPO, particularly its Mediation and Arbitration Board. That board would oversee the creation and operation of a series of Administrative Challenge Panels (ACPs), which would act like courts, hearing disputes and rendering decisions.

International Ad Hoc Committee, “Final Report of the International Ad Hoc Committee: Recommendations for Administration and M anagem ent of gT LD s,” February 4, 1997,


326 To guarantee public oversight, any group or individual who signed of the gTLD-MoU would be eligible to participate in a Public Advisory Board (PAB), whose main purpose was to monitor the POC. Participating registrars would have to sign a separate CORE-MoU. The ITU would sit atop the institutional chain, but without power to intervene, serving only as a depository for both documents. According to the plan, CORE would be ready to start service by the end of the year. But this depended on a crash effort to create and test the Shared Registry System (SRS) software on which everything depended. The trademark community’s influence within the IAHC was unmistakable. Both the December Draft and the February Final Report included a scrupulously crafted dialectic under the heading “Whether to Create New gTLDs.” One side – implicitly Sally Abel – held the opinion that there was “no fundamental need” to add any TLDs; the other side wanted to create “alternative entry points” that would stimulate competition. The point was to disclose how seemingly incommensurable positions could be resolved, while providing some rhetorical cover for the people who had engineered the compromise. In the final synthesis, continuing on with NSI’s “monopoly-based trading practices” was deemed a more “significant strategic risk” than “further exacerbating the current issues” of trademark defense. It was a grudging concession. Overall, the outcome fortified suspicions that trademark interests had dominated the process, and had successfully consolidated their powers in the Internet space.475 Some members of the trade press reported the IAHC’s plan in a straightforward manner, treating the prospect of new TLD’s as a fait accomplis. But most reported the objections of the alt-rooters. A few journalists went further, playing up the cartel aspect once again, questioning the conflicted interests of the Internet old guard. Amendments and adjustments came in due course. Howls of protest killed the 60-day wait. Complaints from the European Commission led to the end of the 28 registrar limit, and entry fees were reduced across the board to $10,000.



327 The IAHC’s narrow membership had already alienated many observers. The failure to document its proceedings was even more disconcerting. These shortcomings created a political dilemma for the IETF membership. Leaders in the Internet’s standards-making community had based much of their reputation on claims of openness, a mythology that captivated public consciousness. Yes it was true that aggressive, autonomous “ad hocing all over the place” was a big part of the engineering community’s insular, we-know-best culture. That free-wheeling approach worried process-sticklers like Rutkowski, and had spurred them to fault the IETF (and especially IANA) for procedural shabbiness. Nevertheless, on its own terms, the IETF had been undeniably open. List-based decision-making remained one of the group’s most illustrious hallmarks. It was indeed true that anyone could show up and participate. And the IETF’s standard-blessing procedures had matured after the IPv7 debacle, becoming far more consistent and accountable. By violating the Internet’s cherished norms, acting in a fashion so inimical to the established customs of the IETF, the IAHC had simultaneously exposed itself to charges of illegitimacy, and the Internet old-guard to charges of hypocrisy. If Postel had any objections to the gTLD-MoU, he wasn’t saying so publicly. The point of all this travail had been to achieve rough consensus. Now it was time to sign the papers, move on, and make DNS politics someone else’s problem. Despite the shortcomings (an inevitable part of ad hocracy), he and most members of the IETF were willing to accept the IAHC’s decisions as a new chapter in the Internet’s rulebook. To them, the plan looked like a reasonable way to introduce competition into the TLD space, hand off the trademark problems to a responsible institution, and still guarantee the technical community’s continuing oversight of the Internet’s plumbing. With the policy problems delegated elsewhere, their next steps – designing and running the shared database system – would be in much more hospitable territory. Overall, the plan seemed full of potential benefits, not the least of which was the prospect of providing a long-term stream of income for IANA. Also, moving the site of formal responsibility from the US to Geneva promised better shielding of DNS administration from prospective liability issues. And it seemed to fulfill the overriding goal

328 of opening up competition, preventing the windfall profits of domain name registrations from ending up in one company’s till. Though the shared-registry business model imposed by the IAHC provoked enduring resentment from the alt-root community, not everyone considered the IAHC a nefarious cabal. Several of the prospective TLD operators on the newdom list simply repositioned themselves as prospective registrars. New players showed up, attracted to the same business opportunity. It all seemed like a brilliant compromise between the interests of Internet engineering community and intellectual property community. But the ISOC/ITU deal was drawn too narrowly, self-sabotaged by a monumental underestimation of the fortitude and the will to fight still possessed by the excluded groups. NSI had too much to lose, the alt-rooters had so much more to gain, and the pundits would continue to insist on comparing current events with their idealized vision of a cyberrevolution. *** As the IAHC agenda emerged, the US government was working at cross purposes with itself, sending mixed signals. For now, Magaziner wasn’t saying much of anything for or against, shrewdly avoiding any public step that would alienate either the IETF community or friends of NSI. Strawn’s role was more complicated. Despite having demanded a seat at the table in the IAHC, he had been a rather disengaged participant. He later dismissed the IAHC as, “an attempt to do things informally” in spite of increasing pressure to use other processes. “[T]he worse the heat got,” he said later, “the more it was decided that formal matters better supplant informal matters and something replace [it].”476 Strawn’s lackluster engagement apparently didn’t trouble the other IAHC members. For their purposes, the simple fact of his membership was useful enough, signaling involvement of a significant US Government agency. However nominal the FNC’s endorsement, however weak its loyalty, the benefit to the IAHC was a welcome infusion of status and legitimacy (perhaps reminiscent of the FNC ‘s absent-minded sponsorship of


Phone interview with George Strawn, June 18, 2002.

329 IANA’s “charter”). To leverage that perception, the front page of the IAHC’s website was topped by a prominent link to the FNC’s site, flanked to the left by links for ISOC, IANA, and the IAB, and on the right by links for the ITU, INTA, and WIPO. The imprimaturs clearly suggested that all of them formally supported the IAHC. Strawn did nothing to disabuse anyone of the idea. There was every reason to believe that the FNC stood shoulder to shoulder with the ISOC/ITU alliance in meatspace, just as it did in cyberspace. At the start of 1997 the IAHC presented no immediate threat to US Government interests, primarily because CORE was not yet capable of bringing about any actual changes on the Internet. The plan for early conclusion of the Cooperative Agreement between the NSF and NSI was another matter. Mitchell and Strawn thought they had worked out a bargain with the decision-makers at NSI: Once ARIN was up and running, securely managing numbers registration services for the Americas, the NSF would happily extricate itself from the responsibility of overseeing names and number registration services. At the expense of funding one more year of ARIN’s transistion costs, NSI would finally have .com, .net, and .org free and clear, all to itself. Mitchell had spelled out the rationale in his “Declare Victory and Leave” memo the previous October, but few people outside the NSF appreciated that he fully intended to make it a reality. There were objections inside the NSF, however, especially from the Inspector General, Linda Sundro, who published her own findings in early February, even as Mitchell and Strawn huddled with counterparts from SAIC and NSI, working out the final details of their plan. Sundro argued that registration oversight should continue through the end of the Cooperative Agreement in 1998, and beyond. Her primary concern was financial, believing that the $15 Intellectual Infrastructure Fee that had been tacked onto domain name registrations should be used to support upcoming research and development programs, “thereby reducing the need for taxpayer subsidies in the future.”477 Sundro expected that NSF’s portion of the income stream from names alone would reach $60 million per year. She

Linda Sundro, “National Science Foundation, Office of the Inspector General: Report, The Administration of Internet Addresses,” February 7, 1997. Cited in Gordon Cook, “The N SF IG’s Plan to Administer and Tax the Internet W orld W ide,” Cook Report.


330 also urged that the number assignments be seen as a potential revenue source, at perhaps 10 cents per IP address. Despite Sundro’s reservations, Mitchell and Strawn continued their preparations. The goal was to announce both the formation of ARIN and the April 1st termination of the Cooperative Agreement simultaneously at news conference scheduled for March 18. They never got that far. By the end of February matters escalated to the Office of Management and Budget, the home agency of Bruce McConnell, an information technology specialist who was a prospective co-chair of Magaziner’s Inter-Agency Working Group.478 Strawn was called into OMB’s offices and asked for a status report. The outcome, in early March, was an abrupt termination of the termination plans. Forward movement on ARIN was suspended as well, pending reevaluation. Magaziner and the various candidates for his Inter-Agency Group were still catching up, trying to build a knowledge base about what was going on, and, for the time being, retain the power of initiative. Blocking the termination was a relatively easy call. It wasn’t going to make SAIC’s owners’ happy. Shedding the encumbrances of the Cooperative Agreement would have improved IPO prospects. On the other hand, there was no new negative impact on NSI’s cash flow. The intervention was considerably more problematic for Mitchell and Strawn, who were now primed for openly antagonistic relations with members of Magaziner’s group, if not Magaziner himself. Mitchell and Strawn had lost the ability to act as the gatekeepers of their contracts with NSI, and yet had failed to extricate themselves from the time-consuming responsibilities of overseeing the InterNIC. To strike back, they would focus on ARIN, which had widespread support throughout the technical community. The exceptions were some relatively small ISPs, some easily peripheralized crazy-sounding email-list gadflies like Jim Fleming, and some journalists who were notorious for complaining about anything and everything. From that point on, ARIN’s opponents in the Inter-Agency Group would be

McConnell was OMB’s Chief of Information and Technology Policy. Phone interview with Gordon Cook, and; Mueller (2002: 288, fn 32).


331 portrayed as incompetent meddling sellouts (or, when deference was expedient, clueless newbies who still had a lot to learn). *** The engineering community was generally unaware that another potentially earthshaking deal between the NSF and NSI had just been averted. Most of the news involved more trouble for IANA. An editorial in the British weekly, The Economist, derided IANA and the IAHC as “amateurs.” and suggested putting professionals in charge, implying, tacitly, the Telecommunications Directorate of European Commission.479 There were lawsuits, sharp criticism of Postel’s handling of TLD and IP assignments, bureaucratic pressures from ISI’s overseers at the University of Southern California, and finally, after so many years of steady support, the loss of funding from DARPA. The alt-root community, profoundly antagonized, was defiant. Revitalized by his anger, Denninger decided to hold a summit that would raise the flag of the eDNS coalition and attract new support. Friendly reporters provided fortifying coverage. IODesign’s Christopher Ambler went even further, filing a civil complaint in San Luis Obispo on February 27. The complaint sought to block implementation of the gTLD-MoU by means of a restraining order against the IAHC and IANA. Postel, Heath, Manning, Reynolds, and a graduate student who maintained IANA’s website were named as defendants. The complaint stated that IANA had reneged on an oral agreement to add IODesign’s .web registry to the root. It also stated that the IAHC’s inclusion of .web in its list of seven new TLDs infringed on IODesign’s service mark. Postel’s supporters were outraged, believing Ambler had done much worse than telling a self-serving lie and insulting the dearest, most esteemed member of the Internet engineering community. By including Reynolds and a graduate student in the suit, he had acted cruelly, putting uninvolved people in legal jeopardy.480


Economist. Feb 8, 1997.

Joyce Reynolds and Nehal Bhau, a graduate student, were also named as defendants. Rumor had it that Reynold’s plans to purchase a home had to be put off for a year as a result of the IODesign suit. This was related to me by Kent Crispin. Reynolds, however, said this was not the case.


332 Postel’s budget contained no reserves for dealing with such litigation. From a strictly legal standpoint IANA was no more than a name for his sandbox at USC’s Information Sciences Institute. He thus turned to ISI and ultimately USC for help. The university’s General Counsel, Robert Lane, then had to determine what level of backing USC was obliged to provide, if at all. After looking into the complex web of relations between between ISI, Postel, and his various funding sources, Lane decided to carve out a position asserting that IANA, and consequently ISI, and consequently USC, had no contractual authority over NSI.481 That line ran contrary to the wording in the Cooperative Agreement about NSI’s obligation “to provide registration in accordance with the provisions of RFC 1174.” But Lane’s professional obligation was to secure USC against undue liability. He was much less concerned about protecting IANA’s claims to authority within the Internet’s administrative hierarchy. As it turned out, legal expenses never got out of hand. The presiding judge found so little merit in IODesign’s arguments that he was evidently ready to dismiss the suit at the first hearing. Ambler’s attorney backed down and withdrew the complaint “without prejudice,” gamely preserving the right to try again elsewhere.482 The judge nevertheless issued a statement favorable to IANA.483 As the IODesign suit wrapped up, another legal battle was simmering. Paul Garrin, media artist and owner of the alternate registry Name.Space, decided to try forcing his suffixes into the legacy root by targeting NSI rather than IANA. It was a strategic move, motivated in part by his failure to attract significant numbers of customers to his own root constellation, and in part by a quixotic temperament. He seemed to relish confrontation with huge, normally intimidating authorities. Garrin contacted NSI in March1997, requesting that


See Gordon Cook, Cook Report, June 1997.

Image Online Design, Inc. v. Internet Assigned Number Authority, International Ad-Hoc Committee, et al., No. CV080380 (N.D. Cal. 1997). For the complaint and an accompanying supporting declaration by Einar Stefferud, see See transcript at The case became moot after it became clear that the United States government had blocked the plan from proceeding.


333 his TLDs be added. NSI, in turn, deferred the request to IANA. The reply came from USC’s attorney: We are aware of no contract or other agreement that gives IANA authority over [Network Solutions’s] operations. The IANA has no authority to establish a generic top-level domain without an Internet community consensus arrived at through committee review and ample opportunity for public input.484 The first sentence of that citation provided the legal cover that USC needed, insisting the matter was not in IANA’s jurisdiction. The second sentence, however, was a fuzzy hedge, no more precise than the ambivalent conception of IANA’s authority inherited from RFC 1174. Read without negation, it implied that IANA did have authority to establish a generic TLDs. What did establish mean, if not the ability to give a directive to change the zone file in Root Server A? Was IANA the gatekeeper of the TLD space, or was it not? What did consensus mean, if not the capacity to recognize a consensus within one’s community, and then to reflect that consensus by speaking and acting on its behalf. Did the peers of the Internet community speak through IANA, or did they not? The tortured construction of that second sentence allowed Postel to hide from his own responsibility. It said, properly, “The buck stops here,” but its pragmatic effect was to pass the buck back to NSI.


Haiti and iTLDS – March 1997

After nearly a year and half of argument and debate, not one new generic suffix had been entered into the legacy root. Yet more than forty new country code TLDs were entered during the same period. Each insertion had been a fairly routine matter, performed in accord with RFC 1591 and the standard operating procedures used by Postel and Mark Kosters, who ran the root servers at NSI. Now, complicating Postel’s life even further, some irregularities in country code administration were coming under scrutiny. An entry for Haiti was added to the root on March 6, 1997. The TLD, .ht, went to Reseau Telematique Haitien pour la Recherche et le Developpement (REHRED), a non-


Cited in Mueller (2002:152-3).

334 profit group linked to the Haitian academic community. A week later, March 13, Postel informed REHRED that, at the behest of the Haitian government, he was redelegating .ht to another party, Focus Data. The company was an aspiring Haitian ISP whose owners had ties to commercial interests in the US (including, allegedly, MCI) and in Jamaica, and presumably to officials in the Haitian government as well. REHRED objected and asked for justification. There was nothing in RFC 1591 stipulating that a government had final disposition over its country code, but there was precedent for governments taking such action. For example, the German registry .de was transferred from the University at Karlsruhe to the Bundespost in the early 1990s. In that case, however, the two parties cooperated to ensure continued service for existing registrants. This case involved an objection. Postel had to admit that he had created a guiding policy on the spot.
Hello: I am sorry if you do not understand that we have explaind [sic] to you that there is a rule we have adopted since RFC 1591 was published: "Follow the expressed wishes of the government of the country with regard to the domain name manager for the country code corresponding to that country". We have decided that this rule takes priority. We do not believe it is wise to argue with the government of a country about the TLD for that country. --jon. 485

The story was picked up by John Quarterman, a prolific and highly regarded technical writer who had been around since the ARPANET days, starting at Harvard in 1974 and then as an employee at BBN. He was alarmed by the .ht redelegation, in part because it was a setback for traditional allies of the Internet community, and in part because it indicated profound shortcomings in IANA’s dispute resolution process. Much of Quarterman’s published work, especially his online journalism, concerned online conferencing technologies and traffic performance analysis. He also wrote about the

Cited in John S. Quarterman, “Haiti and Internet Governance” First Monday July 1997,


335 Internet as a social phenomenon, and was fond of using the term “Matrix” (long before the movie phenomenon) to refer to the “totality of present-day computer networks.” Quarterman had also become quite partisan during the CDA debates, an experience that influenced his perspective on the Haitian controversy. Echoing the view that the Internet had become “a unique and wholly new medium of worldwide human communication,” he urged vigilance against any further attempts at “handing it over to that antique form of human organization, the nation-state.”486 Internet technologists had a natural affinity with academics; both groups shared deep normative commitments to open communication. Academics were considered more trustworthy allies of the iconoclastic Internet community than the entrenched interests of the national telephone monopolies or anyone whose primary loyalties rested with a potentially repressive government. REHRED fit the traditional profile of a country code TLD registry. Plus, it had received the delegation first. What justified the switch? Quarterman’s investigation led to publication of an article in the online journal First Monday. He reported a another peremptory switch, involving .do in the Dominican Republic. He recounted the facts of the IDNB, the imaginary Internet DNS Names Review Board described in RFC 1591. He lamented the unclear provenance of Postel’s authority and his ability to act like a “pope” without outside review. (As an old friend of the DNRC’s Mikki Barry, he had special access to the views of Postel’s most sophisticated critics.) To top things off, he raised the record of US imperial interference in Latin American and Caribbean affairs, suggesting that IANA’s move had tilted in favor of “a U. S.-based multinational at the expense of a local Caribbean company.” It is rather hard to imagine Jon Postel acting from nefarious motives. However, IANA could not have done a better job of making many think it is an imperialistic tool if it had tried. IANA's actions in this case have been devoid of political common sense... If IANA has now invited governments in to directly dictate major and highly visible aspects of the Internet such as

In the first quoted phrase of this sentence, Quarterman cites the Supreme Court decision overturning the CDA. See John S. Quarterman, “Haiti Déjá Vu,” SunExpert Magazine, February 1998.


336 national top level domains, IANA is damaging both its own usefulness and the Internet itself.487 Quarterman also interviewed Dave Crocker, who suggested that the question was out of scope for him since the IAHC was focused on generic TLDs rather than country codes. Nevertheless, Crocker offered that some “fixing” of IANA was in store as part of the IAHC’s effort to establish “more formal and visible” processes. This didn’t satisfy Quarterman, who wanted precise details about how someone in REHRED’s position might be able to go about seeking relief. Quarterman concluded the article asking whether Postel was “an agent of imperialism,” even if an unwitting one. The elliptical rhetoric may have been satisfying, but it came at the expense of a sober analysis of Postel’s complex circumstances. Postel was in a very weak position. Even if his post hoc rule-making seemed sloppy, it was unfair to expect him to deny the re-delegation and thereby risk an international incident that could spur even more controversy Nevertheless, Quarterman had the facts right. His rendition of IANA’s procedural shortcomings provided yet more material for critics of Postel as a figurehead of the ITU/ISOC alliance.


Laying the Cornerstone for a Global Commons

Rutkowski, coordinating with NSI, thought it might be possible convince a US government agency to declare the IAHC plan unlawful. At the end of February he submitted a Brief to the State Department and the Federal Communication Commission, spelling out legal arguments that could be used by a US government agency willing to undertake action to block the gTLD-MoU.488 No agency brought suit, but the exercise was useful in getting NSI’s message around Washington.


Quarterman, “Haiti and Internet Governance.”

“In Re: Establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Generic Top Level Domain Name Space of the Internet Domain Name System. Brief of Anthony M. Rutkowski,”


337 NSI’s formal response to the IAHC came in mid-April. Couched as a wide-ranging counterproposal, it incorporated arguments from Rutkowski’s Brief, urging the US government to intervene against the IAHC.489 Around the same time, NSI ramped up its lobbying efforts across the United States and Europe. The campaign focused on undermining the MoU and vilifying its supporters.490 Representatives of the European Union were now openly expressing dissatisfaction with the IAHC and insisted on further debate, this time with direct European participation.491 Decisive opposition came from Martin Bangemann, Vice-President of the European Commission, whose portfolio included Telecommunications, Information Technology, and Industrial Policy. Bangemann was also a significant figure in the German government, having been a member of the Bundestag, a former Minister of Economic Affairs, and the National Chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a center-right group whose platform echoed the deregulatory policies of Reagan and Thatcher. Bangemann had told Magaziner that the European Community would initiate anti-trust proceedings if the gTLD-MoU plans reached fruition.492 *** Heath and Postel, acting for ISOC and IANA respectively, signed the gTLD-MoU on March 1, 1997. This signaled their formal endorsement of the IAHC’s work product. Heath then began working with the ITU to organize a three day conference in Geneva, to be punctuated by a grand May 1st signing ceremony. The success of that event would be critical

“Secure Internet Administration and Competition in Domain Naming Services, Version 1.2,” April 29, 1997. Formerly hosted at IAHC opponents who received funding and support from NSI included the Association for Interactive Media (AIM ), a small DC-based lobbying shop with a penchant for overstated claims. AIM literature later described its activities this way: “In response to an underlying threat to the Internet, AIM creates the Open Internet Congress (OIC) in '97 to combat international forces attempting to move the Internet operating body from the US overseas. The efforts of the OIC lead to a Presidential initiative to create an operating body to oversee Internet governance, later to become ICANN.” See
491 490


Mueller (2002:150-1). Phone interview with Ira Magaziner, August 5, 2000.


338 to the success of the gTLD-MoU. To the extent the organizers could enlist varied and independent support, the more effectively they could defend the legitimacy of their new edifice, and launch a new era in Internet governance. This was one of the most clever elements of Shaw’s design, an institutional legal framework that involved running a flag up a flagpole and waiting to see who salutes. To attract more endorsements, Crocker set off on a globe-trotting public relations campaign. There was an IETF meeting that some month, at the Piedmont Hotel in Memphis. It was the first of several that I attended. The “buzz” was that the MoU was designed to satisfy the concerns of “big business” interests, especially MCI, DEC, AT&T, IBM, and UUNET. All those companies supposedly wanted assurances about the stability of DNS management. If key Internet functions were to going be moved from NSI, it had to be done right. The operators would have to fit the new Internet mold of disciplined, steady, accountable professionals, rather than the caffeine-guzzling, pizza-binging Internet culture of overworked volunteers, neophyte graduate students, and ramshackle entrepreneurs. Surprisingly few IETF members were skeptical about the concept of a deal between the IANA and the ITU. It should have been an ontological shock, but most IETF members deferred to Postel, Vixie, and the other DNS “wonks” backing the IAHC and the MoU. Technical viability was the primary concern, and the Shared Registry System (SRS), was now said to be “do-able.” It was left up to the implementors to go off and do their thing. The IETF norm of “rough consensus” meant that airing old complaints and misgivings after a standard had been selected would be a waste of effort. Still, support wasn’t universal. Einar Stefferud, a well-connected ARPANET veteran was there. He had already alienated Postel with public criticism of IANA. Now he was condemning the IAHC and even defending Christopher Ambler’s suit. The outside criticism couldn’t be ignored. The IETF community had gotten itself into a public relations war against highly skilled, polished adversaries such as Rutkowski. Crocker and Metzger were far outmatched. While the IAHC process kept up its momentum, the alt-root movement was faltering. The threat from IODesign was receding and the eDNS summit in Atlanta was poorly

339 attended. Then a falling out divided their community. Kashpureff broke with Denninger, splitting off to announce a new alternate constellation he called uDNS. Ever ambitious, the u stood for universal.493 *** Forces in the US government, motivated largely by the desire to prevent loss of assets through a hasty premature transfer of .com to NSI, preempted Mitchell’s and Strawn’s late February efforts to walk away from Internet oversight. Yet the members of Magaziner’s Inter-Agency group were apparently blind-sided just a few weeks later when officials at DARPA’s Information Technology Office successfully executed their own extrication. It took some time to fully appreciate the implications. IANA had been receiving about $500,000 annually through DARPA’s contract with ISI, set to expire at the end of March. (IANA also received about $60,000 per year from NSI to run the .us domain, as stipulated in the Cooperative Agreement.)494 DARPA announced in the closing days of March that there would be no renewal. To make up the gap, pending a long-term solution for IANA funding, the foreign IP registries stepped in. APNIC committed $50,000 and RIPE $25,000.495 Regardless of critics denouncing IANA as an agent of US imperialism, the Internet community now had grounds to claim it had weaned itself from dependence on US government support. On April 23rd the NSF’s acting deputy director, Joseph Bordogna, made a new bid for extrication. He announced that the NSF would not renew the Cooperative Agreement when it was due to expire at the end of March 1998, and might choose to terminate sooner. Bordogna’s announcement included the first public release of Sundro’s report. He tacitly rejected her conclusions, making little comment about them, while offering a highly positive


Rony and Rony devote an entire chapter to this episode, “Alterweb – A Parallel Universe,” (1998:

513-72). Gordon Irlam, “Controlling the Internet: Legal and Technical Aspects of the Domain Name System,” July 13, 1997,
495 494

Mueller (2002: 155-6; 288, fn 29).

340 evaluation of the IAHC’s plan. (This move could support the view that NSF personnel were more interested in getting out of the Internet management business than arranging sweetheart deals for NSI.) Magaziner was caught flat footed. When the press called asking for comment, he was unaware of the details.496 Events were moving at the pace of Internet time and the Clinton Administration was falling behind. With the ITU conference less than a week away it was clear that another intervention would be necessary. This time, however, executive branch policy officers had far less directive power at their disposal. There were no subordinate employees to reign in. IANA had no purse strings left to pull. Some proponents of the gTLD-MoU decided to exploit the situation. Their victory would be portrayed as the victory of the global Internet community over the ossified structures of anachronistic nation-states. Dave Crocker had made himself the face of the IAHC, conducting himself more like a demagogue than a diplomat. The circumstances called for a cogent explanation of the opportunities that would open up to those who joined the new regime. Instead, he gave patronizing lectures about the inexorable necessity of the IAHC’s plan. He also had an annoying tendency to argue from authority, as if he could cloak himself with infallible, unimpeachable truth. A paper titled, “Evolving Internet Name Administration,” encapsulated his reasoning. The problem was how to “position [DNS management] for long-term, global operation.”497 Certain technical requirements “dictated” the need for a “central authority over the root.” First of all, the “fabric of the Internet” required a “precise and deterministic” mapping service. An outcome that permitted the creation of multiple, uncoordinated roots, argued Crocker, “flies in the face of established computer science.” If that occurred, the results of a domain name lookup would be “probabilistic.” Second, it was necessary to meet the requirements of scalability and shared TLDs. However, a “lightweight” authority would not

CNET Staff, “NSF bows out of domain names,” CNET April 23, 1997, Dave Crocker, “Evolving Internet Name Administration,” April 15, 1997, contrib/draft-iahc-crocker-summary-00.html.


341 be sufficient for those purposes. The organization serving as the root’s central authority would have to be “substantial,” taking the form agreed to by the IAHC. Even if one agreed with Crocker’s argument about the need to preserve a unique root, other questions remained. Why should the IAHC be the central authority rather than the US government? How could the IAHC assume that authority without US government permission? In response, he invoked the highest authorities available: From the standpoint of reasonableness and logic, such concerns miss the reality of IANA’s 10+ years of oversight and authority and miss the unavoidable reality that the Internet is now global. There is no benefit in staking the DNS out as a US resource; this way be dragons. There is no benefit in refuting IANA’s authority; no alternative management scheme exists or is proposed or, therefore, has community consensus. Never mind that IANA has done an excellent job. The IAHC plan rests on the well established authorities of IANA and ISOC and on the voluntary support of signatories. The latter means, quite simply, that the IAHC plan is selfenabling. Hence challenges about prior authority are rendered meaningless.498 The implication was clear: Where management of the Internet’s core resources was concerned, a self-enabling global community could render nation-states meaningless. Even superpowers were now subject to its dictates. The essence of Crocker’s paper was an expressly global conception of the public interest. It was fully realized in that it was founded on an extraterritorial conception of authority. DNS administration had to be “independent of any particular country,” he wrote, balancing “individual, commercial initiative” with “the modern Internet’s governance style...” presumably, rough consensus and running code, with IANA atop of the great chain of delegation power. *** The upstart globalists had embarked on a course that promised, they believed, a new beginning for global society. Yet the stewards of sovereign jurisdiction also happened to know a thing or two about self enablement and the power to dictate. Though the IAHC



342 proponents believed the Internet had been unmoored from nation-states, the US government still had many forms of leverage available, not least of which was a monopoly on coercive authority within American territory. For now it was only necessary to put a nominal kibosh on things through public remonstrations. What really mattered was that the decision had been made to devote the resources necessary to staying alert and involved, and to avoid being caught unprepared ever again. In the closing days of April, the US State Department released a memo from Secretary of State Madeline Albright signaling displeasure with the ITU’s support of the IAHC. The operative terminology was an expression of “concern.” Albright pointed specifically to the ITU’s expenditure of funds for the upcoming signing ceremony and its conclusion of an “international agreement” despite the lack of formal consultation with member governments.499 The US then sent a relatively low grade delegate to the signing ceremony at the Geneva International Conference Center, signaling displeasure through protocol gestures. The conference started with a gushing opening address by Bruno Lanvin, a Coordinator from the UN Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) whose portfolio included electronic commerce. He was also President of ISOC’s Geneva Chapter. Lanvin spoke of “Building Foundations for a Global Commons.”500 Heath spoke of “Internet self-governance” as a “daring... bold... beginning.”501 Alan Sullivan, a prospective registrar, took a more apocalyptic approach, “If we do not back this agreement, the structure of the existing domain name system will be split and chaos on the Internet will occur.” Follow

Margie W ylie, “U.S. concerned by ITU meeting,” April 29, 1997, Item/0,4,10198,00.html Dr. Bruno Lanvin, “Building Foundations for Global Commons,” April 29, 1997, newsarchive/projects/dns-meet/LanvinAddress.html. For a list of other gTLD-MoU documents, see Donald M . Heath, “Beginnings: Internet Self-Governance:A Requirement to Fulfill the Promise, April 29, 1997,
501 500


343 through, he urged, or allow “the Internet community to be drowned in the impending flood."502 In his keynote address, the ITU Secretary General, Pekka Tarjanne, laid out a vision of principles that would guide the “coming together” of the once-contentious telecommunications and Internet cultures. Costly old processes of “prescriptive standards... legally binding agreements [and] industrial politics,” which Tarjanne termed “compulsory multilateralism,” were giving way to faster and more timely processes by which “communities of interest” would come together to formulate technical solutions, “letting the market decide whether or not they got it right.” He called the new paradigm “voluntary multilateralism.” The Memorandum of Understanding would often be the “chosen tool for this new era,” he believed, as communities formed around a “special purpose” or sets of “voluntary principles.” The ITU could facilitate the transition to that new era in various ways: as depository for an MoU, as a registrar in an allocation regime, or as the custodian of a scarce public resource.503 One of the shortcomings of the old system, he noted, was how easily it could be “hijacked by countries or companies” that had an interest in blocking a process. The new paradigm would circumvent this by allowing “the parties committed to a particular course of action”to proceed unhindered. In other words, consensus could be construed as narrowly as needed in order to focus on problem solving. And in practical terms, therefore, the gTLDMoU could move ahead without waiting for approval from NSI or the US government. More high-minded speeches were made, and documents were signed. With the gTLD-MoU in effect, the IAHC reconstituted itself as the Policy Oversight Committee (POC), holding its first public meeting at the conference venue. The POC had effectively

International Telecommunication Union, “Information Note to the Press,” May 1, 1997, Pekka Tarjanne, “Internet Governance: Towards Voluntary Multilateralism,” April 29, 1997, The gTLD-MoU was not the first of this type. An earlier M oU concerned the free circulation of terminals for Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS). The ITU is a registrar for the Universal International Freephone Number System is custodian of the international telephone numbering plan.


344 declared itself to be the public authority of the gTLD space, and therefore the agency empowered to guide IANA in its gatekeeping capacity, but the root did not change hands, and no alterations in the zone file were ordered. As it turned out, there would be no self-enabling registry of deeds for cyberspace. The IAHC plan was on its way to failure, as was the Internet community’s bid to constitute the root of the DNS and the gTLD namespace as an expressly global resource. The US government would reassert itself institutionally, and keep ultimate control. All the rest was denouement.

Chronology 4 Selected Events in DNS History Date May 1, 1997 March 1997 February 1997 November 12, 1996 September 1996 July 1996 June 1996 April 1,1996 February 1996 November 1995 September 14, 1995 March 1995 July 1995 March 10, 1995 January 1995 November 1994 October 1994 September 30, 1994 March 1994 January 1994 April 1, 1993 December 1992 December 1992 March 1992 October 1, 1991 June 25, 1991 August 1990 February 26, 1986 During 1985 February 1985 Early 1985 October 1984 November 1983 June 24, 1983 August 1982 During 1977 During 1975 During 1972 September 21, 1971 Event gTLD-MoU signing ceremony in Geneva. Criticism of Postel and IAHC. IODesign suit. Magaziner’s Inter-Agency Group formed. OMB intervenes to prevent NSF self-extrication from Cooperative Agreement. Launch of the IAHC. Meeting of FNC Advisory Committee. “Coordinating the Internet” conference at Harvard. IANA/IODesign “envelope” event. Collapse of original Newdom group (Newdom-iiia). IRE BOF, 2nd Postel draft, ISOC Board meets, APPle conference, Dublin conference. Launch of AlterNIC, Newdom debates become increasingly contentious. “Internet Administrative Infrastructure” conference in DC co-hosted by ISOC and CIX. “Internet Names, Numbers and Beyond” conference at Harvard. Fee charging begins in .com. Newdom dialogues begin.. Online debates about ownership of top level domains. @Home Class A block allocation incident. SAIC purchases NSI for $6 million. General Atomics removed from InterNIC, Info Scout project moved to U. Wisconsin. Meeting of InterNIC Interim Review Committee . Josh Quittner taunts MacDonald’s Restaurants with “Domain Name Goldrush” articles. Start of IEEE-sponsored workshop regarding transition of .com from NSF oversight. RFC 1591 describes delegation policies for TLDs. NSI notified of legal dispute over Start of the Cooperative Agreement. NSI is running root and .com. Postel publishes first RFC describing management of .us. Final negotiation of the Cooperative Agreement between NSF, ATT, NSI, and GA. IAB Chair Lyman Chapin criticizes military for slow adoption of DNS. Root, DDN-NIC, and ARPA-NIC moved from SRI to GSI-NSI. DCA redesignated Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). RFC 1174 published, describing IANA’s authority. First incrementation of NIC zone file; DNS is officially in production. CISCO routers enter market, furnishing expanded platform for UNIX systems. First country code .us added to root following ISO 3166-1 naming system. DCA transfers DNS root management responsibilities from SRI to ISI. RFC 920 announces TLD selections, including .com. Mockapetris and Postel publish DNS implementation plans RFCs 881, 882, 883. First successful test of DNS technology. Postel and Zaw Sing Su propose tree-like domain name hierarchy, RFC 819. Mary Stahl begins maintaining data for DDN-NIC. Defense Communications Agency (DCA) replaces ARPA, SRI runs DDN-NIC. Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler becomes principal investigator of NIC at SRI. Peggy Karp publishes Host Mnemonics RFC 226, hosts.txt in use.

Only the dead have seen the end of war. Plato


The signing of the gTLD-MoU on May 1, 1997 punctuated the early phase of an

extended struggle. Subsequent events deserve a similarly detailed narration, but are only summarized here. Officers of the United States government continued efforts to delay advancement of the gTLD-MoU, prompting further rounds of comment, debate, negotiation, and infighting. J. Beckwith “Becky” Burr, already a member of Magaziner’s Interagency Working Group, was moved from a position at the Federal Communications Commission to become a lead negotiator for domain names issues as an Associate Administrator within the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Office of International Affairs. The first major public action under the aegis of the NTIA was the July 1st 1997 filing of a Notice named “Request for Comments on the Registration and Administration of Internet Domain Names,” organized under the Clinton Administration’s Framework for Global Electronic Commerce policy process managed by Magaziner.504 The six week comment period resulted in 432 responses. One study deemed 282 of those comments to be substantive, finding that explicit support for the gTLD-MoU outweighed opposition by a factor of 10 to 1.505 The domain name conflict became particularly heated around this period, which was marked by several newsworthy events, including; 1) a lawsuit brought against NSI and the NSF by Paul Garrin, a media artist and operator of an alternate TLD service called Name.Space;506 2) NSI’s IPO filing; which admitted various risk factors including a high

Department of Commerce, Docket No. 970613137-7137-01, domainname/dn5notic.htm. John R. Mathiason and Charles C. Kuhlman, New York University, “International Public Regulation of the Internet: W ho Will Give You Your Domain Name?,” M arch 1998, at domain.html. Elizabeth Weise, “New York Company Sues to Open Up Internet Names,” New York Times/CyberTimes, March 22, 1997. See also Mueller (2002: 152-3), and
506 505



347 level of uncollectible receivables due to the “large number” of registrants engaged in speculative activity and likely to default on payment;507 3) an operational error at NSI which corrupted the dot-com lookup table, briefly interrupting web and email services in various parts of the world;508 4) a spectacular act of piracy by Eugene Kashpureff, in which he took over the page at to mount a protest against NSI’s effort to convert the InterNIC into a branded product;509 5) NSI’s backing of a Washington DC lobbying organization which attempted to organize an “Open Internet Congress” to “Stop the Internet Coup” and “Oppose the gTLD-MoU, the Internet Society and IANA;”510 6) a contentious series of Congressional hearings involving Postel, Rutkowski, Heath, and others, focused on the “transition of the domain names system” to the private sector,511 and 7) a class action suit brought on October 16, 1997 against NSI and the NSF, claiming that the (still undistributed) $15 Internet Infrastructure Fee that NSI reimbursed to NSI for each annual registration constituted an illegal tax.512 Tension between Magaziner’s group and the gTLD-MoU sharpened in the closing months of 1997, as CORE’s infrastructure began to take shape. Concerned that the US government might act to block the start of testing and operations anticipated for early 1998, Dave Crocker began lobbying for a global campaign to “open up control of Internet
The July 3, 1997 filing is available online at /0000950133-97-002418.txt. See also the July 6, 1997 by comments by Anthony Couvering at Peter W ayner, “Internet Glitch Reveals System's Pervasiveness, Vulnerability,” New York Times/CyberTimes, July 18, 1997,
509 508 507

Diamond (1998).

The group was the Association for Interactive Media, run by Andy Sernovitz, using the website The hearings, under the aegis of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Basic Research, chaired by Charles W . ''Chip'' Pickering, were held in two parts on September 25 and 30, 1997. Part I, Part II, . For the complaint, see. Later news reports of the issue include, Janet Kornblum, “Judge rules domain fees illegal,” at CNET,, April 9 1998,
512 511


348 infrastructure.”513 As mentioned in the opening pages of this dissertation, Magaziner made an explicit demand to Postel insisting that CORE’s TLDs not be added to the root.514 There were several discussions between the members of IAWG, the IETF, and CORE, in conjunction with IETF and CORE meetings held in Washington DC in December 1997, but no accommodation was achieved. At one of those meetings Burr insisted that she held final say, on behalf of the US government, over whether any changes could be made to the root.515 On January 22 John Gilmore sent an email to the CORE list discussing strategies to indemnify IANA in case there was a direct confrontation between Jon Postel and the US government over the entry of CORE’s TLDs into the root.516 Postel ordered the redirection of the root (or its “hijacking,” depending on one’s attitude toward the event) several days later, but reversed course under strong pressure from Magaziner.517 Magaziner’s Interagency Working Group released the so-called “Green Paper” (since the policy-making process wasn’t considered “done” yet) through the Department of Commerce on January 30.518 It signaled a strong break from the gTLD-MoU, proposing the selection of up to five new registries, each with a single TLD, using a shared registry system.

Crocker’s comment was contained within an email to a private CORE list, leaked to the journalist Gordon Cook. See “Anti-monopoly Fervor Distorts Interagency DNS W orking,” IP November 15, 1997. msg00039.html. See also Gordon Cook’s comments in, “W ill the Clinton Administration Permit the Hijacking Of,” IP November 13, 1997, http:// interesting-people/interesting-people.199711 Similar takes on the incident have been recounted to me in interviews with Gordon Cook and Ira Magaziner. The incident is also cited in Mueller (2002: 161, 289, fn.44). I was present at the meeting at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel, commensurate with the December 8-12 IETF M eeting. Gilmore’s email was leaked and published by others. See Jay Fenello, “Re: UK Registrars URGENT meeting,” January 31, 1998, mail-archive/07218.html. See the November 2002 thread, “anyone remember when the root servers were hi-jacked?,” IH, 2002-November.txt.gz. Department of Commerce, N ational Telecommunications and Information Administration “A Proposal to Improve Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses: Discussion draft 1/30/98,” It was published in the Federal Register Docket 980212036-8036-01, 63.34, February 20, 1998, as “Improvement of Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses; Proposed Rule.” See
518 517 516 515 514


349 An unlimited number competitive registrars could be accredited, subject to technical and management criteria. NSI would be allowed to keep the dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org registries, but would be obliged to operate them within the shared registry/competitive registrar regime. The Green Paper also set out four principles to “guide the evolution of the domain name system: stability, competition, private bottom-up coordination, and representation” (my emphasis), and further proposed creating a body to manage the “Coordinated Functions” of the Internet. This body would go beyond management of root server operations and TLD additions, and would also coordinate assignments of IP blocks to regional number registries, and “development of other technical protocol parameters as needed to maintain universal connectivity on the Internet.”519 Shortly after publication of the Green Paper, on February 11, 1998, Postel and Carpenter (still head of the IAB) announced the IANA Transition Advisors Group (ITAG), a small group of “senior advisors” invited to help Postel “draft statutes” for a “new organization” that would move IANA “from a US Government funded activity to an openly governed, privately funded not-for-profit activity.”520 This would eventually turn out be the coordinating body contemplated by the Green Paper. The immediate aftermath of these events undercut ISOC’s reputation, emboldening its opponents. Not only was there nothing to show after so time and money had been spent to promote the IAHC and the gTLD-MoU, the ISOC community had proven itself woefully unable to stand up to United States government intervention against a prestigious engineering community process. Moreover, just as CORE’s investors were coming to terms with their losses, its own version of Server A was stolen during a burglary at a co-location facility in California.

The principles are detailed at ibid. The formulation, “guide the evolution,” was employed in the W hite Paper’s description of the Green Paper. See Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, “06-05-98 Statement of Policy, Management of Internet Names and Addresses,” Docket Number: 980212036-8146-02. 6_5_98dns.htm. Dave Farber, “Background to announcement of ITAG,” IP February 22, 1998. http://


350 Publication of the Green Paper inaugurated a new round of discussion. The NTIA received over 650 formal comments by the start of June 1998, many of which criticized the Green Paper’s authors for taking a US-centric approach.521 Members of the Internet standards community were concerned that the coordinating body envisioned by the Green Paper was intended to usurp the IETF’s lead role in developing Internet standards, perhaps by subordinating the IETF under it.522 The final“White Paper” that emerged on June 5, 1998, was a much softer document than expected – a “Statement of Policy” rather than a “Rule Making.” Among other things, its authors: 1) re-emphasized the four guiding principles of the Green Paper; 2) clarified the relationship with the protocol community, while; 3) continuing to stress the need for a single, overarching coordinating body to oversee names and number assignments; 4) put off the question of new gTLDs as an issue for the new body to decide; 5) called upon WIPO to initiate a new process to find solutions for the trademark and dispute problems, and; 6) made it clear that a new not-for-profit corporation should be created by the “private sector” and “managed by a globally and functionally representative Board of Directors.”523 Release of the White Paper prompted a race to create the new coordinating body. The early favorite was the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP), a series of meetings held across four continents through the summer of 1998. Initially called the Global Incorporation Alliance Workshop (GIAW), the process was advertised as an “ad hoc coalition” of diverse “Internet stakeholder groups” coming together “around the world” to “discuss the transition to private sector management of the technical administration of Internet names and numbers” in accordance with the policies set out in the White Paper.524
Marc Holitscher, “The Reform of the Domain Name System and the Role of Civil Society” Presentation at the 3rd W orkshop of the Transatlantic Information Exchange Service (TIES) Paris, 6-7 April 2000 Unit for Internet Studies, Center for International Studies, Swiss Federal Institute for Technology, See also Mueller (2002: 167-8) Text in the subsequent W hite Paper admitted that “development” was an “overstatement” of IANA’s role and changed the operative word to “assignment.” See W hite Paper at fn. 159, Section 2, Response.
523 522 521

W hite Paper at fn. 519. International Forum on the W hite Paper,


351 Logistical support and sponsorship for the first meeting in Reston, Virginia on July 1-2, 1998 was provided by NSI and CIX.525 The Chair was Tamar Frankel, a Professor of Law at Boston University. Her expertise included corporate governance. Frankel was a former instructor of the DNRC’s Kathy Kleiman, who had passed her name on to Rutkowski and Burr as IFWP planning got underway.526 The apparently strong anti-IAHC tilt among the IFWP’s organizers caused some wariness among the ISOC community and gTLD-MoU supporters.527 Some IFWP participants were persistent in insisting that the IFWP was “the” process, and that the new corporation’s board and by laws would emerge directly out of it. Others, notably Mike Roberts, one of the most senior ISOC veterans active in the IFWP, and a member of its Steering Committee, believed there had been a “specific agreement... only to hold open meetings to explore issues and ascertain consensus where it existed or emerged.” Roberts concluded that small stakeholders and interest advocates wanted to “legitimize IFWP as the final broker” because it gave their points of view “greater leverage.”528 Despite great public fanfare, and despite steady encouragement from Magaziner, the IFWP made no real progress toward finding a consensus. Analysts at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center offered a potential solution. Throughout the summer, they had been publishing detailed comparative reviews of the various drafts emerging from the IFWP and from a simultaneous IANA process. With the opportunity to resolve the crisis in jeopardy, The Berkman group offered to host a facilitated, invitation-only editorial wrap-up meeting September 12-13, 1998, and

Upon reading about the announcement of the GIAW online, I called the provided number and reached someone who said she was an NSI employee. At the IFW P meeting, we were told that CIX’s Barbara Dooley had provided funds for the venue, but could not attend due to a family emergency. CIX was listed as the administrative contract for the domain name registration. Computergram International, “The Origins of the
527 526







The Electronic Frontier Foundation declined the invitation to attend because of the SAIC/NSI

influence. Email from Mike Roberts to Molly Shafer Van Houweling, August 21, 1998, provided by Roberts, on file with the author.

352 a public ratification event on September 19. Nevertheless, the IFWP process broke down altogether when it was clear that the IANA process had reached fruition. Roberts asked his supporters in the IFWP process (members of an ITU-sponsored email list) to “move on.”529 Postel had announced creation of a mailing list at the IANA site to collect comments on the new corporation shortly after the White Paper’s release. It was a “one way” list that simply displayed received postings that had been received. The site was soon overwhelmed by noisy and provocative submissions from Postel’s critics, and never became an active discussion venue.530 Postel did not participate in the other public discussions active at the time. He attended just one of the IFWP meetings, but only briefly, while in Geneva, commensurate with an ISOC-sponsored INET meeting where he was receiving a special award from the ITU for “contributions to the development of the Global Information Infrastructure.531 Nevertheless, Postel was a constant, if not material, presence in the IFWP, in that a key point of the exercise was to design a new home for IANA. He was represented at the first meeting in Reston by Joe Sims, Senior Partner for the prominent Washington DC law firm, Jones Day. Recommended to Postel by ITAG, Sims had extensive experience as a deal maker for Fortune 500 companies, specializing in mergers, acquisitions, and anti-trust matters.532 Like the IFWP, Sims and Postel were in a race to create a new structure before the expiration of the Cooperative Agreement between the NSF and NSI. It was already in extension, nearing the end of its six month “ramp down” period. Sims had started drafting sets of bylaws during the summer, presenting a version for consideration at the IETF meeting in Chicago in late August. He then began working with counterparts at NSI to harmonize his draft with their

Email from Mike Roberts to, September 10, 1998, on file with the author. See also Mueller (2002: 178), who writes that Roberts’ move was prodded by Postel’s attorney, Joe Sims.


The site was

The ITU silver medal was also awarded to Vint Cerf in 1995. See Dave Farber’s copy of the ITU press release at “Announcement of ITU silver medal award to Jon Postel,” IP July 22, 1998,


Mueller (2002: 176).

353 immediate concerns. An NSI negotiator suggested the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as the new entity’s name. On September 17, 1998, Postel and NSI CEO Gabe Battista jointly announced the result, titled “Proposed Articles of Incorporation - A Cooperative Effort by IANA and NSI.533” ICANN’s first organizational meeting was held in New York on September 25. Sims and Roger Cochetti (a lobbyist for IBM), finalized the selection of ICANN's interim personnel. Mike Roberts became interim CEO. Esther Dyson, a well-known computer industry pundit, agreed to serve as Chair of ICANN's interim board of directors. Given that the IFWP had been heralded for having such an exceptionally open and inclusive process, presumably modeled after the spirit of the Internet and the IETF, this outcome prompted widespread resentment. Many grassroots participants felt their contributions and interests had been wholly ignored. Believing there was still a chance to circumvent ICANN by presenting a superior corporate model to the NTIA, three distinct alternative proposals emerged. The most notable of these was presented by the Boston Working Group (BWG), a small committee of IFWP participants who had already finalized their travel arrangements for the cancelled ratification meeting and decided to show up anyway. The NTIA arranged a one week extension of the Cooperative Agreement in order to consider the competing proposals.534 The Pickering committee received testimony on October 7, 1998, during which Becky Burr announced that: 1) NSI had agreed to a timetable for the adoption of a Shared Registry System; 2) the NTIA had opened a comment period for consideration of the competing proposals for the new coordinating body, 3) the WIPO process contemplated in the White Paper was about to convene; 4) that the “United States has continued to consult with the international community, including other interested governments, on the evolution and privatization of the domain name system, and; 5) a “high

T he propo sed articles



incorp o ration






For links to the various proposals and other related documented, see Ellen Rony’s “IFW P: International Forum on the W hite Paper,” at

354 level” group had been convened to review the root system’s security.535 It was clear that ICANN had the inside track for accreditation. In an atmosphere of mounting criticism directed toward ICANN and the process by which it was formed, Congressman Tom Bliley (R-Virginia), Chair of the House Commerce Committee, announced the opening of an investigation by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations into the administration's conduct in the matter. Postel died of post-operative complications from heart surgery the following day, October 16, 1998, an unexpected shock for the entire community. After a short pause for memorial, skirmishing resumed its quick pace. On November 25, 1998, ICANN the US Department of Commerce issued a Memorandum of Understanding that formally reconsolidated IANA’s powers under ICANN, retaining the four principles enunciated in the Green Paper: Stability; Competition; Private, Bottom-Up Coordination, and; Representation. ICANN was criticized for a Board structure deemed insufficiently open to public input and too vulnerable to capture by entrenched interests. With no stable source of income, it had to rely on stopgap loans solicited from MCI and IBM.536 It also benefitted from encouragement originating within the US government, and logistical support from the Berkman Center. ICANN’s viability was finally secured on November 4, 1999 through a tripartite arrangement involving ICANN, NSI, and the US Department of Commerce.537 A year later, on November 16, 2000, well past the peak of the Internet boom, ICANN’s Board of Directors finally selected seven companies that would begin operating as new TLD registries (each with one), but only after further months of preparation and negotiation. And only two of

Testimony of J. Beckwith Burr Associate Administrator (Acting) National Telecommunications and Information Administration Before the House Committee on Science Subcommittee on Basic Research and Subcommittee on Technology,” October 7, 1998, Gordon Cook, “Secret Meeting Shows ICANN - IBM Dependence,” The Cook Report on Internet Protocol Technology, Economics, Policy January 2000. See both and “Approved Agreements among ICANN, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Network Solutions, Inc.”
537 536


355 those TLDs, dot-biz and dot-info, could compete in the generic class with dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org, now called “unsponsored” TLDs.538 NSI’s concessions to ICANN over the years included an agreement to provide funding for ICANN operations, adoption of the split registry/registrar business model endorsed by the IAHC, and the spin-off of the dot-org registry to another firm (a non-profit created by ISOC), Still, NSI continued to maintain the leading position that had been secured for it under the stewardship of SAIC. SAIC’s shareholders were the big winners of the drawn out process, reaping a huge financial windfall. They had purchased NSI for $3 million in early 1995 and sold it to Verisign for $21 billion in March 2000, the same month that the NASDAQ composite index reached its all time high. The new owner’s stock plummeted shortly thereafter.539 ICANN remains in place as a nominally broad-based organization and, to its critics, a metastasizing bureaucracy.540 It has nevertheless worked to ensure that the chain of authority over the Internet’s assignable core resources, especially the TLD space, remain effectively under US national control. This has been called “trap door authority” because the US government retained effective veto power over ICANN’s decisions without exercising a high profile form of day-to-day control. The veto power was evidenced in 2006 when ICANN reversed a 2005 decision to add the TLD suffix .xxx to the root. A potential source of strong contention has arisen within a United Nations venue called the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which first met in December 2003. The WSIS launched a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) whose members debated related issues for nearly two years without reaching a unified consensus on how to proceed. Members of the US government were wary of these moves, motivating


ICANN Resolution 00.89, 16nov00.htm

Melanie Austria Farmer, “VeriSign buys Network Solutions in $21 billion deal” C/Net News, March 7, 2000. etwork+Solutions+in+ 21+ billion+deal/2100-1023_3-237656.html Richar Koman, “Karl Auerbach: ICANN ‘Out of Control’,” O’Reilly Policy DevCenter, December 5, 2002,


356 Richard Beaird, Senior Deputy U.S. Coordinator, US State Department, Communication and Information Policy Section, to announce that the US intended to maintain its central role in decisions about Internet governance and its evolving principles.541 Beaird also stated that the US government would not support any new conventions or treaties on Internet governance, and did not consider it fruitful to participate is such discussions.542 Nevertheless, at a meeting held in Tunis in November 2005, the parent WSIS process inaugurated an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to undertake a “multi-stakeholder policy dialogue” with a mandate to, among other things “Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet.”543 In July 2006 Becky Burr and Marilyn Cade proposed steps by which ICANN would replace US final authority to direct Verisign/NSI operators regarding modification of entries in the root database 544 *** Despite NSI’s “victory,” the long struggle over the creation of new TLDs transformed the nature of the discourse about Internet administration. It underscored the demands for political legitimacy, if not outright democracy, in the settlement of key allocation questions. Those calls for legitimacy may have quieted with the end of the Internet boom, but the urge behind them remains unsatisfied, and is likely to affect future debates on this and related issues.

Beaird’s statement was made at “Regime Change on the Internet? Internet Governance after W GIG” Symposium hosted by the Internet Governance Project and Syracuse University in W ashington DC, July 28, 2005, reported by Robert Guerra, “Regime Change on the Internet: Conference Notes,” August 8, 2005, This statement came during the question and answer session of the “Regime Change” symposium. See also Robert Guerra’s full event notes at, “The Mandate of the IGF” See also, International Telecommunications U nion, “Tunis Agenda for Information Society,” W SIS-05/TUNIS/DOC/6(Rev. 1)-E, November 18, 2005, tunis/off/6rev1.html. Becky Burr, Marilyn Cade, “Steps the U.S. Government Can Take To Promote Responsible, Global, Private Sector M anagement of the DNS,”
544 543 542


357 Where the allocation of global resources is concerned, the demand for widely inclusive, fair, and open political participation is unlikely to disappear. To the extent that resources are allocated via globally-organized hierarchies such as the Domain Name System, people are likely to respond by identifying themselves as part of a global polity. This pattern of interest formation occurred during the several phases of the DNS War. A pertinent question is how this ever-repeating phenomenon of demand and expectation might serve to promote the rise of expressly global social authority.

Chronology 5 DNS History after the gTLD-MoU Date Oct 30 - Nov 2, 2006 November 16-18, 2005 March 22, 2005 December 10-12, 2003 October 2002 June 28, 2002 March 18, 2002 November 16, 2000 mid-late 2000 March 2000 November 4, 1999 May 27, 1999 December 7-11, 1998 October 16, 1998 October 7, 1998 September 30, 1998 September 18, 1998 September 4, 1998 Summer 1998 June 5, 1998 April 1998 March 30-April 3, 1998 March 31, 1998 February 14, 1998 February 11, 1998 January 30, 1998 January 28, 1998 January 22, 1998 mid-December, 1997 December 1997 October 17, 1997 September 25 & 30, 1997 July 1997 July 1, 1997 June 25, 1997 May-June 1997 May 1, 1997 Event IGF (in Athens) meets and organizes “dynamic coalitions.” WSIS (in Tunis) inaugurates Internet Governance Forum (IGF). ICANN approves addition of .eu TLD (fully operational by April 2006). UN’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) holds preparatory meeting. Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack against the Root Constellation. ICANN (in Bucharest) adopts “Blueprint for Reform” known as ICANN 2.0. At Large member Karl Auerbach sues ICANN seeking access to financial records. ICANN approves seven new TLDs before the At Large Board members are seated. ICANN At Large Board Members elected in first global election. SAIC sells NSI to Verisign for estimated $21 Billion. Tripartite agreement between ICANN, NSI, and DOC secures ICANN’s position. Contentious ICANN Board meeting in Berlin. IETF meets in Orlando. Postel’s death. Pickering Committee hearings concerning DNS transfer to the private sector. Planned Expiration of Cooperative Agreement (after extension). Creation of ICANN announced. Collapse of IFWP process. WIPO process begins. IFWP meetings in Reston, Geneva, Buenos Aires. White Paper released, followed by Congressional hearings and launch of IFWP Congressional Hearings to review progress of DNS privatization efforts. IETF meets in Los Angeles Planned Expiration of Cooperative Agreement (Before Extension). Burglary of CORE servers. Creation of IANA Transition Advisors Group (ITAG) Release of Green Paper. Postel “Splits” the Root. Gilmore proposes protective options for Postel. IAWG meetings with CORE supporters and critics in Washington, DC. Magaziner signals Postel not to add CORE’s TLDs to the Root. Class action suit filed, claiming Internet Infrastructure Fund is an illegal tax. Pickering Committee Hearings in US House of Representatives. Kashpureff hijacks InterNIC page after NSI branding and IPO campaign. NTIA begins comment period. NSF rejects PGMedia’s request to NSI regarding addition of its TLDs to the Root. EU pressures Magaziner to block gTLD-MoU. gTLD-MoU Signing in Geneva.

If I were to take the position that it sounds like you’re taking, it would make me sound like a megalomaniac, and I don’t want people to think I’m a megalomaniac... Even if I am I wouldn’t want people to think that. Vint Cerf


a. Pursuing the Gutenberg Analogy We had been through this before, buying new gadgets, absorbing new media,

adopting new skills, witnessing myriad innovations in the ways of work and war. Like our parents and our grandparents, we learned that social and political disruption was part of life. What was modern today could be obsolete tomorrow. Old artifacts might be preserved in museums, or simply be discarded and forgotten. Technological upheaval was familiar to us. But the Internet suggested an altogether bigger kind of transformation. Its potential effects loomed like a 500 year storm... possibly as significant as the introduction of the printing press. Those of us who knew a little history were well aware that printing technology had disrupted the underlying order of an earlier era. By empowering agency in local vernaculars, the new devices helped break Catholic control over Europe and launch the Age of Reason in the 17th Century. One could ask whether the rise of the Internet might impel a similar decline of Rome’s successor... the international system of sovereign states. That political form still dominated the globe at the onset of the new millennium. But perhaps it would not last much longer. Still, the printing press metaphor was incomplete. Our contemporary Gutenbergs had the benefit of hindsight. They could reflect on the consequences of their actions, and perhaps even on their deepest motivations and animating values. As my research began, it became clear that I would be meeting the instigators of this epochal disruption. I recognized an exceptional opportunity – even an obligation – to ask them what they thought they were doing. What were their intentions? How did they think things would play out? I called this line of inquiry “The Gutenberg Analogy.”


360 *** Jon Postel seemed to enjoy the question. His answer was not about the Internet exclusively, but about the power-to-the-people impact of information technology in general. He had been fascinated, he said, by news reports showing how Chinese protesters relied on fax machines to organize themselves during the June 1989 Tienanmen protests. He told me he felt like he was “part of that.” Postel generally didn’t use a lot of words, but from his expression and his body language, I got the clear impression that he was not only glad to be part of what made “that” possible, but simultaneously excited and humbled by the magnitude of the result.545 Bill Manning gave a serious, carefully-reasoned answer. He described various types of protocols and standards that were deployed within major US infrastructures, from ATM machines, to telephones and beyond. Each one required support from a cadre of skilled technicians. Each one thus guaranteed employment for members of those cadres. But upkeep of so many distinct technologies was inefficient. Now that the Internet Protocol had become a dominant standard, it would provide a platform for consolidation. Employers were discovering they could reduced overall costs by leveraging the Internet’s economies of scale. But this consolidation would also undermine existing employment patterns, forcing people to acquire new skills in order to get new jobs. Manning was self-consciously acting as a change agent, an avatar of creative destruction. He wanted to see what the future had in store. The faster the rise of the Internet, the faster he would get to see how things turned out.546 Years later, well after the founding of ICANN, I broached the same question to Vint Cerf . Unlike Postel and Manning, he was wary of the Gutenberg analogy, and especially of my underlying hypothesis, which he called “overblown.” The word was strong, but his tone was judicious. His reaction to grandiose analogies, he admitted, was “colored by this worry that people will try to put more into ICANN’s lap than ICANN has lap for.” He was


Personal interview with Jon Postel, December 9, 1997. Personal interview with Bill Manning, March 30, 1998.


361 unhappy that so many had sought to use ICANN and its global elections as a “stalking horse for some kind of global government.” They were undermining ICANN’s effectiveness, in his view, giving it a “burden” that it was “in no position to assume.” Cerf was wary of the analogy for another reason: he did not want to be tagged as a “megalomaniac.”547 I’m always very sensitive to the possibility that I might be either misunderstood as arguing that this thing is as big as the printing press, and I had a hand in it, and therefore isn’t that terrific. So I hate like the devil to imagine that that’s what people think. At the same time I’m very excited, since it seems to have gotten a lot of people interested in doing things, and involved, and willing to spend an awful amount of time and money to participate.548 Disclaimers aside, it was clear Cerf had indeed thought deeply about the impact of the Internet, and in terms very specific to ICANN’s role in DNS administration. Our conversation turned to the “peculiar characteristics” of domain names and IP addresses, and the extent to which these “objects” were like property. He was familiar with relevant concepts inherited from English law, including leasehold, freehold, real property, and continuing liens. He reflected on the complex array of problems that stemmed from the task of transferring names between registrars. Establishing provenance of ownership was one. Properly recording the transfers was another. As the conversation headed toward a discussion of foreclosure and escheat, I suggested that these are precisely the kinds of gate-keeping activities that indicate how an expressly global organization might emulate the work of modern governments. Cerf’s guard went up again, as if it were necessary to draw the line. “There’s almost no coercive power available to anyone at ICANN,” he insisted. Still, he had to concede that by selecting TLDs, accrediting registrars, and so on, ICANN was indeed allocating resources. Cerf then switched gears and spoke directly to the “basis” of ICANN’s “regulatory power.” It all began with Postel in the “pre-ICANN” period. “Postel’s intentions were


The quotes from this section are taken from the Cerf interview conducted November 15, 2001. Ibid.


362 solely,” he believed, “to try and make sure that people who were responsible for pieces of the Internet were in fact committed to it, and that dumb things didn’t happen.” Those “intentions” were not only smart, they were selfless: Jon didn’t make any money out of this at all. Of all the people I can think of in the world, Jon is the least kind of person who had any ego at all. He never sought the limelight. He wasn’t one of those guys trying to do something in secret... [H]e tried to do the best he could to help people resolve disagreements. Turning that into an institution has been incredibly hard. What it tells you is that there is no substitute for an enlightened despot who is well intentioned and capable. Trying to make an institution that balances everyone’s interest is incredibly difficult.549 Cerf’s comment about there being “no substitute” for Postel’s enlightened despotism was probably just a rhetorical device. If Postel’s commitment to smart and selfless action was the basis for his power, others could aspire to the same sort of honorably well-intentioned legitimacy. He would serve as their model. Thus ICANN could be made “well intentioned” by incorporating it as a non-profit, and made “capable” by populating its board and staff with technical experts. What couldn’t be replicated was Postel’s status as a revered figure. There was no substitute for the faith people had in him. That profoundly high regard led his associates to overlook his mistakes, led his fans to see wisdom in every pronouncement, and led the press to call him “god.” ICANN’s officers could pretend to wear the halo of financially disinterested, highly skilled professionals, and to share Postel’s commitment to the Internet. But they would never be as trusted as he had been. To put it more precisely, they would never be as universally revered as people now preferred to think he had been. Cerf, on the defensive against ICANN’s critics, was at pains to defend its integrity (and by implication his own), stressing that ICANN’s “job” was “not to make a profit” for itself or for anyone in particular. He described its positive duties almost as an afterthought: “Its job is to enable other people to make a profit if they so choose on the net. You don’t



363 have to make a profit on the net. Some people use the net for reasons that are noncommercial. That’s OK too.”550 Reviewing the transcript after the interview, I realized that I had exposed the meat of the Gutenberg analogy, but had missed an opportunity to probe it further. The basis of Postel’s power, regulatory or otherwise, was much more than an honorable record of keeping his hands out of the cookie jar. He had power because members of a wider community identified him as someone who could advance their interests. He was not simply a trustworthy functionary, but a man who was trusted to lead the way ahead. If I had dug deeper, I might have reached a clearer view of the direction Postel had chosen, and why. It would have been appropriate at that point to question assumptions taken for granted by nearly everyone in the world, Cerf and myself included: Why enable use of the Internet? What interests would be served, and how? In general terms, the proper question would have been this: Even if a gatekeeper does not profit personally, what values profit by the gatekeeper’s actions? Put another way: What guiding principles does the gatekeeper seek to serve? Not surprisingly, Cerf had put commerce first in his off-the-cuff comment about ICANN’s positive purposes. This was not new. Other major figures in the DNS debates had given the same overarching justification when presented with the Gutenberg analogy. In their cases, however, it was not an afterthought. Ira Magaziner, for example, responded at length, describing the benefits of building structures which could support Internet commerce. So did Paul Twomey, whom I interviewed when he was chair of ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee. Given more time to reflect, Cerf might have voiced a different rationale, perhaps closer in spirit to Postel’s notion of radical empowerment or Manning’s desire for Schumpeterian progress. But he didn’t. The response from “father” of the Internet was congruent with the views of Magaziner and Twomey... the most prominent state agents in the DNS debates. They had not been promoting the Internet because they intended to change



364 the world and transform the global order. Their intentions were precisely the opposite... to bolster the political standing of their governments. Internet-based commerce was being pursued as way of spurring new employment, corporate profitability, and economic prosperity. It was a means to that stable, nation-state enshrining end. *** Cerf might have answered quite differently if someone had asked him about the Gutenberg analogy in 1996, when Internet megalomania was much more fashionable. He could have taken cues from RFC 1958, titled “Architectural Principles of the Internet.” Authored by Brian Carpenter, then Chair of the IAB, the RFC offered “general guidance” about the “current principles of Internet architecture.” Its “spanning set” of rules were friendly to commerce, but also revealed just how much proponents of Internet expansion once evinced interests and loyalties which put them at odds with sovereign governments. That document was published in June 1996... well before the incorporation of ICANN, the split of the root, and the IAHC debacle. IETF attendance was booming, ISOC was getting a fresh start under Don Heath, and no one had yet uttered the words “DNS War.” The Internet Protocol had all but triumphed over its competitors by then. Internet-related businesses were taking off, and the ascendant Web was widely recognized as a social juggernaut. To be sure, there were problems. It appeared as if the world’s most powerful sovereign state was trying to block the Internet’s progress, and even roll it back. The fight over the CDA had reached a high pitch, and there was sharp resentment of the Clinton Administration’s efforts to impede public access to high quality encryption technology. In that context, with so much at stake, Carpenter no doubt felt it was incumbent on him to assert the best interests of his community, especially against perceived threats to further expansion. Carpenter list of architectural principles began with a hedge: “[C]onstant change is perhaps the only principle of the Internet that should survive indefinitely.” That said, he described the overarching norms in a nutshell: “[T]he goal is connectivity, the tool is the Internet Protocol, and the intelligence is end to end rather than hidden in the network.”551


Brian Carpenter, “RFC 1958: Architectural Principles of the Internet,” June 1996.

365 Connectivity “flourishes in the increasingly liberal and competitive commercial telecommunications environment,” he wrote. But commerce was a means to an end, and not the end itself. Rather, the “exponential growth of the network [showed] that connectivity is its own reward.” The conception of connectivity was unbordered. “The key to global connectivity is the inter-networking layer.” That conception was also universal. There might be upgrades to new versions of the Internet Protocol, but achieving “the ideal situation” of “uniform and relatively seamless operations” required that “there should be one, and only one protocol.” Ideologies claiming an unbordered, universalist scope were not new to the world. Catholicism and Islam come to mind, as do several failed prototypes for world government that appeared in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some anarchist and libertarian ideologies may fit into that category as well. Uniquely, however, the Internet combined an inherent, libertarian-tinged resistance to intercessors – embodied in the end-to-end principle – with the immutable constraint of an overarching mediator – the network itself. Cybernetics and government share a common etymological root for good reasons. The universalist thrust of the Internet’s doctrine – an almost predatory effort to make itself the world’s underlying telecommunications protocol – belied the old saw that adoption of IP was strictly voluntary. Once the market has tilted, the new circumstances take on a force of their own. Recall Cerf’s insistence that ICANN was not coercive. How overtly coercive do you need to be when you’re the only game in town? Ye it was clear that the Internet had ushered in an innovative and a critical distinction from the sovereign-crowned hierarchies of nation-states and religious doctrines. The end-toend principle championed the sovereignty of members at the endpoints over the sovereignty of the overarching mediator. This distinction needs further explanation. In a key passage intended to articulate fundamental engineering principles, Carpenter relied on the words “state” and “fate” to put his ideas across, words that evoke highly loaded concepts in the languages of international and deistic world systems. Deconstruction of their multiple meanings can help disclose the political implications of Internet architecture. Here is the passage:

366 An end-to-end protocol design should not rely on the maintenance of state (i.e. information about the state of end-to-end communication) inside the network. Such state should be maintained only in the endpoints, in such a way that the state can only be destroyed when the endpoint itself breaks down (known as fate-sharing).552 In other words, a connection’s state as such depended on the intelligence sustained by its member endpoints. Carpenter allowed that the network would maintain information to perform services on a connection’s behalf, like routing, but he stipulated that the responsibility for the integrity and security of a connection’s state belonged expressly at the fringes. In distinction, a nation-state’s state as such depends in large part on recognition (an act of sustained intelligence) by other nation-states. Consequently, the engineering community’s profoundly autonomous vision of a connection’s state provided ground for tension with the governments of nation-states. The community’s intensely self-reliant notion of security mandated that future versions of the Internet Protocol support the strongest possible cryptographic protections. That demand translated into a giant “Keep Out” sign, blasting the US government and any other that might seek to corrupt the integrity of end-to-end communication. Carpenter followed up several weeks later with another RFC that expressed that same position in openly contentious terms. It stated that the IAB and the IESG were “disturbed to note that various governments” were adopting a series of cryptographic policies that were “against the interests of consumers and the business community.” As an alternative, “The IAB and IESG would... encourage policies that allow ready access to uniform strong cryptographic technology for all Internet users in all countries.” Postel gave that RFC a number far out of sequence – the ominous 1984 – in order to dramatize its importance.553 The second term, fate, hints at existential matters. Here again, what made the ideology of the Internet architects unique among authoritatively mediated systems was the


RFC 1958, section 2.3.

Brian Carpenter, Fred Baker, “RFC 1984: The IAB and IESG Statement on Cryptographic Technology and the Internet,” August 1996.


367 rule that the responsibility for a connection’s enduring life resides with its member endpoints. Fate-sharing implied that communication between member endpoints was the ultimate purpose of existence, not communion with a higher sovereign. As with the word “state,” the appropriation of “fate” helped distinguish the Internet as a political form. Connectivity was the new reward, not privilege or paradise.554 Evidence for the Internet community’s ideological exceptionalism does not need to hang on the preceding discussion of fate and state, of course. The cherished slogans of the engineering community had already signaled a move to set the Internet apart. Carpenter had recapitulated them in his architectural principles, a strategy that served to ratify the community’s existing sense of self even as he sought to extend its norms: Fortunately, nobody owns the Internet, there is no centralized control, and nobody can turn it off. Its evolution depends on rough consensus about technical proposals, and on running code. Engineering feed-back from real implementations is more important than any architectural principles.555 The idea that the Internet was the product of uncontrolled evolution was its great chartering myth.556 Brian Reid and Steve Wolff, quoted at the opening of this dissertation, were smitten by the idea, and so were countless other Internet veterans. Carpenter echoed the tradition in his statement of principles, giving it pride of place... the abstract. “The Internet and its architecture have grown in evolutionary fashion from modest beginnings rather than from a Grand Plan,” it began. That “process of evolution is one of the main reasons for the technology’s success.”

Though many nation-states enshrine equal rights as a constitutive principle, it is nevertheless the case that rights are defended through state intervention, and depend on political circumstances in which certain groups and individuals tend to acquire more rights than others.


RFC 1958, section 2.4.

The concept of “charter myth” was created by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski to describe how a group’s story of origin “conveys, expresses and strengthens the fundamental fact of local unity,” and “literally contains the legal charter of the community." See Malinowski, "Myth in Primitive Psychology," (1954:116). cited by Iain R. Edgar, “Anthropology and the Dream,”


368 Why credit the organizing theory of modern biology for the success of the Internet? Why deny conscious design? In fact, the Internet’s designers had always been clear about their purposes. Goals such as connectivity, interoperability, and scalability had guided those who participated in building the ARPANET and were sustained during the expansion of the Internet. Principles such as open documentation, end-to-end intelligence, security, and universality were adopted as community members refined their ideas about how to advance those core goals. The Internet’s pioneers may have lacked a complete, prefigured blueprints when they set out on their journey, but there was no lack of guiding vision. So why did they deny it? A modest wariness of being tagged megalomanic – like the concern voiced by Vint Cerf – is not a sufficient explanation. The tendency for vociferous and aggressive sloganeering about Internet evolution, and no one owning it, etc., evidently peaked about the same time grandiose pronouncements about the Internet’s future vis a vis the nation-state were most fashionable. Perhaps that’s the clue. The denial may reflect something deeper about the human condition. Rule making – especially on such a grand scale – may be more readily countenanced when posited as rule following.


Summary of Findings

The first part of this dissertation offered a substantial and sustained narrative history of Internet governance, with emphasis on the DNS controversy through the signing of the gTLD-MoU. A major theme of the discussion was that the gTLD-MoU represented the culmination of a formal and official bid to declare the Internet’s name space as a global resource, with the goal of setting up an expressly global system of administration. Its chains of authority would have been anchored in a new structure distinct from traditional international institutions. For that reason, questions of its guiding principles and its gatekeeping powers received close attention in the narrative. The conception of an expressly global organization is that the organization’s claims to legitimacy are grounded on an array of guiding principles, constitutive instruments, effective technical reach, and other jurisdictional arrangements that are all conceived as

369 having an unambiguously global scope. Its standing would not ultimately depend on authorization by the traditional treaty instruments of sovereign states. Such authorization would not necessarily undermine its overall social standing, however, but would be quite likely to bolster it. The guiding principles of the gTLD-MoU were derived from statements made by leaders of the Internet engineering community regarding the desire for global end-to-end connectivity, and statements from representatives of trademark and telecom industries advocating a new program for voluntary multilateralism. Its constitutive instruments included a variety of institutional elements that were intended to provide for stakeholder-based decision-making, tempered by public oversight. Its effective technical reach was initially intended to cover all tuples (database records) that combined Internet Protocol addresses with domain names having generic suffixes (the IAHC’s seven in a first stage, and the legacies including dot-com in a second stage). This reach involved only a subset of the Internet, because country codes were not included. Nevertheless, a tightening alliance between IANA, the ITU, and the gTLD-MoU regime raised expectations that explicit authority over the root would follow. Also, IANA’s growing independence in that context, and its relationship with the regional IP registries, suggested a stronger form of expressly global character for other segments of the Internet’s core resources. Other jurisdictional arrangements, particularly the WIPO-managed Administrative Challenge Panels that were intended to serve as the gTLD-MoU’s dispute resolution mechanisms, represented an innovative move to bypass nationally-bound legal processes. Several themes woven into the narrative are of some historical interest and have not previously received such extended attention. These include; 1) the ambiguity which haunted Jon Postel’s claim to authority, and the degree to which that ambiguity was rooted in RFC 1174; 2) a detailed description of the events which led to Amendment 4 of the Cooperative Agreement, and the institution of fees by NSI; 3) the interplay of ideologies that emerged in conference discussions concerning the future disposition of the Internet’s core resources.

370 Three metaphors – guides, gatekeepers, and peers – were often invoked during the narrative. Those cues were intended to alert the reader to the significance of certain personalities, statements, and events. Very little was said about how those metaphors were derived. They are familiar words that stand for familiar concepts, drawing plain meaning from the context of the discussion. The intent was to offer a narrative that could stand on its own, regardless of the underlying analytical framework withstands critical challenge. Interested readers can find a discussion of those metaphors in Appendix 2.


Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation.

Term “.” ACM

Full name or explanation The dot, also known as the root. Association for Computing Machinery

Description Hierarchical apex of the DNS. The world’s first organized association of computing professionals, it provided a platform upon which several BWG partisans voiced their opposition to ICANN’s leadership.

AlterNIC. Brand name implying Alternate Eugene Kashpureff’s alternate registry service, Network Information Center. . . . . prominent from March 1996 through July 1997. ANS. . . . . Advanced Network Services Not-for-profit entity established by MERIT in 1992 to run backbone services for the NSF.

APNG.. . . Asia Pacific Networking Group.. . Asian correlate of European and American routing management groups, CCIRN and IEPG. APNIC APPLe ARPANIC Asia Pacific Network Information Center Asia Pacific Policy and Legal Forum Advanced Research Projects Network - Network Information Center Advanced Research Projects Network Address Support Organization Asian correlate of the European and American IP registries, RIPE and ARIN. Policy discussion forum founded by Laina Raveendran Greene. The research oriented counterpart of the DDN-NIC. They operated side by side until the inception of the InterNIC. The Internet’s precursor, which operated from 1969 to 1982. The segment of ICANN’s structure whose constituencies are focused on the allocation of IP numbers. It is constituted by three regionally based authorities. A rule preventing commercial use of government property, which inhibited the utility of the NSF backbone (operated by MERIT) as a long-haul Internet service provider. Primary contractor for the ARPANET. Dominant DNS-supporting software package used by Internet Service Providers. Written and published by ISC. Its default configuration reinforces use of the root system endorsed by IANA and the USG, currently hosted by NSI.




Acceptable Use Policy


Bolt, Berenak and Newman Berkeley Internet Name Daemon


Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term BSD Full name or explanation Berkeley Standard Distribution Description Popular flavor of the UNIX operating system distributed free of charge by the University of California. Online discussion group whose founders, in late summer 1998, presented alternate bylaws for what became ICANN Formal name of the 1993 arrangement between NSI and the NSF regarding DNS operations. Since its inception it has been amended 19 times. USG oversight of the CA has been transferred to the DOC. Provided global infrastructural oversight in late 180s and early 1990. Outgrowth of IANW. Fostered IEPG. Advocated creation of FNC. A TLD using a two letter suffix matching the ISO3166 table of country codes, and managed by a designated authority at the pleasure of its corresponding national government. Legislation which limited the liability of Internet Service Providers for the retransmission of restricted content. Many activists in the Internet community believed certain provisions threatened free speech rights. Consortium of ISPs founded in 1992 to challenge ANS’s market advantage as a backbone provider for the NSF. CIX members employed an innovative peering policy that did not demand financial settlements for exchanges of traffic.


Boston Working Group


Cooperative Agreement


Coordinating Committee for Intercontinental Research Networks Country Code Top Level Domain



Communications Decency Act


Commercial Internet Exchange


Corporation for National Research Washington-based non-profit organization which Initiatives provided funding for IETF meetings and administration through 1998. Council of Registrars Non-profit structure designated through the gTLDMoU to coordinate registry and registrar activities.


Computer Professionals for Social US-based lobbying group traditionally concerned Responsibility with peace and arms control issues, which became a vehicle for promoting “Internet Democracy” after the creation of ICANN.

Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term DARPA Full name or explanation Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Description Defense Department agency involved in funding early research on packet switched networks and high performance computing, including the ARPANET. Later provided funding for ISI.


Defense Communications Agency See DISA Defense Data Network Military-oriented operational networking facility run by SRI from 1972 to 1991, when it was transferred to GSI/NSI. Designation for the facility that maintained the hosts.txt file and managed IP address allocations for the Internet until 1993, when it was physically split from the ARPA-NIC. Originally Defense Communications Agency. Defense Department sub-agency which funded DDN-NIC operations. A hierarchical, distributed database that permits resolution of memorable names like into their underlying IP numbers. A Washington, DC area consortium of attorneys, including Michaela “Mikki” Barry, Harold Feld, and Kathy Kleiman. The segment of ICANN’s structure whose constituencies are focused on domain name issues. It is constituted by seven constituencies: Business, noncommercial, ISPs, registrars, gTLD registries, ccTLD registries, intellectual property, and an open General Assembly. US Government agency which assumed formal control of InterNIC-related oversight, after the NSF relinquished that responsibility in 1998. Consortium of alternate registries including systems run by Simon Higgs, Karl Denninger, Jay Fennello, and Eugene Kashpureff Activist group founded by Mitchell Kapor and John Perry Barlow.

DDN-NIC Defense Data Network - Network Information Center


Defense Information Systems Agency Domain Name System



Domain Name Rights Coalition


Domain Name Support Organization


Department of Commerce


enhanced DNS


Electronic Frontier Foundation

Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term FEPG Full name or explanation Federal Engineering Planning Group Federal Networking Council Description Advised on creation of peering points and other issues of interest to major backbone providers. within the United States. Committee of USG computer networking experts from various agencies..Advisory Committee (FNCAC) was involved in DNS issues until the creation of the IAG. Informal International Organization through which nation states issue formal recommendations to ICANN’s Board of Directors. Such statements are officially considered non-binding. The GAC has no seats on ICANN’s Board. Original name of the IFWP. Consortium of companies including IBM and MCI which provided startup funding for ICANN in 1998 and 1999. A TLD which is effectively open to anyone who wishes to purchase an SLD with its corresponding suffix. Current gTLDs include .com, .net, .org and others are contemplated. Some ccTLDs follow business models equivalent to gTLDs. Work product of the IAHC which established the POC and CORE. Provides oversight to the IETF and serves as the final appeals body in case an IETF member claims a process violation. Members are nominated and selected through an internal IETF process and approved by ISOC. Group within the USG dealing with DNS issues starting early 1997. First led by Brian Kahin, then by Ira Magaziner. A “blue ribbon” committee commissioned by ISOC in late 1996 to resolve DNS policy matters.



Government Advisory Committee


Global Incorporation Alliance Workshop Global Internet Project


Generic Top Level Domain


Generic Top Level Domains Memorandum of Understanding. Internet Architecture Board


Federal Interagency Working Group on Domain Names International Ad Hoc Committee


Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term IANA Full name or explanation Internet Assigned Numbers Authority Description The body that records and coordinates name, number, and protocol assignments used on the Internet, as well as the root server system used by the DNS. Initially a side project of Jon Postel’s, who as a graduate student, was given the assignment by his dissertation supervisor, Dave Farber. As the Internet grew the task was given the name IANA. Early funding for this work was channeled through grants from DARPA, and later through ICANN. A globally constituted body chartered in California as a non-profit membership organization to manage the administration of technical identifiers used on the Internet. Under the semi-formal aegis of the USG, ICANN coordinates Internet policy and operations by overseeing root operations, credentialling registries, registrars, and dispute resolution providers concerned with the use, sale, and allocation of domain names. ICANN is also charged with providing for the expansion of the registrar system, the admission of UDRP providers, and the possible extension of the TLD space, as well as funding and oversight of the IANA and the RFC editor activities on behalf of the IETF and other concerned parties. Panel named by Jon Postel in “RFC 1591: Domain Name System Structure and Delegation.” It was intended to provide for reviews and dispute resolution, but was never constituted. Advises on creation of peering points and other issues of interest to major backbone providers.


Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers


Internet DNS Names Review Board


Intercontinental Engineering Planning Group (originally) Internet Engineering Planning Group (Currently) Internet Engineering Steering Group Internet Engineering Task Force


The combined Area Directors overseeing the IETF’s Working Groups Standards making body for the Internet. Membership is open and standards are non-proprietary and freely published. Approximately 2000 people attend its thrice-yearly meetings. A somewhat larger number participates online. A series of meetings held in the summer of 1998 to discuss the formation of a new corporation for Internet technical adminstration.


International Forum on the White Paper

Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term IMP INET Full name or explanation Interface Message Processor Internet Networking Conference Description Devices built by BBN to link computers on the ARPANET. A series of annual, quasi-academic conferences sponsored by ISOC, that emerged from the IAW in 1991.

INTA Interop InterNIC

International Trademark Authority New York based organ of the trademark community. Internet Interoperations Internet Network Information Center A major annual tradeshow used to showcase state-ofthe-art internetworking technology. Domain Dame Registration Service managed by Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) under agreement with the National Science Foundation until 1998, and later with the Department of Commerce Electronic messaging standard used to send and receive packets of data on the Internet. Operates in conjunction with connection managers such as the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or the Uniform Datagram Protocol (UDP).Created by Vint Cerf (ICANN Board member and ISOC Chair) and Robert Kahn (CEO of CNRI).


Internet Protocol


Information Processing Techniques The sub-agency of ARPA (later DARPA) which Office sponsored the creation of the ARPANET, the development of TCP, and other breakthroughs. Internet Software Consortium Institutional home of Paul Vixie, lead author of BIND. Non-profit company subsidized by market leaders like Digital Equipment Corporation. Long time employer of Jon Postel, Joyce Reynolds, Bill Manning, and other key IANA personnel. Host of IANA’s offices. A think tank sited in Marina Del Rey, California and Virginia, but formally part of the University of Southern California. Funded by DARPA through 1998, briefly by USC, and then by ISOC and ICANN. Geneva-based technical standards organization whose voting members are representatives of national standards bodies. ISO is not an acronym, but the Greek term for “equal.”



Information Science Institute


International Organization for Standards

Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term ISOC Full name or explanation Internet Society Description Non-profit group which provides a legal umbrella for the activities of the IETF. Created and largely constituted by significant members of the engineering community which created key Internet technologies. An agency that connects a local network or subnetwork to the public Internet. Typically a dial up service, this definition can also include computing centers for public and private institutions, and large scale, high-speed backbone providers. Publisher of BIND, headed by Paul Vixie. Formed shortly after root “switch” event and Green Paper announcement to advise Postel on transition from US Government funding to incorporation as a not-for-profit activity


Internet Service Provider


Internet Software Consortium IANA Transition Advisors Group


International Telecommunications International Organization involved in formulating Union and sponsoring the gTLD-MoU. Now a participant in ICANN’s PSO. Membership Advisory Committee Michigan Educational Research Information Triad North American Operators Group National Science Foundation ICANN committee which made recommendations on the selection of its At Large Directors. University-based consortium that entered in a partnership with IBM and MCI in 1987 to run the NSFNET. Leading association of ISPs in the United States. US Government agency oriented toward support of unclassified educational research. Provided a venue that promoted the transition of the Internet from a military-funded project to privatization. An NSF-funded project focused on linking university-based supercomputers. A Herndon, VA based company which was awarded a contract in 1993 to operate the apex of the root server system, and to manage the .com, .net, .org, and .edu TLDs.




The NSF Network Network Solutions Incorporated


National Telecommunications and An agency under the DOC specifically concerned Information Administration with Internet policy coordination issues.

Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term OpenRSC PSO Full name or explanation Open Root Server Consortium Description A discussion group founded by several alternate registry operators and others who were critical of the IAHC and ICANN. The segment of ICANN’s structure whose constituencies are focused on technical protocols. It is constituted by the IETF, the ITU, and several other standards-making groups.

Protocol Support Organization

RARE Registrar

(European Association of Research Networks) The operator of the system that is the interface between a domain name registrant and a registry. Akin to a retailer. The operator of the database which contains the information linking a domain name and its corresponding IP address (as well as other mappings pertinent to domain names). Request For Comment The name of the numbered series of standards issued by the IETF. For example RFC 1591. Standards are subject to varying degrees of review. “Informational” and “experimental” documents can be published with minimal review. Best Current Practice (BCP) and Standard (STD) documents must be approved by a consensus (dominant support) of the Area Directors of the IESG. BCP documents may also be issued directly by the IAB. Europe’s Regional Internet Registry, created in 1989, and given formal legal status in 1992 in cooperation with RARE.




Réseaux IP Européens


Science Applications International Parent company of Network Solutions (NSI) Corporation Second Level Domain Syntactically evident as the string of characters immediately to the left of a TLD, like the miami in Due to the popularity of .com it is the type of domain name most commonly purchased and used on the Internet. A technological design approach by which distinct registrar agents to sell names into a common “backend” domain name database registry.


Shared Registry System

Partial listing of acronyms, names, and special terminology used in this dissertation. Term TLD Full name or explanation Top Level Domain Description Syntactically evident as the suffix of a domain name, like the .edu in There are 252 currently made visible in ICANN’s root. The intellectual property interests involved in the DNS controversy strong representation by trademark holders and their attorneys.




Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy ICANN’s procedure for resolving complaints against domain name holders employs a system of “providers” who act as judges for the parties to the dispute. United States Government World Intellectual Property Organization Geneva-based International Organization involved in the IAHC’s and ICANN’s dispute resolution structure.


In a Stupid Network, the data on it would be the boss. David Isenberg Those who tell the stories also rule. Plato


a. Rule-making on the Internet vs rule-making in general It was quite fashionable in the 1990s to portray the Internet as an entity that was

owned by no one – a chaotically-arranged, edge-controlled, consensus-driven, self-organized anarchy. Reality was far from the case. The Internet’s designers organized its core resources in a manner that established a discipline of hierarchical control over an ever-expanding society of connected agents. The Internet’s legacy of anarchy stemmed from its extraordinary openness. By enshrining scalable connectivity as a supreme priority and perhaps even as the Internet’s summum bonum, the designers favored technical approaches which would foster participation by huge numbers of new users. Where access to core resources was concerned, however, new entrants were marshaled as “responsible parties” within a system of carefully ranked delegations and assignments. At the end of the decade, as Internet access became highly valued, there was a corresponding rise in political efforts to control of the distribution of those core resources. Lively disputes arose over what kind of norms should channel those distribution decisions, and who would get to articulate those norms. This dissertation has presented the early history of that rule-making moment on the Internet, giving particular attention to the ideological arguments that sustained various alliances at key points in the controversy. During the preceding narration I often compared the behaviors of key actors to the behavior of guides, gatekeepers, or peers. Those metaphors were intended to draw attention to specific ways in which people act as deployers of rules... agents with real power to make a difference in the world. Now it is appropriate to step back from the narrative. The purpose of this essay is to substantiate those metaphors by situating them within a formal analytical framework. Putting aside the deeper content of this or that dispute, I want to show how adherents to various ideologies account for the proper source of rules in the world. When people act


381 – whether as guides, gatekeepers, or peers – they have some self-awareness of their own urges, needs, rights, obligations, interests, predicaments, and so on. That self-awareness provides them with knowledge about their capacities and intentions. It roots their sense of agency and informs their purposes. For example, people who see themselves as “just following orders” may conceive the proper source of rule to be outside themselves. In cases where people consider themselves to be free thinkers, open to all choices, or to be individuals who act solely on the basis of personal conscience, then the proper source is visualized as stemming from the inside. Moreover, the source of a rule could be an explicit command given by a named and known agent, or it could be general principle subject to interpretation depending on the situation. So, just as there are outside/inside distinctions, there are being/abstraction distinctions which in combination give rise to an array of possible conceptions. To ground this framework, I will invoke some venerable three-part metaphoric schemes which are might be familiar to students of philosophy, political theory, and international relations. I’m particularly interested in Nicholas Onuf’s triadic approach to the problem of Rule, presented in World of Our Making (1989), and extended in later works. Onuf’s early work on rule sought to demonstrate links between his own triadic framework and Charles S. Peirce’s triadic system of logic. Onuf also sought to conflate his triadic system with Jonathon Searle’s system of speech acts, attempting to make the schemes “fit” by dismissing two of Searle’s five categories. I will take a different approach, first by demonstrating how Searle’s five can be reconsolidated into three, and, then showing how those three seem to link up rather neatly with Onuf’s system. This attempt to strengthen the conceptual ties between Onuf’s triad and Searle’s theory of illocutionary force is intended to build a case for a constructivist methodology for empirical research. Making a full case must depend on future work, extending those conceptual ties into the kernel of Pierce’s system, especially his phenomenology of signs. I will begin with a discussion of Constructivist precepts regarding the ontological primacy of rules in the constitution of political interests. That will be followed by an examination of the linguistic foundations of rule-making in human social practices. There

382 will be a brief comparison of Onuf’s and Searle’s expositions of speech acts, wrapping up with a preliminary justification for the metaphors of guides, gatekeepers, and peers. Along the way, I will offer some new terminology to address the question of how people account for the proper source of rules in the world.


The Skilled Practice of Rules and Categories i.

International Relations specialists who call themselves Constructivists tend to borrow heavily from a sociological precept called “Structuration.”557 The concept stems from the work of British academician and political advisor Anthony Giddens, who set out to describe how people can simultaneously produce a culture and yet be produced by it. In society, humans behave as agents who engage in skilled social performances. At the same time, habits and institutions emerge from those performances; those habits and institutions are reflected as discernable social structures. Consequently, agents and structures can not exist independently of each other. They are co-constituted recursively through expressions of skilled social performance. This results in a condition called “Duality of Structure.” Social structures are conceptualized as the simultaneous “medium and outcome” of skilled human performance. One highly-touted virtue of Structuration is that it avoids two intellectual traps that have ensnared entire communities of professional academicians and armchair theorists. On one hand there is the structure-enshrining doctrine which holds that unseen but discernable forces give rise to reality. Those underlying causes are variously conceived as metaphysical forms, innate structures, supernatural antecedents, pre-ordained commands, fundamental essences, or natural laws. Thus, structure is taken as ontologically prior, with the implication that human life plays out in a highly determined manner... perhaps even a pre-destined one. In this sense, something outside of humans is credited as the ultimate the cause of human


Giddens (1986).

383 behavior. An individual’s conception of his or her own purpose is thus conceived as an epiphenomenon, subordinate to the purposes compelled by the overarching system. Structure-enshrining doctrines are often associated with behavioralism, and the notion that social sciences can best be understood, like natural sciences, through quantitative, statistically verifiable methods, abstract methodologies such as game theory, and so on. Economists and psychologists are attracted to such approaches because it allows them to make the world their laboratory. They can accumulate data through surveys, tests, and historical records, and then number-crunch their way to grand conclusions. Behavorialists in the field of international relations included the World War II era political scientist Harald Lasswell, and the seminal theorist of contemporary structural realism (also called neorealism), Kenneth Waltz. Over time, a critical response to the perceived excesses of structure-enshrining doctrines produced a countervailing agent-enshrining doctrine. The argument goes this way: For any given conception of reality which achieves dominance at a certain time and place, there are privileged groups of elites who reap great benefits at the expense of others. Those conceptions are manifested as grand narratives – call them Zeitgeists (spirits of an age), Weltanschauungs (world views), or paradigms. They typically include justifications for the inequalities in human relationships which might characterize a particular society. Those justifications thus serve to sustain an elite’s domination. Bringing about justice in some society (or at least raising the relative position of subordinated individuals), therefore, would require a radical transformation designed to overturn the dominant conception of reality within that society. Ironically, any new paradigms or grand narratives would be as likely as the old ones to justify some elite group’s domination. Even the concept of justice itself is inevitably subject to appropriation by exploitive interests. Therefore, goes the argument, it may be necessary to subvert all grand narratives so that each of person is free to write his or her own individual narrative and thereby create his or her own reality. This alternative agent-enshrining stance – generally associated with post-modernism – portrays the world as a pastiche of consumption choices. Post-modernists include the

384 French literary theorists Roland Barthes and Jean-Francois Lyotard. Barthes published “The Death of the Author” in 1968, denying the possibility of stable, enduring meaning in any text. Meaning would instead originate with the reader. Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge in 1979 arguing that society had become a multiplicity of incommensurable “phrase regimes.” In international relations theory, Richard Ashley, drawing on the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, stresses the need to contest the grand narratives of sovereignty and anarchy. Post-modernists site conceptions of freedom and justice within the limits of an individual’s conscience or within the highly localized setting of a self-selected community. An individual’s purposes, then, are expressly his or her own, implying that structure is epiphenomenal to human agency. These two archetypes both serve to justify one’s agency in the world. But they embody fundamentally antithetical notions of personal sovereignty. This explains the intensity of debates that have pitted positivist scientists against pragmatic philosophers (for example, E.O. Wilson versus Richard Rorty558), and religious fundamentalists against political pluralists (for example, the Family Research Council versus the American Civil Liberties Union). In IR theory, the dispute is known as “The Third Debate.” Reducing these worldviews to a battle between absolutism and relativism offers useful insights, but it also oversimplifies. The Duality of Structure offers an alternative that goes beyond these seemingly exclusive poles. *** It is possible to recast the foregoing dichotomy as a trichotomy that makes a place for the Constructivist approach. As a first step to that end, consider the distinction that was already made between the notions of rules and purposes which originate externally – from the structure – and those which originate internally – from the agent. Psychologists and

See E.O. W ilson, Richard Rorty, and Paul R. Gross, “Is Everything Relative? A Debate on the Unity of Knowledge, Wilson Quarterly (W inter 1998) 14-57. Though W ilson has written of the “failure” of logical positivism, his work certainly shares its absolutist faith in objective scientific knowledge. “Can we devise a universal litmus test for scientific statements and with it eventually attain the grail of objective truth? ... The answer could well be yes.”Consilience (1998: 59-65, esp. 60).


385 economists refer to the former attitude as exogenous and the latter as endogenous. (Parenthetically, biologists and geologists use the same terms in turn to represent factors that originate outside or inside the systems they study.) As it happens, the assumption that causality is exogenous matches up fairly well with structure-driven justifications for behavior. On the other hand, endogenous conceptions imply far more than self-isolating relativism. Consider how Ralph Waldo Emerson used the word in his 1850 essay, “Uses of Great Men.” Man is that noble endogenous plant which grows, like the palm, from within outward... Man is endogenous and education is his unfolding. The aid we have from others is mechanical, compared with the discoveries of nature in us. What is thus learned is delightful in the doing, and the effect remains. Right ethics are central, and go from the soul outward.559 As the quintessential champion of “self-reliance,” Emerson held that “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” He would thus seem at home in the category of individualistic relativism. After all, the essay is treated as a celebration of iconoclastic creativity... “He is great who is what he is from Nature, and who never reminds us of others.” But his words are also taken a paean to a community’s receptivity to new insight... “There needs but one wise man in a company, and all are wise, so rapid is the contagion.”560 So the ingenuity which is characteristic of endogenous action does not necessarily imply utter relativism. Ingenuity, like a contagion, has real effects on its environment. Learning does not happen in a vacuum. The inherent ambiguity of endogenous conceptions reaches back to Protagoras, whose aphorism, “Man is the measure of all things,” indicates the ancient pedigree of the postmodern impulse. But Protagoras was also a respected constitutionalist and teacher of virtue who argued that, “Skill without concern, and concern without skill are equally worthless.” This urge to ground individual human action within the needs of human society surpassed simplistic ethical relativism. It is noteworthy, by the way, that Protagoras was a

Published as Chapter IX in “M atthews, Brander, ed. The Oxford Book of American Essays. 1914 Ibid.


386 contemporary of Plato, whose philosophical system of ideal forms became a leading archetype for exogenous conceptions. The point here is that the two faces of endogenous action need distinct names: one for that which is taken to be utterly free and unhinged, and one for that which impinges upon its surroundings. As a shorthand, I have some neologisms. Action which presumes the possibility of utter relativism will be called selvogenous. Action presumed to be creatively constitutive will be called codogenous. The term exogenous works as it is already generally understood, but three more neologisms can help advance the discussion. From this point on I will refer to members of the structure-enshrining group as exogents, members of the agentenshrining group as selvogents, and members the co-constituting groups as codogents. The following table presents the arrangement, showing how codogenous and selvogenous actions divide the generally understood conception of endogenous action.
Table 3 Conceptual Sources of Rule Perspective Presumed Origin Expression Rule Style Characteristic Structure-originated Exogenous (externally founded) Absolutism Exogenous Rules having particular contents are seen as overarching and essentially absolute, needing only to be discerned and followed. They are presumed to stem from background conditions – such as Natural Law or a supernatural creator – which persist regardless of the existence of human agents. Structurationism Codogenous Rules are seen as ontologically prior, but not independently free standing, since human agency reflects skilled practices which must necessarily occur within social structures. The particular content of rules of may vary widely with local constructs, but always within discernable categories of practice. Co-constitutive Agent-originated Endogenous (internally founded) Relativism Selvogenous Rules are seen as relative, representing an essentially local construct of human will. Humans are assumed to be the measure of all things, so that the particular contents of rules are simply an epiphenomenal result of human existence.

To be fair, it is necessary to grant that the Structurationist rhetoric of absolutists and relativists tends to set up strawmen that any reasonable person would want knocked down.

387 The absolutists are taken to task for a mathematically cold and dehumanizing objectification of society (or, in religious cases, insurmountably fatalistic conceptions of human essence and supernatural destiny) which factors out the free will of agents in world-making activity. The relativists are criticized for an exasperating self-absorbed subjectivity which factors out the viability of overarching moral structures, and even ontological ones. The Structurationist’s conceit is to declare they have the most penetrating vision of the world. Absolutists are criticized for overlooking the urgency of agency, relativists for blinding themselves to the collective discernability of structure. Indeed, it may be possible to name actual people in either camp who are as lacking in nuance as Structurationists might portray them. Still, the traps are real. Giddens avoided them in his own field work by focusing on the tokens (money, gifts, property, etc.) that members of a society exchanged during their interactions. This made it possible to trace activity within the simplest dyads of society up through larger and larger aggregates. Like Structurationists, Constructivists want to avoid overemphasizing structure or agency at the risk of dismissing the other. The answer is not simply a matter of simply striking the right balance, however, but to find a way of building from the most solid foundation. The most promising starting point so far has been located within the western tradition of analytic philosophy, and especially the intellectual tradition established by the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the British linguist, J. L. Austin, and the American linguist, John Searle. All focused on the centrality of language in the conduct of social life. Just as the mind is the lense that mediates a single individual’s subjective apprehension of reality, language is the lense that mediates multiple individuals’ intersubjective apprehension of social reality. There is no way around it. Searle’s work is especially germane since it focuses on speaking as a rule-governed form of behavior. The Constructivist research program focuses on the rules that constitute skilled social performances. Rules are seen as the bearer service, so to speak, by which agents and structures co-constitute each other. Focusing on rules as the object of analysis does not reduce the importance of agents or structures as practical concerns, or as merited topics of study. Both can be investigated

388 simultaneously. One can be as attentive to the constraining ramifications of structure as any hyper-positivist, yet as concerned with the free will and dignity of agents as any postmodernist. The virtue of the focus on rules is that it opens the way to an approach that factors in both agents and structure. It brings their particular edifices into relief, in light of each other. Consider, as a general example, people who wake up in the morning regarding themselves as individuals who must go out to the world and “play the game.” They may feel alienated or enthusiastic about doing so, but they do it just the same. Knowing the rules, they know how to get on in the world, and they establish their habits accordingly. By buying into the game, they simultaneously produce the game. The game would not exist without its players, and there would not be players if they were not in the game. This is co-constitution. To play by the game is to play by its rules. By finding out what the rules are, we can understand how people simultaneously make “the game,” and themselves into its players. What gives games (or structures like a club, a workplace, the state, or the Internet) meaningful existence is the willingness of actors to animate its associated rules. Agents are in the driver’s seat, so to speak, giving life to the rules of the road, and simultaneously constituting themselves as drivers. And agency inevitably discloses properties. There can be good drivers, bad drivers, reckless drivers, defensive drivers, drunk drivers, sleepy drivers, licensed or unlicensed drivers, profiled drivers, or whatever the case may be. As we will see, the co-constitution of agents and structures can play out in nearly infinite ways. The process corresponds to both the establishment of material culture and to the formation of neuronal coalitions within the human brain. It provides for the building of both the social and mental edifices on which people rely to get on in the world, and by which the world lets them in. Changes in the world reflect its active shaping. Interventions result in consequences, the substance of which may be intended, or unintended, but those consequences occur just the same, providing the grounds for future interventions. It is important to be clear that “the world,” includes not only the apprehensible material reality, but the mental reality of agents who are skilled in the practice of rules by virtue of their own cognitive edifices. Sentience presents a special problem because

389 observers (so far) lack tools that allow direct observation of another thinking person’s cognitive edifices. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to say that apprehensible reality and sovereign cognition are both subject to dynamic processes of intervention and consequence. Mental edifices can support routines ranging from the simplest gestures, habits and manners, to the most elaborate notions of ideological conviction, paradigmatic thought, and aesthetic understanding. These edifices also account for the metanarratives by which people constitute themselves as exogents, codogents, or selvogents. People have a capacity to overturn and replace their mental edifices, and therefore must be considered free. But this capacity is not the kind of unhinged or unhingeable freedom that the selvogents defend. Humans are endowed with a sensory/mental apparatus which enables them to apprehend and recognize numerous distinct objects that exist in brute reality. This shared endowment, which is itself an aspect of brute reality, raises the possibility of building propositions that people can use (collectively, as agents) to corroborate their mutual apprehension of existing objects and the relations between them. As propositions accumulate, they may be bundled within metanarratives. So, in distinction from the selvogents, I will argue that it is possible to constitute a globally legitimate metanarrative about existing objects, given sufficient discipline of corroboration. I will also argue that attempting to do so is necessary. But it is important to note that moral precepts are not objects. Exogenous conceptions that a globally legitimate moral metanarrative has been supernaturally revealed, or can be revealed through science, have no foundation in discernable evidence. Perhaps a moral metanarrative could be established codogenously, enshrining an ethical foundation for law through political action, but such a narrative would be recognizable as an intentional product a of human culture rather than as a reflection of some free standing irresistible force. To underscore what is at stake, it would be useful to examine the etymology of “narrative.” The word stems from the Latin gnarus, for knowing. The consonant combinations of gn and kn in English spelling are clues that relate the root meanings in terms diverse as ignore, agnostic, ken and, ultimately, can. Etymologically, knowledge is indeed power. To narrate is “to tell the particulars of an event or act.” Narration, therefore, is

390 intervention. When a narrator names particulars and defines the links between them, hearers experience the consequences, intended or not, in their mental edifices. To engage in narration is to deploy power. It is useful to recall that humans are endowed with the capacity to create propositions about ideas which are poorly coupled to existing reality. This is a basis for freedom. Humans can conjure sheer abstractions and imagine alternate futures as they choose between courses of action. But the expression of choice ultimately necessitates engagement with existing reality. Systematic expression of choice reflects skilled engagement. Since materially existing reality includes material artifacts of human culture, material reality discloses the consequences of human choice. Thus, it may be less problematic to construct a narrative that takes an adequate measure of what existence is than to construct one that presumes to say how it ought to be reconstructed. This suggests an inevitable distinction between the grounds of engagement and the goals of engagement. More simply, making a scientific description is simpler than building a moral or an open society. Both are matters of some importance, and both suggest the centrality of a fundamental, if facile-sounding question: What are the rules of engagement with brute reality?


Speech Acts

To study rules we need a method that provides intelligible access to them. To study the origin and content of rules we need to locate where they entered the world. Fortunately, doing so can be quite straightforward. The entire point of giving skilled a social performance is to create intelligible results. Those results – accessible artifacts of those performances – are known to us as deeds. We apprehend their forms as expressions of action – the sensible effects of purposive signals transmitted by sentient beings. The methodology Constructivists use to study these signals depends on a large body of work in the fields of linguistics, communicative action, and philosophy, particularly the analysis of “speech acts” originated by Austin and extended by Searle. My long-term plan, remember, is to augment that methodology by extending the conception of speech acts to include Peirce’s phenomenology of signs. I do not intend to challenge any prevailing

391 overarching doctrines, but I will offer some revisions and point out some conflations which I hope will be considered reasonable. What Peirce adds is an exquisitely thorough explanation of the rules governing the construction of situations within which human signaling becomes intelligible. Also, the focus on signs retains a basic compatibility with Giddens’ token-oriented methodology and Structurationist thinking A key element in Austin’s theory of speech acts is the distinction between what a speaker intends a hearer to understand – an illocution – and what the hearer then construes as the speaker’s intention – a perlocution. What is claimed and what is construed may not always turn out to be the same, which causes problems in communication. A pertinent issue for accomplishing successful illocutions concerns the presumed competencies of speakers and hearers. Speech, like any signaling, operates through a combination of semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic relations. Below I will use the term “pragmatic state” to discuss the relation of a speaker’s competence to perform a deed and a hearer’s recognition of that speaker’s competence within a given social setting. Marriage rites provide a convenient example. Only an official who has been duly appointed within a given social structure can effectively say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” and expect that claim to make a difference in the world, conferring a new status of marriage between two individuals. In that equation, the competence of the hearers is as important as that of the speaker. There is real skill involved in knowing when someone can responsibly make a claim, give a command, or accept an agreement. There is also skill in knowing when certain utterances may be semantically and syntactically valid, but pragmatically false with no performative effect. This falsity could occur under many circumstances. More commonly, the speaker may not be formally credentialed to invoke the speech act, or the prospective husband and wife may not be deemed entities formally entitled to participate. An account of formality is a special problem to be taken up later. Though the condition of formality in this example depends on association with prevailing legal structures, it can also be animated by professionalism within epistemic communities, access to published references like dictionaries, the sincerity of the speaker, reference to calibrated

392 measurement systems, and so on. For now, suffice it to say that the condition of formality allows speakers and hearers, with minimal risk of attenuation, to transmit signals embodying valid pragmatic states. It elevates the presumed trustworthiness of truth claims. Thus, speakers can honestly and correctly state that two people are married, constituting hearers who may then reconstitute themselves as speakers, and so on, ad infinitum. The quality of formality behind the transmission of a truth claim indicates the degree to which people have opportunities to share similar beliefs – equivalent states of mind about given sets of social facts. Pragmatic states can of course be staged theatrically or evoked in play. Children might act out a marriage ceremony for fun, as might actors in a scene. Doing so, they recognize that the pragmatic state of their performance is valid for the context of that performance, and not for all the contexts beyond. Still, the capacity to think hypothetically and to imagine the world in ways that are not actually intended to contribute to the establishment of its formal reality is highly consequential. Communicative imagination reveals the phenomenally creative powers of human agency. It is the source of our ability to test inferences, plan for change, and gauge illocutionary force. It facilitates the socialization of agents, allowing them to pre-model real world competencies. And, for speakers who are so inclined, it also the enabler of lies and deception. Ironically, even formal social reality is the product of human inventiveness. There is nothing new in pointing out the world is constructed out of useful social fictions. The persistence of property rights and monetary systems are classic examples of how the world is built on a long legacy of promises, legal claims, contracts, IOUs, and other tokens. As these vestiges of our actions persist and pile up, we extend the self-proclaimed authority of their underlying social fictions. For Onuf, “all figures of speech extend the fiction of their reality to social construction.”561 The words fact and manufacture share the same etymological root, after all. Yet it is clear that certain classes of social constructs exert far more import than others, some because they are upheld by habits of tradition, others because


Onuf (1989: 157).

393 they hold up under empirical tests. If the proper business of science is to state accurate facts about reality, it is no wonder that so many philosophers of science are concerned first of all with stating clear and formal standards for facticity. It is quite likely that our understanding of how we articulate formal rules will improve as we refine our understanding of the human capacity to express and evaluate imaginary or provisional rule-making. It is clear that we can easily distinguish formal and informal pragmatic states like those in the examples above, but there are much harder cases at play in the world, and they are often the source of terrible trouble. The problems hinges on incommensurable notions regarding the proper source of rules. Again, marriage provides an example. In many jurisdictions around the world, the phrase “I now pronounce you husband and wife” is being replaced by “I now pronounce you married,” expanding the scope of legal marriage to include same-sex partnerships. But the formal practice of same-sex marriage has yet to achieve the level of global legitimacy known to the practice of hetero-sex marriage. This example demonstrates that formal pragmatic states can be accepted locally while contended globally. It is important to stress that this sense of local does not mean a geographic constraint, but a limit on the community of practitioners. (Neither does the notion of jurisdiction necessarily hinge on geographic limits.) The point here is to emphasize major distinctions in attitudes toward the proper source of rules. Consider first the conduct of opponents of same-sex marriage in the contemporary American context: The large majority behave as exogents, invoking religious precepts to justify their advocacy of a specific global rule. Specifically, they demand reconstitution of the social world to reinforce harmony with their conception of otherworldly rules. An absolutist notion of structure extinguishes the possibility of other choices. Next, consider the conduct of participants in a secret same-sex relationship: Due to risk of persecution, they work to hide their choices from the society at large. Those secret practices carve out a sense of local reality as a safe zone, but the fact of the relationship is hoped to be meaningless beyond that zone. This is not to equate all closeted people with selvogents, but to describe what occurs when deeds (rule-based behaviors) are conceived as having an

394 expressly local character. Severely localized agency of this sort is sterile to the extent that it forfeits opportunities to impact the wider culture. Finally, consider the attitudes of people who either advocate or support the legalization of same-sex marriage, and may also seek to participate in one. Like the exogents, they demand the constitution of a global rule. But unlike the exogents, their demand for a change in the rules is justified on its own terms: First, their capacity as agents to make demands, and second, the expectation that those demands will be heard by other agents who will agree to reconstitute the social structure as demanded. Using the same morphology, members of this group can be termed codogents, suggesting the idea of co-constituted generation of change and growth. (The similarity to “cogent” also raises the conception of people who act to persuade.) From the codogenous perspective, the proper source of rule is conceived as originating from the demands of agents who are willing to recognize each others’ demands, and then work out formally-stated mutual interests to their common satisfaction. The process is at the core of the republican tradition in western civilization. The upshot is this. Public disputes over same-sex marriage reveal categorically incommensurable understandings about what kinds of sentences have valid pragmatic states in a formal argument. The stridency of the argument suggests the possibility of failure at the level of illocutionary/perlocutionary action. Perhaps this is because, as psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown, discussions that touch on moral precepts are typically driven by post-hoc, emotional reasoning.562 Yet hearers on each side know what the other side’s speakers mean to mean. The failure is not simply a confusion of semantics or a lack of rationality by one or both sides. What speakers claim and what they want construed in this case is unmistakable. This belies differing beliefs about the proper source of rules. The problem is not so much a failure to communicate as a failure to validate. The supernatural justification for political commitments makes no sense to one side, while the other side considers rightsbased arguments inapplicable to the issue at hand. Each considers the others’ core premise

For a revealing discussion of the process of moral reasoning, see Jonathan Haidt, “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment.” Psychological Review. October 2001:108.4, 814-834.


395 to be irrelevant. Visceral emotional sentiments deter members of each side from the leaps of imagination that would allow empathy with the content of values most pertinent to the other’s interest-formation process. They can’t think from each others’ gut.563 *** Though marriage is a handy example for now, the main concern of my empirical work has been to study rule making for the Internet. The problem in that domain is whether formal administrative mechanisms should reflect the play of market forces, the influence of nation states, the organized participation of stakeholders, the authority of technical experts, or some other arrangements. As with the same-sex marriage controversy, contention over the proper source of rules and, consequently, the pragmatic validity of claimed interests has sharpened the debate, fostering a polarized and demonizing Constructivists analyze peoples’ words – the things they do that make a difference in the world – because of their interest in understanding how such actions constitute social reality. Social life is a constitutive endeavor. The accumulation of human choices produces the societies we live in. Admitting this is problematic, however. Society can not be studied from outside society. At the same time, the act of stating facts about society will necessarily have constitutive effects within society. Giddens uses the term “double hermeneutic” to explain the condition. Narrative intervention has consequences. This reinforces the conclusion that scholarship in the vein of Rule-Oriented Constructivism can have practical effects. Practitioners reject the a priori sureties that exogents claim to offer and accept engagement in building upon the grand narratives that selvogents seek to escape.
Ibid. particularly Haidt’s reflection on the emotion of disgust. However, I take issue with Haidt’s argument (with Jesse Graham) in “W hen Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions That Liberals May Not Recognize,” Social Justice Research (forthcoming). Haidt argues that the human species learned a commitment to purity as a result of evolution and the need to avoid contaminated meats. This adaptation reflect the drive toward wholeness. I would argue that it developed further as humans undertook puzzle-solving activities and learned the virtue of harmonizing their various precepts and hypotheses. This adaptive strategy helped them organize their understanding of the world and maintain their status relations as the size of their communities grew. Conservatives retain that commitment in social norms that preach chastity, whereas liberals have presumably abandoned, seeing no evidence that libertine behaviors are by themselves harmful. Yet both conservatives and many liberals retain core commitments to hygiene (I presume, a priori, that both brush and floss). But they do have a different take on purity. Religious traditionalists seek to uphold premodern cultural notions of carnal integrity, where secular progresses increasingly decry superstition as loathsome.

396 The challenges for Constructivists are similar to the challenges faced by those in the business of politics... at least, honest politics. That is, how to promote the advancement of a community’s interests. To meet the challenge it is necessary to adopt methods of analysis and discourse that facilitate commensurable formal dialogs about the issues at hand. In other words, there are good reasons to formulate and embrace sustainable rules for formal communication. Such rules are enabling in that they allow engaged participants to express their interests on a given issue. But they are simultaneously constraining in that they establish standards for pragmatic validity. The notion of interests is often taken for granted, but the concept is central to later discussion, so it will be useful examine in some detail how interests are derived.



The word interest is built from the roots inter and esse, having the meanings between and that which is actual, existing, genuine, true, authentic. The Sanskrit esse is particularly old, and finds its way into many words, including essence, is, sooth, and even etymology.564 Combined, the roots suggest to be between, but modern usage gives us important and of vital concern. Onuf’s conception of interests carefully distinguishes them from preferences or wants. It is necessary to calculate ones’ own preferences in order to advance them. Rules are tools which make this possible, so interests are not merely a function of an agent’s wants, but also an agent’s circumstances. Consequently, “A want is not an interest unless one can plausibly act on it.”565 Identifying one’s interests is intrinsically linked to strategies for achieving them. Plausible ends require plausible means. Interests are recognizable to us as the reasons we give for our conduct. Reasons speak to the relation between our taken-for-granted rationality and the wants that we are in a position to satisfy.566

Eric Partridge (1983), Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. Onuf (1987: 274). Onuf 1987: .277).




Like any claim issued by speakers to hearers, the evocation of interests introduces the possibility (but not inevitability) of ratification. The pursuit of ones’ interests is intrinsically a practice of rule-making and power, For that reason, it will be useful to carry forward with the term interest defined as a “pattern of demands and supporting expectations.”567 Conceptualization and calculation of interests is itself a topic of great interest in the field of International Relations here in the United States, where scholarship is traditionally dominated by people who sort into classifications such as Realism, neo-Realism, and Pluralism. Constructivist (sometimes called Reflexivist) scholars make a showing in academia as well, but members of the other groups are far more solidly entrenched in government jobs where the act of calculating and advancing the national interest is practiced with the full resources of the state. Realists and Pluralists generally lean toward behavioralism, portraying interests as a given result of an agent’s circumstance. But where realists stress that the controlling circumstance is the essentially anarchic nature of the system of sovereign states, the Pluralists focus on the utility-maximizing drives of individuals who deal with each other within and across the bounds of states. To complicate matters, the current US Administration is led by George W. Bush, often considered an Idealist, representing a stance which has not recently been a strong force in academia. His stated goal is to instigate reform of the domestic orders of various states according to specific notions of desirable practices. The justification given for this is ambivalent. He has said, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,"568 suggesting a realistic, self-interested motivation. But he has often said also that those desirable practices – and US interests as well – are conceived and directed by a divine source. “I believe that America is called to lead the cause of freedom

Onuf (1987: 275), citing Harold Laswell and Abraham Kaplan, Power and Society. New Haven: Yale University Press. (1950: 23) .


Inaugural Address By President George W . Bush, January 20, 2005.

398 in a new century... [F]reedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is the Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” 569 Drawing finer distinctions between schools of thought in IR scholarship must be put off for now. The point here is to emphasize that Realists and Idealists share a firm belief that interests are formed exogenously. From an existential perspective, these are clear cases of false consciousness, indicative of the strategies that subjects use to shirk their subjective responsibilities. When a subject’s interests are presumed to come so definitively from outside the subject, the morally constitutive implications of subjectivity and intersubjectivity can more comfortably be ignored. First, because this greatly simplifies the task of interest calculation, so that other agents can be sorted by the poles of friend or foe, angel or evil-doer. Second, because the exogents believe their choices are excused... caused from the outside. If one’s position in the international system requires a certain behavior, or if the call of one’s god requires a certain behavior, one imagines oneself as simply following rules and not participating in making them. This provides the excuse by which it is possible to “play the game” like a robot, regardless of the consequences, come what may. But from a Constructivist perspective – and perhaps an ethical one – it is necessary to recognize that playing the game is always constitutive, whether the speaker admits it or not. When nature speaks – or when God speaks – a ventriloquist is doing the talking.570 There are reasons it may be incorrect to characterize the administration as Idealist and therefore exogenously motivated. In a widely-reported statement, a “senior Bush advisor” derided “the reality-based community” of journalists and experts who "believe that solutions emerge from... judicious study of discernable reality." The advisor was particularly dismissive of enlightenment principals and empiricism:

” Acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, September 2, 2004. See New York Times, September 3, 2004, p 4. This is a paraphrase of Mark Dery’s concept, “ventriloquizing nature.” See, “ "W ild Nature" (The Unabomber Meets the Digerati)” regarding appeal to the authority of nature, “forestalling debate by cam o uflaging the m an-m ad e as the go d -given.” http ://www.le m /m ark d ery/ ESCAPE/VELOCITY/author/wildnature.html.


399 That's not the way the world really works anymore, We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.571 To the extent that selvogents distrust the evidence of intersubjectivity, they may consider the act of calculating and advancing a society’s interests (as Society, writ large) to be an absurdity that only compounds absurdities. If one’s perception of one’s own interests is not derived from an engaged discernment of reality, then it emerges full-blown from the unconstrained wishes and whims of the agent. By rejecting participation in the negotiation of interests, such agents satisfy themselves with a presumption that they can achieve a freestanding subjectivity which risks no moral implications at all. The anonymity of the speaker only serves to fortify that responsibility-shirking stance. The jumble of inconsistent, disengaged, and contradictory positions expressed by officers of the Bush Administration might explain this country’s recent setbacks and reduced prospects in world affairs. But investigation of that proposition is out of scope. The goal here is to inform a discussion of interests, calling on resonant examples when appropriate. To borrow a phrase from Peirce, we seek interests which comport with reality so that our demands can be satisfied, and our expectations confirmed. In the next section I will briefly review how the underlying rationale for interests – the sources of human demands and expectations – have been portrayed within various metanarratives. That discussion will open the way to an examination of how it is that agents advance their perceived interests by engaging in distinct sorts of speech acts.

Ron Suskind, "W ithout A Doubt: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W . Bush" New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004. Suskind agreed to withhold the advisor’s name from publication. Many informed observers have guessed that the source was Karl Rove.


400 c. A Short History of Interests and Motivations i.

Fear is a skilled practice, and a highly adaptive one. It conditions human organisms to recognize potentially painful stimuli which threaten the integrity of their bodies. As animals we are born with intuitive mechanisms that can immediately prompt withdrawal from or attention to the causes of unexpected physical sensations. As we learn to associate certain sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or touches with painful feelings, we build up expectations about what kinds of sensations are actually threatening (or not), and what kinds of responses are appropriate (or not). From an evolutionary perspective, given the stakes, organisms which learn hyper-vigilance with regard to predacious agents tend to be more adaptive than those which inculcate complacency. Fight or flight behaviors can also be organized at the social level, where the skilled practice of fear has been an abiding interest since the dawn of history. Thucydides (c.460-c.400 B.C.) considered fear to be the prime

mover of human activity, distinguishing three types. The most important of the three was phobos, correlating an animal’s capacity for physical fear. In humans, that form of fear is said to motivate a counteracting desire for security and safety (aspehelia). That desire, then, was the primary driver of political activity. Two other drives corresponded with two forms of fear not typical of animals. The second drive is expressed as the pursuit of honor, prestige or glory (doxa). The third accounts for pursuit of profit and wealth (kerdos, ophelia). Thucydides’ famous and approving account of Pericles’ Funeral Oration describes how those latter two drives would also serve to counteract fear. Early in the Oration, Thucydides – speaking to us through Pericles – exalts Athenian democracy and freedom as a way of life which allows citizens to advance by their own capacity and merit, regardless of social standing or personal behaviors. While lauding the manner in which Athenians eschew surveillance of each other, allowing wide forbearance in lifestyle and personal conduct, he also wants to show that, “this tolerance in our private lives does not make us lawless citizens.” His reasoning has become one of the Oration’s bestknown passages.

401 Fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws – particularly those that protect the injured – whether they are on the statute book or belong to that code of unwritten laws that cannot be broken without disgrace. Later on, Pericles has more to say about disgrace when he exhorts Athenians to take responsibility for their economic fortunes,“We place the real disgrace not in the fact of poverty but in the declining of the struggle against it.” Disgrace – not just physical dread – is thus put forth as something to be feared. Two distinct flavors of disgrace can be gleaned from the different contexts in which Pericles utters the word.572 There is the shameful sense of dishonor that can be felt most acutely when no one is looking (precluding the need for direct surveillance), and there is the humiliating guilt that can be felt more acutely the more people are looking (prompting one to greater industry). The former may be shorthanded as the disgrace of perversion (however widely or narrowly circumscribed), and the latter as the disgrace of a lazy citizen, or to give the idea a more modern-sounding form – the disgrace of slackerhood. Pericles presents and immediately resolves the “disgrace of perversion” problem in order to uphold the nobility of the Athenian people as a whole. He wants to defend that nobility against anyone – inside or outside their community – who might have accused the Athenians that the relative social liberalism of their society reflected a fundamental moral failing. His argument is that they are implicitly aware of an unwritten moral bottom line, and so they respect it by the powers of their own fear-motivated self-discipline. The “disgrace of slackerhood” is a qualitatively different concern. Not only does the sentiment have a profoundly modern echo, urging self-help as a social good (since a rising economic tide presumably lifted all boats as successfully two and a half millennia ago as it does now), it poses the reciprocal obligations of citizens and states. Thus it was considered right and fair for the citizens of Athens to demand explicit effort from each other when there was clear benefit to be gained. After all, they shared common interests. Since Athenian

W ithout access to the original Greek text at this time, I am presuming that Thucydides used the identical word at both locations.


402 fortune depended in great part on the prizes won and defended by the citizen-soldiers of its Hoplite armies, it is no surprise that the failure to struggle against poverty was deemed the greatest, most “real” disgrace. As a result of this innovation, splitting the practice of fear into three parts, the Athenians clarified the difference between themselves and animals. Humans could fear not only the whip, but also the gaze of the Gods, and the gaze of one’s fellow citizens. Parenthetically, inspired by the Hoplite model, the early Romans called their spearmen Quirites, a term which gave rise to words as diverse as virile and cry. The connection to virility is clear enough. The other derivation is rooted in the notion that a Quirite was a citizen who, by right of his contribution to the society, was entitled to make demands of other citizens. Our modern notion of the verb cry, retains that sense of speaking out and making demands. *** Writing nearly two millennia later, Niccholo Machiavelli (1469-1527) expressed similar concerns. Like Thucydides, he chronicled the history of particular wars, documented the successes and failures of political leaders, and fought for his community in its army. But Machiavelli had a wider range of wars to study, and his project was more brazenly prescriptive. He was not especially concerned with categorizing the essential motivators of human action, and there is no plain description of any related three-part system in his analysis. But there are some hints of a scheme. In The Prince, when laying out the prospects for creating a Civil Principality, he characterized the “opposing humours” and “contrary appetites” in the community’s population. The nobles were motivated by “greed and cruelty;” the people “loved peace.”573 Machiavelli considered the habits of peace to be in peoples’ interest, if not always in their blood. The challenge, therefore, was getting members the community to advance those interests, despite their self-sabotaging impulses. The answer, as for Thucydides, required a godly gaze. Denounced by varieties of religious leaders for epitomizing the maxim that “the


The Prince, XIX, “That One Should Avoid Being Despised and Hated.”

403 ends justify the means,” Machiavelli was nevertheless morally minded, desiring the good fortune of the community.574 But he believed that end would have to be obtained through trickery, a necessary evil. “Those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft.” In Discourses Machiavelli reflected on the durable success of the second King of Rome, Numa Pompilius, who “finding a very ferocious people and wanting to reduce them to civil obedience by the acts of peace, turned to religion.” Numa’s reign was marked by a series of so-called (and well-timed) “miracles,” the founding of a new priesthood, a great deal of public piety, and the establishment of elaborately-costumed ceremonial precessions that combined militaristic and vernal symbolism, kicking off the new year of a reformed solar calendar. Machievalli greatly admired the result. Rome’s citizens, he noted, “feared more the breaking of an oath than the laws.” And whoever considers well Roman history will see how much Religion served in commanding the armies, in reuniting the plebs, both in keeping men good, and in making the wicked ashamed.575 That strategic cultivation of supernatural fear was profoundly effective, Machiavelli believed, motivating desires to infuse religious norms throughout Roman society. It prompted the writing of “good ordinances” which in turn facilitated “the happy success of the enterprises.” Rome apparently fought no wars during Numa’s long reign. In effect, Machiavelli was a proponent of socially engineered fear – the skilled practice of fear mongering. Done the right way, he concluded, communities would be more likely to enjoy peace and prosperity.

Machiavelli never stated the maxim as simply as that, but it is ascribed to him due to statements like these: “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful... ” The Prince XVIII, “Concerning the W ay Princes Should Keep Faith”


Discourses, XI, “Of The Religions of the Romans”

404 ii.

Two centuries later, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) distinguished three “causes of quarrel,” each providing a reason for war. The urges of competition, diffidence, and glory could in turn prompt wars of gain, safety, and reputation. Reversing the order of his categories, there is a strong correspondence with Thucydides (whose work he translated). The relations are shown in Table 1. The similarities linking Fear/Diffidence and Safety/Security are self-evident, as are the confluences between Honor/Reputation and Profit/Gain. Glory and Competition can be aligned with the two Disgraces if they are treated as negations. Glory suggests a sense of immortality or perpetuity. Competition, a sense of immediacy or day to day effort. To lose at either (leading to, say, infamy or impoverishment) can be a kind of disgrace, whereas victory at either would indicate a kind of grace. Like his predecessors, Hobbes was thinking through the practice of fear. His approach, however, reflected a qualitatively higher degree of formality. Thucydides and Machiavelli wrote as historians, and were far less systematic. Though Thucydides sought to provide “a true picture of the events which have happened, and of like events which may be expected to happen hereafter in the order of human things,” the best technique available to him was narrative, forcing him into a chronological order of exposition. Machievelli’s immediate motivations had more to do with proving his bona fides and friendly wishes to potential employers as he bid for jobs as a political advisor. He wrote for a private audience rather than public consumption or scholarly peers, and his most important works became available only after his death. Hobbes, on the other hand, emulated the methodical, inquiring spirit of Galileo, whom he had met in 1636. Like Galileo, Hobbes presented his results in a form intended to be accessible to the widest possible audience. His exposition began with a careful discussion of “Sense” and “Imagination,” addressing basic questions about physical reality, perception and cognition. His willingness to engage in abstraction and undertake thought problems carried him to his famous premise about the emergence of human society from a state of nature, where life was “nasty, brutish and short.” And that provided grounds for a critical observation. Given the fearsome consequences of endless quarrel, he reasoned, humans must

405 select sovereigns to whom they will give up certain rights in order to guarantee their own long-term survival (though the right of self-defense against immediate threats is retained).

Table 4 Triadic Constructions of Motivations and Interests Author Thucydides/ Pericles Thucydides Machiavelli Hobbes Hobbes Morgenthau Osgood Maslow Haidt Laswell Habermas Onuf Onuf Onuf Onuf Label Immediate motivator (To be averted) Positive motivator (To be pursued) Groups/Humours Causes of Quarrel Motives of War Sources of Power National Self-Interest Needs Moral Foundations Ends Cognitive Interests Immediate Ends Sources of Conduct Rule Categories [Abbreviated Heading] Disgrace of perversion Honor doxa People/Peace Glory Reputation Alliances Prestige Esteem/Growth Purity/Ingroup Deference Emancipatory Standing Shame Instruction-rules Existence Fear phobos Safety/Security aspehelia Army/Cruelty Diffidence Safety Military Survival Biological/Safety Aversion to Harm Safety Technical Security Dread Directive-rules Material Control Disgrace of failed citizenship Profit kerdos Nobles/Greed Competition Gain Wealth Self-sufficiency Love Reciprocity Income Practical Wealth Guilt Commitment-rules Discretionary Endeavor

In other words, for Hobbes, the skilled practice of fear among communities of men creates states. Because Hobbes was interested in the fear people have of each other, regardless of their supernatural presuppositions, his reasoning signaled a decisive break from the prevailing Thomist and classicist theories of war and political order. Its moral implications reached beyond Christendom to all humanity. Seeking to emulate Galileo’s inductive logic, Hobbes maintained that the study of nature should stand on its own terms, independently of religious text. “[W]isdom,” he wrote in Leviathan’s Introduction, “is acquired, not by reading of books, but of men.” The first two of Leviathan’s four sections

406 developed a secular justification for the state – an “artificial man” – that is rightfully regarded as a pivotal step forward in the development of formal political philosophy. Hobbes wasn’t able to achieve Galileo’s standard of empirical experiment, but his universalizing approach offered a grand narrative that anyone could incorporate as a mental edifice. It is a separate question whether Hobbes’ conception of human behavior in the lawless jungles of prehistory was finally corroborated. So is the issue of whether his prescriptions are correct. The point is that his interest in the skilled practice of fear was exceeded by his interest in the skilled practice of reason. Hobbes formulated his ideas in terms meant to allow the possibility of challenge, corroboration and refinement. Like his colleagues in the vanguard of the Enlightenment project (and at some risk, despite his wellknown personal timidity), Hobbes transgressed the grand narratives of the prevailing order for the sake of developing a clear statement of human interests. If we can know what we might reasonably expect from our sensible interactions with reality, we can better assess the plausible outcomes of any demands we might make. There is true glory in that, in the sense that a correct description of reality, delivered gracefully, will be preserved and retold by continuing generations of speakers and hearers. *** The skilled practice of reason leapt ahead during the Enlightenment, fostering grand narratives that elevated knowledge and innovation as high virtues, making life safe and even rewarding for scientists and skeptics. Rates of technological advancement accelerated, bringing radical changes to material culture, which in turn fed a growing belief in the forward march of human progress. For the French sociologist and philosopher of science Auguste Comte (1798-1857), progress was not only desirable, it was inevitable, driving civilization toward the ultimate satisfaction of fundamental human wants and needs. Comte proposed a grand narrative of grand narratives, describing three phases of human civilization – theological, metaphysical, and positive. According to his sequence, human understanding regarding the source of natural order started with belief in gods. It then advanced to belief in unseen forces, and would finally settle on belief in only what can be measured.

407 Comte considered himself the herald of the new order, offering methods of sociology and sciences of the human mind that would unleash the full force of positive truth. Nothing could be more in keeping with the human interest than more knowledge, he believed, because knowledge was providential. He also believed that the statics and dynamics of human nature could be studied objectively, and thereby measured and manipulated as readily as the inanimate objects of nature. Reliance on his positive methodology was key to this, of course. Once nature’s truths were discovered, civilization could be entirely reorganized, subject to the efficient directives of science-driven economics, planning, and engineering. For a time, Comte was a close colleague of another prophet of progress, the French Utopian Henri de Saint-Simon. In his crazier moments (and he had many), Comte imagined himself as the head of a new Positive religion. He even took the time to identify a pantheon of secular saints. Yet, despite his personal foibles, Comte was highly regarded. He left an enduring influence, especially in that his deterministic sentiments were given a dialectical spin and recycled into Marx’s historical materialism. Exogenously-flavored grand narratives like Comte’s proliferated during the industrial age, and continue to do so today. Such Utopianism offers an inevitably optimistic sense of destiny. However, by insisting that the source of rule is fully external to an individual’s own agency, exogenous conceptions of collective rationality stifle the expression of choice. Freedom, at best, would be the known necessity. The consequence of the exogenous take on skilled practice of rationality was to enshrine the validity of world views in which the primitive urges of agents were subordinated to the grander forces of rationality.



Given our need to plan and predict, we have a vital interest in knowing whether reality is comprehensible, and if so, how so. Is it rationally based? Can it be apprehended out of perfect shapes and ratios? Is it built upon simple atomic integers that all divide evenly into each other to express the functions we must unavoidably live by? Or, even if those functions aren’t so nicely rational, are they at least discernable and open to corroboration, so that we might hope to get a handle on how things fold together?

408 These are big, persistent questions, and, fortunately, there have been many successes in pursuit of the answer. The π of Euclid and the G of Newton, conceived as constant and universal, are still taken to be so despite their ineluctable historicity.576 Which is not surprising. A grand narrative worth its salt would very likely include some grand elements in its semantics, syntax, and pragmatics. Expressions perceived as constants and universals remain fixed in our mental and cultural edifices only in part because we uphold them. Such expressions have had countless opportunities to fail, and have held up nonetheless. What we come to know reverberates more resonantly with what can be known. A full account of π and G cannot leave out Euclid and Newton, key participants in the creation of human culture. Now, it’s fair to say that reality folds in accordance with perceivable regularities so that, even if the denotations π and G are arbitrary, their connotations are not. But our most complete understanding of π and G will always carry the denoters’ fingerprints. Their findings were the result of deliberate effort and serious reflection, providing as strong an example as any of how our apprehension of brute reality is changed by the intervention of thinking people. By offering up highly formalized rules to serve as resources by which all others may comprehend the world’s perceivable regularities, they made it possible for learning to occur. These discoverers – as speakers – enabled hearers to advance their skilled practice of rationality. Because the acquisition of information about the world tends to expand the number of objects in one’s consciousness, and therefore the number of things about which someone can have intentions, we can conclude that learning augments identity. Acquiring the skilled practices of rationality through social learning enhances the skilled practice of being a subjective knowing agent. Thus, cultural edifices transmitted by speakers influence the mental edifices of hearers. The acceptance of a new state of affairs – say, the acquisition of a new fact – builds up cultural edifices by fostering an identity of interests among hearers... at least insofar as
For a possibly dissenting view, see Alan D. Sokal, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” Social Text #46/47, pp. 217-252 (spring/summer 1996). Please note: If this citation is unfamiliar, also see Sokal’s followup, “A Physicist Experiments W ith Cultural Studies”

409 they possess intersecting stores of knowledge about particular facts and intention-taking objects. What hearers may want to do with that new knowledge could differ vastly. From this perspective interests are neither exogenous or selvogenous, but codogenous... the result of collaborative intentionality. The question of how agents discriminate between which new rules to inculcate or reject – in other words, how people decide what may be worth learning, and which interests are worth pursuing – will be picked up again when we return to the overarching problem of how people account for the proper source of rule. *** I described earlier how “playing the game” by following existing rules is a reproductive social act in which agents simultaneously reconstitute the social structure and themselves as competent agents within it. Reflecting about life risks particularly radical changes if it involves looking for ways to express ideas about constants and universals that no one has yet expressed. The suggestion of new rules (or the suggestion that existing rules are flawed) stands as a proposal for a new game. Believing their concerns to be the most generalized among all the academic disciplines, sociologists and philosophers credit their efforts as providing a major source of reflexive change.577 That would be easy to evaluate. It is an easy bet that far more people in this world are familiar with pi than positivism. Nevertheless, as a constructivist engaged in the skilled practice of reflexivity, I propose to add my own findings into the mix of what is taught and learned. (The effectiveness of my practice is left for others to decide.) Table 4, introduced earlier, draws liberally from World of Our Making, including an appendixed table Onuf labeled “Faculties of Experience.” He also called it the “Synoptic Table.”578 The arrangement of columns and rows in my version suggests common threads of thought running through the works of several important theorists. The perspective will also serve to show how those threads might extend into disciplines beyond political theory.

See Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity and Reading Guide to: Beck, U, Giddens, A, Turner, B, Robertson, R and Swanson, G (1992) 'Review Symposium: Anthony Giddens on Modernity', in Theory, Culture and Society, 9, 2: 141 - 75, particularly Turner.


Onuf (1987: 290-4).

410 Frankly, teasing out the two disgraces from Pericles’ Funeral Oration was meant to resonate with the metaphors that Onuf chose for the row labeled Sources of Conduct. (The row labels are my own, based on my interpretation of his text. There were no row labels in his version, which were to be treated as “paradigms of experience.” He said his categories were to be treated as unnamed sets, but his top row seemed to perform as an overarching header. I include key phrases from those header cells in the last row of Table 1. ) These schemes are all examples of social construction, and so is the aggregation. Taken as a whole, across the span of civilized time, they reflect a kind of groping for an understanding of how we humans can know the world, and how we can make our way in it. The common question can be restated this way. What discernable endowment do we have, if any, that is the germinal element of human identity, and can serve as the proper basis for a successful grand narrative? Some think fear. Others rationality. Hume started with passions and appetites. Many, including Peirce, would say love. For Sartre, it is freedom. In justifying his scheme, Onuf argues for the priority of sense experience. He adds that the faculties of touching, seeing, and hearing (and just those three) “dominate social practices universally:” I suggest that our sensory experience of the world and of our bodily selves in that world, reinforced, by our appreciation of possible relations of in and out, wholes and parts, yield a universal set of three categories of reasoning, not to mention many other social practices. I call the three senses so reinforced “faculties of experience.”579 Though I agree that our sensory experience yields our social practices, that experience implicates much more than simply seeing, hearing, and touching. The human capacity for sensible apprehension of the world – one’s sense of acting and being acted upon in that world – provides the grounds for the constitution of self-regarding intentional agents. But that apprehension involves deeply embedded biological capacities, such as feeling, cognition, and emotion. The capacity for social interaction, hence language, stems from those capacities.



411 The purpose of the upcoming section is to give a fuller account of the link between these innate biological capacities and the processes of social construction.


Deploying Rules i.
The Scope of Parts and Wholes

In the preceding discussion I sketched out why it is that rules and interests count for so much in Constructivist analysis. Namely, they reflect the skilled practices at the core of the co-constitutive production and reproduction of human agency and social structure. In this section I am primarily concerned with explaining how this framework can serve as a method of social science. I will argue that the interrogation of human events can be aided by locating the deployers of rules. Deployers are those whose actions originate the signals that produce changes in mental and cultural edifices. Furthermore, in keeping with certain themes of the triadic perspective introduced earlier, I will argue that there are three categories of rules, and that these correspond with three classes of deployers: guides, gatekeepers and peers. A key premise of this argument is that the construction of social reality can not occur without concrete changes to material reality. This is so because the acts of speaking and hearing, like any acts of skilled human performance, shape and animate the neuronal coalitions that fire and form inside human brains. Structure, rules, and agency are thus inextricably linked to physical reality via the embodied minds of living, meaty people whose innate physical endowments provide the fundamental resources from which skilled social performances ensue. Social rules can not have an effect on the world unless they are deployed, and they can not persist as such unless they are retained. The human organism – a product of natural biological evolution – provides the capacity for both deployment and retention. Our ability to conceptualize changes in the world as a relationship between parts and wholes has proven to be one of the most remarkable adaptive mechanisms of our species, and a linchpin of our culture.

412 *** People are keenly aware of how their physical bodies change over time, even if they are not directly aware of how social construction often plays a part in causing those changes. By age 3, children know that they are getting bigger, that their ages are increasing, and that they can expect to keep growing. Consciousness of change intensifies after puberty, when human physiology undergoes perceptibly rapid changes in both form and function. By adolescence young people are well aware that they are learning. They are aware that learning has utility, and that further learning may be demanded of them. We now know that the human brain undergoes remarkable growth in form and function before the age of five, continuing on in spurts through the late teens. That growth, which augments the capacity to learn, is as inevitably certain as a healthy person’s blooming body and each year’s passing birthday. But the content of learning – from the barest element of memory to the most complex sets of coordinated skills – reflects a different type of physical change. As learning occurs, underlying arrangements in neuronal connections take shape. Such learning continues through all the rest of conscious life... even to the hazy end, if only to recall and reproduce memory, maintain mental triggers, or simply mark the procession of time. These are the changes motivated by social construction. Neuroplasticity supports retention of memory and acquired motor skills. This endowment allows us to become aware of growth and change. It facilitates our comprehension of temporal distinctions like before and after, as well as time-relative qualitative distinctions such as younger and older, hungry or content, ignorant and wise. But that capacity to conceive of transience is accompanied by (and perhaps subordinate to) deeply-rooted feelings of persistence. That is, we each have an innate awareness of a singular, self-regarding “I” who possesses a constant, uninterrupted existence. By the same token, our brains contain mapping mechanisms that facilitate conscious awareness of sensations that occur at different

413 sites on our bodies. Each specific bodily sensation is perceived as a feeling that happens to that same singular, self-regarding “I” and to it alone.580 These feelings of wholeness stem from genetic endowments that support our inborn drive for self-preservation. Those endowments include epigenetic reactions to visual sensations such as color and facial expression, as well as fear, thirst, hunger, disgust, surprise, and other visceral responses to the environment. Those consequent feelings give rise to emotional states that underpin our most basic capacities for reasoning. This juxtaposition of transience and persistence reveals an old conundrum. Heraclitus (c.535- c.475 B.C) taught that no one can step in the same river twice.581 The water flowing past is not the same as before, and neither is the person. Everything changes, we can agree. Yet we have no problem understanding the sentence, “Joe stepped in the Nile again.” An intention to convey the idea that a persistently whole person named Joe has returned to a persistently whole river named the Nile is easily understood. Heraclitus could argue that by ignoring the non-persistence of things, both the speaker’s illocution and the hearer’s perlocution reflect a false state of affairs. Our words indicate a wholeness that is far more elusive than we generally realize. But the sloppiness permitted by language has great utility for us. Those shared assumptions get us through the day. We have mastered the ability to go on happily, believing in a neutral objectivity by which the world fills our descriptions. We see Joe and we think Joe. We see the Nile and we think Nile. We hear the sentence and we know what the speaker means. Communication works. Or so we would like to believe. Ironically, and what Heraclitus understood, is that what we actually do with descriptive language is quite the opposite: We impose words onto lumped up conceptions of the world. One imagined state of affairs accounts for another.582 Joe and the Nile reflect a long series of associations that link up our ideas of What is a person?, What is a river?,

The phrase is adopted from Antonio Damasio, The Feeling That Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (1999).


The proper translation is “W e both step and do not step in the same rivers. W e are and are not.” Onuf(1989:98).


414 What do I remember?, and What is this? We write our descriptions upon the world, and they become part of it. It’s a convenient strategy, even if the words are necessarily arbitrary and the lumpy conceptions are possibly misleading. When does Nile refer to a particular flowing body of water in Egypt, and not the Greek word for a river valley? The answer relies on our ability to share pragmatic states. The tools of vocabulary and illocutionary power provide hooks that allow us to leap the gap between poetic wholeness and prosaic distinctions, and to circumvent the potentially bottomless conundrums which philosophers plumb to make their living.583


From Neurons to Narratives

A key puzzle for philosophers and scientists is explaining how our physical ability to sense the world links up with our mental ability to make sense of the world. Neurophysiologists are learning to map the areas of the brain where specialized functions occur, and they are learning to assess behaviors of perception and cognition. At the same time, linguists have developed strong accounts of performative speech and social interaction. But there is no settled account of the mechanisms of imprinting and consciousness which link the two... where chemistry becomes consciousness, meat becomes mind, or biology becomes biography.584 Our drive to make sense of this is itself indicative of our drive to deal with the conundrum of parts and wholes. Animals having simple brain cortexes appear earlier on the evolutionary time scale than animals with circulatory or respiratory systems. Planarian worms, considered to be the descendants of the first bilaterally symmetrical cephalic creatures, possess a variety of receptors including primitive eyes, integrated via a nerve net and cortex. Their nervous

Parenthetically, that may be why Zeno’s Paradox was such an enduring complaint against particularists such as Heraclitus and Pythogoras. The phrases are drawn from the opening comments by W illiam B. Hurlbut at the Stanford University Conference,“Becoming Human: Brain, Mind and Emergence,” recorded March 21, 2003. and by Nancy M urphy at the Seattle Pacific University Conference, “Ethics, Values and Personhood in the 21 st Century,”


415 systems provide for local reflexes, for coordinated, whole-body motor responses, and for the ability to acquire conditioned responses from stimulus. In other words, planarians can learn. They can be trained to turn left or right in controlled conditions, using food, flashes of light, or puffs of air. It may even be proper to say that experimenters “speak” to planarian worms in such circumstances, since the etymology of “condition” includes the root dict, meaning speech, from which we also derive diction, addict, and predict. This is not to say that planarian worms have objectifying or self-regarding mental edifices. Even if though they change the world as a result of eating food, digesting it, and expelling waste, it would be incorrect to say those actions are motivated by intentional mental states. The point here is that human-originated sign events can produce motor responses in simple animals. Such sign events can also leverage those animals’ neuroplastic characteristics, inducing them to store and recall simple information. (Interestingly, planarians are able to regenerate heads from severed tails; the descendant worms retain the trained behaviors of the antecedents, suggesting that learning involves the body as well as the brain.) The ability to induce conditioned reflexes in more advanced animals has been amply demonstrated, from Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with salivating dogs, to more sophisticated human experiences with advertising and political propaganda. As the saying goes, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Conditioned reflexes are a relatively simple problem when compared to questions of self and society, but that does not diminish the utility of the animal kingdom as a source of insight and analogy. Though the rise of the Internet has sparked discussions about “hive” cultures, it is generally considered more productive to focus on the behaviors of highly convivial primate cousins like chimps, bonobos and baboons. They engage in tool-making, self-medication, localized culture, in-group competition, empathy, and reciprocity. Those activities reveal social forms that more than vaguely resemble our own. Chimps can recognize themselves in mirrors and can even display rudimentary theories of mind, so that one chimp can know it knows something that another chimp does not. Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist who has also done extensive zoological field work with African baboons, has written extensively about the similarities and differences he has

416 observed between animals and humans, arguing that insights gleaned from the experiences of other species may help us improve our ability to manage stress and may even help us develop better strategies for getting along in groups.585 This has tremendous interdisciplinary value. One of his most interesting findings builds on the accumulating evidence of cultural plasticity and cultural transmission among some primate groups. The upshot is that a species is not subject to live out a hard-coded genetic destiny as, say, “killer apes” and that it may therefore be possible to optimize interactions between distinct “bands” within a species, raising the frequency of cooperative interactions and reducing the frequency of violent ones.586 Sapolsky’s hypothesis about “The Natural History of Peace” deserves mention, at least in passing, because it deals with important practical concerns and has rightfully drawn a great deal of attention among IR scholars and professionals. His move represents a rather high order intervention in human society. Despite a poverty of gatekeeping authority, he has leveraged a vast stock of propositional content with the aim of influencing behavioral outcomes on a global scale. The central concern of this discussion, however, is to better understand the human capacity for sophisticated social intervention. To recall where we have been so far, that capacity depends on the ability to form intentions based on a conscious assessment of one’s interests – plausible demands and expectations consisting of beliefs about how the world’s parts fit together as wholes, supplemented by knowledge that actions may have unintended consequences, and that other individuals can be more or less conscious of their own interests. Humans might have difficulty parsing that last sentence, but it is certain that chimps and apes would never “get it” at all. Even if less sophisticated primates could be taught

Roberrt M. Sopolsky, “A Natural History of Peace,” Foreign Affairs January/February 2006. Ibid. “Optimizing the fission-fusion interactions of hunter-gatherer networks is easy: cooperate within the band; schedule frequent joint hunts with the next band over; have occasional hunts with bands somewhat farther out; have a legend of a single shared hunt with a mythic band at the end of the earth. Optimizing the fission-fusion interactions in contemporary human networks is vastly harder, but the principles are the same.”


417 enough vocabulary to associate hundreds or even thousands of signs with referents, they lack the endowments necessary to deal with complex grammatical functions like subordinate clauses and conditional tenses. Numerous studies have determined that such complex functions are processed in phylogenetically newer parts of the brain that apes lack, including Broca’s area.587 The endowments figure in what Searle calls the “great gulf” between humans and chimps, our exceptional “capacity to create, to recognize, and to act on desireindependent reasons for action.”588 But just as differences are discernable, so are similarities. Humans and primates share several phylogenetically older structures that have been implicated in language and consciousness, including the frontal operculum, which humans engage during both simple and complex grammatical processing, and the posteromedial cortex, which is active during waking states and is especially active during episodes of reflective self-awareness.589 Much of the debate on whether other primates use language turns on whether they actually create new sentences, or whether the best they can do is recombine acquired terms in simplistic pairs or threes. Noam Chomsky, whose theory of generative grammar revolutionized the field of linguistics in the late 1950s, insists that apes can not have true linguistic competence because such competence depends on a speaker’s innate knowledge of the rules of a language. Such knowledge enables human children to engage in exceptionally rapid language acquisition and highly original sentence production by the age of two. It enables adults to recognize that the sentence “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” is correctly formed, but full of nonsensical ontological violations. For Chomsky, the capacity for linguistic competence is an exclusively human endowment tied to the presence of a “language organ” in the brain and dependent on the healthy physical

Max Planck Institute Press release , “Brain Researchers Discover the Evolutionary Traces of G r a m m a r ,” F eb 1 7 , 2 0 0 6 . http ://w ww .m p g.d e /e nglish/illustra tio nsD o c um e n ta tio n / documentation/pressReleases/2006/pressRelease20060216/.

Searle (2001: 124).

Josef Parvizi, Gary W . Van Hoesen, Joseph Buckwalter, and Antonio Damasio, “Neural connections of the posteromedial cortex in the macaque,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January 31, 2006 103.5:,1563-8.


418 maturation of developing children. Broca’s area would presumably be part of the language organ’s neuronal circuitry, but the complete system is yet to be identified. A strong countervailing view to Chomsky’s generativism comes from a school of thought called interactionism.590 Proponents include Jerome Brunner, an eminent cognitive psychologist, Michael Tomasello, a cognitive psychologist who is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutional Anthropolgy, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a primatologist at Georgia State University’s Language Research Center, Stuart Shankar, a philosopher with a deep interest in animal cognition, and Stanley Greenspan, a clinical psychiatrist with a specialty in child development. Interactionists often argue that Chomsky’s focus on highly abstract symbol-encoding systems raises the bar on the definition of language too high. They criticize him for overlooking the Wittgensteinian insights that meaning is embedded in the use of language, not in words themselves, and that language is embedded in social situations. If one accepts that communication is enabled by mutual participation of agents in a common interactive framework – that communication depends on playing “the game” in a shared environment – many possibilities to conduct relationships and conversations are opened up. What counts is the intention to make oneself understood in terms of the other party’s intentions. Both primates and humans interact socially, after all, and both clearly engage in emotional signaling that bring about changes in one another’s minds.591 The study of creative and reflective thinking should begin there, write Shankar and Greenspan: [T]he cultural diffusion of these processes of emotional interaction throughout our evolutionary history constituted the primary engine for the development of our highest mental capacities.592

For more on the debate, see “ Chimp Talk Debate: Is It Really Language?” New York Times Science Section. C, p1. June 6, 1995. Also online at Generativists may not accept use of the word “mind” in this context as a literal term, but it retains figurative utility. Stanley I. Greenspan, Stuart G. Shankar, The First Idea: How Symbols, Language and Intelligence Evolved From Out Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans. Da Capo Press, 2004:6.
592 591


419 The interactionist concern with emotion is consonant with recent advances in the field of neurophysiology, exemplified by the work of Damasio, LeDoux, Goleman, Sapolsky, and Ekman, who stress feeling and emotion as the foundation of mind/body unity and intentional thought. What matters for Savage-Rumbaugh, renowned for training the bonobos Kanzi and Panbanisha to communicate via “lexigrams,” is recognizing that agents who have limited vocabularies at their disposal can nevertheless act deliberately. Treating them as purposive beings, she argues, will inspire an expansion of purposive communication. When you speak to [bonobos]... as though they understand, they somehow come to understand. [It’s] how mind operates... what common sense is. Language is sort of the home of the mind. It’s how we trade pieces of mind back and forth, and how we learn to coordinate our behavior. We’re processing the whole implication of that context, so when I overlay some words on it, it makes sense.593 *** A simple example of proto-linguistic emotional signaling occurs in the alarm calls of vervet monkeys, native to sub-Saharan Africa. Vervets make a variety of signals through facial expressions, postures and sounds, including three distinct calls when particular predators are seen. Vervets who hear the calls respond with distinctly appropriate behaviors. Hearing the leopard alarm, a loud bark, they climb into trees and scan the ground. Hearing the eagle alarm, a coughing sound, they hide in bushes and look up. Hearing the python alarm, a chuttering sound, they stand on their hind legs and approach the snake, keeping it in sight from a safe distance.594 The New Zealand-based linguist Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy considers the vervet alarms to be an example of nonsyntactical monocategorical communication, arguing “it makes no sense to ask whether an individual call is nominal or verbal.”595 Similarly, in a discussion of animal communication, Martin Nowak, a

Transcribed from the online interview,


T alk



W ild



Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth, “How Monkeys See the W orld: Inside the Mind of Another Species. 1990 Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, “The Origins of Complex Language: An Inquiry into the Evolutionary Beginnings of Sentences, Syllables and Truth” Oxford 1999. The quote is taken from an online abstract at

420 mathematical biologist who specializes in evolutionary dynamics, describes nonsyntactic words as signals that refer to “events” that are “whole situations” rather than distinguishable denotations for objects and actions.596 Terrence Deacon, a biological anthropologist, suggests similarities between vervet alarms, holophrastic utterances (saying the names of things to request them, typical during infant language acquisition), and our involuntary susceptibility to the sound of laughter.597 Though the syntax is non-existent, the semantics are clear. Vervets sound their alarms in life-threatening situations, impelling their band-mates to safety. It is a collaborative, and perhaps even an altruistic act, given that hiding quietly and leaving the others exposed might be a better survival strategy for an individual at a given moment. But somehow, either by habit or evolution (since the warnings help protect kin), they are endowed with an identity of interest. More importantly for this discussion, their communication is emotionally motivated and emotionally effective, demonstrating a primitive level skill in the practice of fear. Humans use nonsyntactical event speech just as effectively. Emotionally primed calls and responses comply neatly with the rules of illocutionary and perlocutionary action. For example, under battlefield conditions someone might yell out “Artillery!” in response to a certain whistling sound overhead, fully expecting that all hearers would immediately take cover against the incoming attack. Unlike the vervets, however, we can make words do double duty, using them as alarms, or simply as names of things. The application of syntax allows us to speak referentially without invoking the same urgent behavior. But, given the proper circumstances of tone and context, when “Artillery!” functions to alarm, we skip the step of evaluating the assertion to act immediately in accord with the implication of its truth.

Martin A. Nowak, “Evolutionary Biology of Language,”Philosophical Transactions: Biological S c i e n c e s , 3 5 5 ( 1 4 0 3 ) : 1 6 1 5 - - 1 6 2 2 . h t t p : / /w w w 3 . i s r l . u i u c . e d u /~ j u n w a n g 4 /la n g e v / l o c a l c o p y / pdf/nowak00evolutionaryBiology.pdf. Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain 1997. Norton: New York. pp. 54-8.


421 That is, instead of pondering the validity of the speaker’s assertion of incoming artillery fire, we move on cue to take cover. From an evolutionary perspective, this capacity for a deep-rooted emotional response to nonsyntactic communication is a highly adaptive survival mechanism. But it has drawbacks. It is easily manipulated. False alarms can fool us. Given that awareness, we consider it wise to ban people from shouting “Fire!” in crowded theaters. By the same adaptive token of evolution, we are susceptible to false attractions. The animal kingdom has many examples of predators that use camouflage to mislead their prey. One species of turtle lures fish right up its mouth with a tongue that looks like a tasty worm. Likewise, humans can be gullible, and easily misled by nonsyntactic sexual, patriotic, and religious iconography. Just as we try to vigilant about false alarms, we try to be vigilant about false advertising. The origin of such vigilance in human evolution is very likely to be associated with the invention of syntax itself. So, instead of responding to whole events, our hominid ancestors learned to factor and account for the parts within, creating space in their minds for talking about predators and attractions. Urgent emotional states were augmented by descriptive ones. That space allows for intelligible distinctions between name and action, presence and absence, and cause and effect. With those linguistic tools, it was then possible to speak intentionally about objects and events, describing relations between things, imagining futures, making plans for coordinated behaviors. The foregoing inference about the advent of propositional speech is conjecture of course, since we have no physical artifacts from which to trace the development of syntactic language. But it is clear enough that the effort to build a rich vocabulary of description that distinguishes parts of the world from the whole of the world has been a driving impulse of human civilization. So has the effort to rearrange those descriptions and impose them back onto the world to make new wholes, perhaps by changing our minds, perhaps by changing material culture. We recognize that effort in the skilled practice of science, a unique accomplishment of our species. That term originates from a Sanskrit verb for cutting and splitting. Later

422 meanings included decoding. The root is retained in scissor, schizoid, discern, and consciousness. Contemporary vernacular uses of the word often suggest the notion of a body of systematized knowledge. That conception closes the circle, making parts into wholes. (The etymology of system, by the way, evokes things standing together.) A few state-of-the art metaphors for science clearly resonate with the notion of parts and wholes. Philosopher Susan Haack, a specialist in the works of Peirce, describes a federation of disciplines that combine an experientially-anchored method of inquiry with a commitment to explanatory integration.598 She coined the term “foundherentism” to capture the idea, a term so jam-packed with meaning that it could only be accessible to a narrow audience. Alternatively, George Lakoff, a linguist who now works as a political consultant, invented the term “converging evidence,” a phrase that is much better suited to the vernacular, yet faithful to the concept. *** Vervets do not have science, but they intuitively know a thing or two about rules. They engage in behaviors that indicate a keen appreciation of status relationships and a basic appreciation of cause and effect. They are territorial, typically living in female-dominated bands of 80 or so, in which higher-status vervets of both sexes are allowed priority in the search for food and grooming arrangements.599 Each band defends its territory against others, but borders are porous because males leave their natal group after reaching maturity. A process of testing, learning and social reordering ensues as a young male tries to break into a rival band and work his way up the pecking order, gauging when the time is ripe for competitive displays against other males and for bids to approach females. If a male vervet seeks food, grooming, or sex above his station, or neglects to show proper obedience at the proper time, he experiences visceral consequences. There could be

That two-pronged approach is called “foundherentism.” See Susan Haack, Defending Science – Withtin Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism. 2003. Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York. Much of the following discussion about obserrved vervet behaviors is informed by an unattributed document titled “Social Relationships” found online at behavior/Spring2003/ PerezHeydrich/Social%20Relationships.htm.


423 a shouting match, or even a bloody fight. He might triumph and then win extra grooming within a higher-status clique, or he might lose and then be shunned. In either case, the young male’s initiative demonstrates a vervet-level knowledge of the world and a vervet-level intention to change that world by establishing a new social order in the group. The results of a battle are imprinted within the mental edifices of the observers, who may then reorder their behaviors in accord with their own vervet-level interests. Like many primates, much of their brain capacity is devoted to maintai