US government gets a Net kick in the teeth

I have finally finished my analysis of the 632 comments sent to the [tag]NTIA[/tag] following its Notice of Inquiry over the continued role of [tag]ICANN[/tag] as [tag]Internet[/tag] overseer, and it’s going to come as a shock to the US government.

A remarkable 87.3 percent of comments that discussed the [tag]USG[/tag]’s role said it should transition itself away from complete control to a more international body. ICANN fared little better: 63.4 percent of comments about it varied from critical to downright hostile.

Yes, I have bothered to go through every single comment, read every single word and do an analysis. The only analysis I didn’t do (and which now I cannot summon the energy to do) was to find out what percentage of the comments came from which region (mostly inside the US and outside the US) – so if someone wants to…

What’s the upshot? Everyone wants the USG to hand over control. Many of those in support were clearly from people that didn’t know what they were talking about – the same sort of blind patriotism that we saw during the World Summit. But there is no mistaking that everyone agrees that the USG has to get on with this.

I hope to god that people in the [tag]DoC[/tag] have a masterplan for transition and recognise why they should do it because this topic is going to get out of hand very soon. I understand that governments are going to try to pressure the USG again at the ITU meeting in September – away from the prying eyes of the world’s press. And there is the risk that the IGF will also be sullied if the DoC doesn’t offer the world something.


Of course alot of the comments were unusable and if anyone is to blame for this, it is me. Of the 632 comments (there were eight repeated emails), 153 were about Net neutrality, and 174 were about, well, I don’t know what some of them were about. Lots of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” style nonsense, lots of “keep the Net free!!!”.

But what was usable was good. Some of it really good. If I had to pick out two to read, it would be the Internet Governance Project’s response and Network Solutions’ response. Every knows Milton Mueller’s views but there is some expansive and innovative thinking in there too – particular his suggestion of adding two principles to ICANN’s basic charter: freedom of expression, and accountability.

Network Solutions’ response is a very thorough piece, almost academic. It concerns itself slightly too much with the VeriSign dotcom contract issue for obvious reasons, but it is still a very useful document, particularly because it attaches Becky Burr’s testimony the other day to Congress as an exhibit. (It also includes Michael Roberts’, which caused me to think: where is Mike Roberts these days?)

There are lots of other interesting responses too. I started making a list but when the list got past 20, I decided I would highlight only two.

Support? What support?

What is noticeable however is that support for ICANN and for the USG is not easy to find. There are some words of support pointing out especially the e-IANA decision and the ccNSO rules changes – but these are very, very recent changes and it really smacks of BBC charter renewal time.

[Quick background: the BBC has a charter with the UK government which is renewed every 10 years. Every 10 years, when it is up for renewal, the BBC is suddenly very nice to the government, it always announces a restructure and across-the-board cost-cutting and makes lots of noise about what a great service it provides. Then, as soon as the charter is renewed, it bloats out again and starts criticising the government.]

Items of interest:

  • Syria’s plan for a new Internet governance structure – anyone want to take a bet on this?
  • Karl Auerbach is always a good read
  • Danny Younger goes into some depth about Internet issues and ICANN
  • A mildly bizarre suggestion to use sea laws for international Internet problems
  • George Sadowsky gives a broad-scope perspective

Apart from that, here are my stats in case anyone wants to take issue with my methodology.

Basically, I split comments into:

  • Pro-ICANN (supportive)
  • Anti-ICANN (critical)
  • Pro-USG (should stay in charge)
  • Anti-USG (should not stay in charge)
  • Anti-USG (from the IGP boilerplate)
  • Net neutrality
  • Random (unusable in this inquiry’s context)
  • Whois
  • Domain names
  • .xxx

I noted down what each comment’s primary point was and if there was a strong secondary point. As such here are the figures according to my calculations, with the secondary points in brackets:

  • Pro-ICANN: 24 (6)
  • Anti-ICANN: 44 (8)
  • Pro-USG: 26 (4)
  • Anti-USG: 98 (9)
  • Anti-USG (IGP): 99
  • Net neutrality: 153
  • Random: 174
  • Whois: 4
  • Domain names: 8
  • .xxx: 2

This means that 51.7 percent of comments were not relevant to the inquiry. That 2.2 percent of comments were about specific issues. That 67.7 percent of all relevant comments, and 87.3 percent of comments that mentioned the USG role were against the USG maintaining control. That 8.9 percent of all relevant comments, and 12.7 percent of comments that mentioned the USG role were for the USG maintaining control.

That 15.1 percent of all relevant comments, and 63.4 percent of all comments that mentioned ICANN’s role were critical or not supportive of ICANN. And finally that 8.3 percent of all relevant comments, and 36.6 percent of all comments that mentioned ICANN’s role were supportive of ICANN.

Any questions, queries or comments, please comment below.

  1. Psst. It’s Auerbach, not Auberach 🙂

  2. Oops – ta. Will change.


  3. It would be interesting to see the the comments coming from America vs. ROW.

    Since we, as American Taxpayers, PAY FOR THE INTERNET, just as we do for the security of MOST OF THE FREE WORLD, etc, etc…

    I think most Yanks have the attitude of PISS OFF b/c the ROW usually SCREWS THINGS UP (I hold out the UN and it’s various scandels, er, I mean programs, as Exhibit A.)

    Maybe iternet control should be in the hands of the G7, as long as France doesn’t get a vote! LOL!

    Or MAYBE, the US should untilize our underused .us addressing, and create our own, NEW net…..

    Let’s face it, the ROW would HAVE TO connect to it, and then we’d be right back to where we are now! LOL!

  4. Mr Dover,

    I’m from what you quaintly call the “ROW” (I assume that’s the Rest of the World or RotW as we know it in these parts but I digress) and I also pay for the Internet each month when I pay my telco and ISP.

  5. This concept of American taxpayers having paid for the Internet really has to be let go.

    It is perfectly true that the National Science Foundation (NSF) and various other US government iterations paid for researchers to work on new networking ideas which slowly begat the Internet. It is also perfectly true that the NSF subsidised the equipment needed to build the first networks that would turn into the Internet as we know it now, and it paid for the early DNS through a contract with Network Solutions.

    But since 1995, there has been minimal financial input into the Internet from the US government outside normal government expenditure. And it was only post-1998 that the Internet really took off.

    In the wider scheme of things, the amount that the USG spent on the Internet (perhaps $50m) is negligible compared to the tens of billions of dollars spent across the world creating the Internet as we know it now.

    Or to put it another way, if we only had the Internet as paid for by the USG, I wouldn’t be writing this comment because this blog wouldn’t exist, the blogging software wouldn’t exist, the domain address wouldn’t exist, and neither you nor I would ever even heard of the Internet.

    It is particularly unfortunate that the a vital part of the Internet’s growth has come at a time when the United States is behaving unnaturally insular and xenophobic. The fact is, however, that if the US doesn’t stop insisting on being in control, that other countries will build their own internets and the most glorious part of the Internet dream will be lost.


  6. The Devil's Cabana Boy

    July 17, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    “at a time when the United States is behaving unnaturally insular and xenophobic…”

    Wow, if you think the US is insular and xenophobic now, just thank your lucky stars this isn’t one of the similar occurences earlier in our history. At least we’re not passing modern versions of the Alien or Sedition Acts, nor have we jacked up tariffs on imports to say 50%.

  7. 🙂

    Yeah. That would make a good article: The Top Ten of Xenophobic Legislation from the past 1,000 years. I wonder how the UK would do. Better than Italy or France I suspect.

    I was pondering the US’ strange habit of leaping from one extreme to the other last night and it struck me that it is crystal clear why: the two-party system.

    If the Internet could do one powerful and wonderful thing to the country that invented it, it would be to make it viable for more than two political parties to survive. After all, all politics is about is persuading enough people of your point of view.


  8. To agree and disagree, first the USG has put way way more than $50m into the Internet, does no good to minimize that – but we can start with the $1bn in under the ‘Gore bill’ which pumped the net up to the point of commercilization 1990-1995.

    But Kieren’s broader point is well taken, that the whole world and private industry by now has exceeded USG investments many times over.


  9. As soon as I hit “add comment” with the $50m figure, I regretted it. I’ve since been wondering how to get at an accurate – or even rough – estimate of how much money the US government put into building the Net prior to 1998, at which point it became an international medium.

    I wonder if someone has compiled that information: Milton Mueller or Ellen Rony or Michael Froomkin. Or even if the DoC has a figure.

    Anyway, the point is the same: saying that “the US taxpayer paid for the Internet and so the USG should stay in control” is about as accurate as saying Marconi should be in overall charge of mobile phone companies because it invented the telegraph.


  10. First
    I find you using 632 people’s comments to extrapolate the whole internet’s general view… as RIDICULOUS.

    What do you have against ICANN? The US government exercises very little control over them.
    Do you think Jon Postel was doing a better job?
    The tremendous success of the internet has been due to the lack of regulations placed on it.
    It is an “open” network, no one owns it. The internet is network of networks. If you don’t like it, start your own.

    I’m sure the US government is really hurting from the “kick in the teeth”.
    After all, they really get upset when the world disapproves of their actions.

  11. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    How many experts do you think you need saying the same thing before it become an expert view? Or, put it another way, when 87 percent of experts say the same thing, should you believe them, or it is reasonable to assume that you know better simply because you have a gut feeling you know better?

    You clearly know nothing about ICANN or Internet governance and while I would normally be happy to point you in the direction of good summaries of the complex situation, for some reason you feel comfortable writing ill-informed and aggressive nonsense on my blog so I don’t see that there’s much point.

    I’m sure I must be wrong though – could you please provide a link to your own comment to the NTIA?


  12. I am not writing ill-informed and aggressive nonsense as you say that I am.
    I may be writing a bit sarcastically, but that is how I am. So I apologize

    My reply

    I agree, a little knowledge is dangerous thing.

    The “experts” views to the NTIA were really enlightening.
    My favorites experts were Brian Dick, Slappy McHappy, Mad Chaz and Next.
    These guys really seem to know what is going on.

    I did not comment, so I guess that does not make me an expert like the others.

    You say the upshot is that “Everyone wants the USG to hand over control.”
    From your own statistics, the majority of the 623 comments say nothing about wanting the US Gov to give up control.

    I am not looking for a flame war.

    But again, what is your specific problem with ICANN?

  13. Okay, writing “ridiculous” in caps in the first sentence may have prejudiced my answer.

    Oh, but hang on, you are still talking nonsense. Let me make this as clear as I can: 87 percent of people that know what they are talking about say that the US government would do best to move to an international governance model.

    As for ICANN, I have lots of issues with ICANN. I also believe that ICANN is the best possible organisation we have – and will ever have – that will be able to find a middle path through a seemingly overwhelming number of technical, political and social issues. I really want ICANN to succeed.

    The problem is that people try to connect ICANN with the United States government. If that connection becomes irreversible, the whole Net system as we know it will fall apart and everyone will suffer as a consequence.

    The biggest problem in this whole debate – and even ICANN and the USG will agree with this – is that only a tiny percentage of the people that need to know about the Internet works really understand how the Internet works.

    I have become firmly of the belief that until the controversy of one government having overall control is removed, we will find ourselves in an ever increasing circle of misunderstanding.

    Once no one believes that there is some secret discussions going on, the emphasis will be on the real forums and from there the Internet will find stability.


  14. Thank you, but I am not talking nonsense. A poll like that where anyone could contribute in no way is reflective of expert opinion. Anyone could post a comment there and as you could read from the comments, there weren’t many experts there.
    Anyway, enough about the poll.

    Very good.
    We both agree that ICANN should administer the internet (top level domains). It can do this better than the US Department of Defense and the US Department of Commerce that used to do it.
    There should be no misunderstanding. Technically, the USG has control of ICANN by having the power of not renewing its contract to do its work. ICANN must abide by the laws of the California where it is incorporated. It is accountable to the Attorney General of the State of California. This arrangement has worked well in the past. I see no urgent reason to break it and create a new one under some as yet undefined global entity.
    Do you see any urgent problems that ICANN is not addressing and would be better solved by an international institution?
    Are the UN, ITU, International Monetary Fund, Word Bank etc… really good at what they do?

    Problems with ICANN? Plenty
    They need to be more transparent in their decision making process.
    They need to setup a charter on how they deal with issues that arise so a framework for decision making can exist.
    They need to stick to dealing with technical issues and not go into political ones.

    By the way, did you notice all the concern about net neutrality?
    That seemed more of a concern than who ICANN is accountable to.

  15. You really should read some of the comments on the NTIA website. They cover the ground extremely well. And that’s because they’re written by the people that know most in the world about both the politics and the technical side of the Internet.

    I put links to some of the best in my original post above. The IGP and Network Solutions are to my mind the best two to read if you don’t have time to go through the 100 or so in-depth responses submitted.


  16. Two points.
    1. To the person who was taking the ‘if you don’t like it, found your own internet’ – this rather misses the point. Many of these discussions have been entered into precisely to avoid that eventuality. There are economies in the world which can, and quite possibly will, set up ‘internets’ entirely separate to The Internet (with captital letters) – China is the most obvious example, with their noises about making new top level domains. There are plenty of people in the US (and ROW or RotW) who believe that that would actually be extremely damaging, and are seeking to avoid that. You can refuse to listen to someone on the same internetwork (as China does with its Internet restrictions) but you cannot listen even if you want to if they are on a totally different internetwork.
    2. To the question of ‘x number of responses is not representative’ – no, you’re absolutely right. Of course, given that the potential “stakeholders” in the Internet are every person who might use it in the next 10 years, i.e. over 2-3 billion people, there is no mechanism on earth that will get you their views, not least because many of them are non-english speaking, poor, and/or in the developing world. Those sorts of people do not make coherent responses in English to US Government bodies. The more accurate question has to be, (a) are the people who responded in possession of enough of the facts to be able to make a useful response (Kieran clearly has doubts), (b) are those responses in answer to the question asked (again, not always ‘yes’) and (c) do those responses set out a coherent suggestion/critisism? If they do, then they should be read, considered, and added to the debate, if only to remind those in the debate that retaining 100% of the status quo may not be what the wider world will accept. The Internet is about communication (increasingly also, telecoms), and what good is a phone system if the people you want to ring up aren’t connected to a system that you can connect to?

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