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After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail


Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key


After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail


Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key


After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail


Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key


After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail


Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key


After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail


Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key


After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail


Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key


After Hours

I admit itI have a problem with authority.

Most likely, it comes from my having grown up in the 60's as the son of an alcoholic Air Force officer--a fighting combination, if ever there was one.

It's not authority in general that I resist--it's just abusive authority. Wannabe (and actual) dictators, paternalistic politicians, denizens of star chambers and their equally repulsive hangers-on: sycophants, true believers and apologists for general high-handedness by leaders of all persuasions.

It's that resistance to abuse of power that got me involved in local government back in 1994. Likewise, it's what motivated me to lead an insurrection against the leadership of a local user group. And it's also what led to my becoming involved in forming a Bay Area chapter of the Internet Society.

I'll Tip My Hat to the New Constitution

Way back in 1997, I ran into Rick Wesson at one of the mostly interchangeable series of computer trade shows that get held at Moscone Center in San Francisco. Prior to that meeting, I knew Rick only from his posts to the defunct iahc-discuss list.

Like a lot of those who participated in that effort, Rick disapproved of the secrecy that surrounded all of the actual decision-making done by the IAHC. Unlike some of the list's subscribers, Rick always maintained a civil tone and usually acted as a conciliator. I suspect that was what led to his being appointed as one of the initial members of the Policy Advisory Board for the organizational structure the IAHC process contrived to run the brave new domain name bureaucracy it devised.

By the time I met him, Rick had already resigned from the PAB, months before the entire IAHC-created house of cards collapsed. But that's not what he wanted to talk to me about.

Counter-intuitively enough, back in 1997, the San Francisco Bay Area--home to Silicon Valley and Multimedia Gulch and ground zero for new Internet startups and technologies--had no local chapter of the Internet Society. Rick wanted to change that, and he thought--correctly, as it turned out--that I'd want to be involved.

To understand why I thought forming a Bay Area ISOC chapter was important, you first have to know something about the history of ISOC and its incestuous relationship to the Internet Architecture Board, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Engineering Steering Group, The Internet Research Task Force, the International Telecommunications Union and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and its successor body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

And the World Looks Just the Same

For the first two decades of its existence, the costs of the Internet's infrastructure and technical management were largely borne first by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency and then by the National Science Foundation. In 1992, as then-Senator Albert Gore, Jr.'s participation in the U.S. presidential race focused the media's--and perforce the public's--attention on the Internet, the federal government was just starting the process of exiting the Internet management and funding business.

The reasons for the U.S. government's withdrawal included the increasingly transnational character of the Internet and a shift in fundamental policy toward a commercially-driven and -supported model of technical and infrastructure financing and governance.

After a year of discussion about the idea, a group of Internet graybeards formed the Internet Society in 1992. Intially, its purpose was to provide an institutional home and funding for the IETF, whose most immediate need was for liability insurance coverage, which it lost when the Feds stopped paying for it.

Among the grayest beards in the entire Internet governance structure were those belonging to the members of the Internet Activities Board, which, in June, 1992, proposed to rename itself the Internet Architecture Board--neatly preserving its TLA--and "associate" itself with ISOC.

That was an easy decision for the IAB to reach, since the distinction between its members and those of ISOC's Board of Trustees was already a pretty fuzzy one. Attempting to codify the way in which the IAB, IETF and IESG interact in the creation of Internet Standards, A. Lyman Chapin, then-Chair of the IAB had crafted RFC 1310, "The Internet Standards Process", in March of 1992. Still, there was resistance and controversy and a working group--Process for Organization of Internet Standards (POISED)--was formed to thrash it all out.

POISED's first set of conclusions and recommendations was presented to the ISOC Board in December, 1992. It attempted to re-define the relationships between and among ISOC, the IAB and the IAB's daughter organizations, IETF and IESG.

ISOC and the IAB accepted POISED's initial recommendations as a working draft of their relationship model. POISED continued its work and, in March, 1994, Christian Huitema, then-Chair of the IAB and Phill Gross, then-Chair of the IESG, authored RFC 1602, which superseded 1310.

That wasn' the end of the matter, though. POISED was succeeded by Poised95--which produced at least the framework for a set of standards documents of its own--and Poised95, in turn, was replaced in 1997 by the POISSON working group, which nominally still exists.

Naturally, each evolution in the tangled thicket of relationships between sundry standards bodies called for a revision in the RFC which defines those kinships. In 1996, Scott Bradner finally published the Poised95 definition as RFC 2026, "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 3". That document was supplemented in October 1996, by RFC 2031, "IETF-ISOC relationship", edited by Erik Huizer--co-Chair of Poised95--which attempted to clarify their intersecting spheres of influence and respective powers and responsibilities.

But wait--there's more.

Also in October, 1996, James M. Galvin edited RFC 2027, "IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall Committees"--another product of Poised95--which has since been obsoleted by Galvin's 1998 revision, RFC 2282. At the same time, Richard Hovey and Scott Bradner authored RFC 2028, "The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process".

And that's where things stood until 1998, when Bradner added RFC 2436, "Collaboration between ISOC/IETF and ITU-T" and RFC 2418, "IETF Working Group Guidelines and Procedures" to the pile.

And History Ain't Changed

The members of the executive levels of ISOC, IAB, IETF and IESG are, to an unsurprising degree, pretty much interchangeable. After all, three of the four organizations are artifacts of the Internet's middle stage of evolution--basically the 1980's--and their most senior leaders are, in many cases, holdovers from the earliest days of the Net. And the fourth and newest group, ISOC, was formed to provide legal cover and provide an aggregator of funding for the other three.

Unfortunately for these semi-patriarchs, the U.S. government--and specifically the NSF--chose not to wait until the Internauts came up with a workable scheme of self-governance to begin divesting itself of responsibility for funding and administering two of the Internet's central management tasks: IP address and domain name assignments. Instead, in March, 1993, after evaluating three competing bids, NSF awarded Network Solutions, Inc. a five-year exclusive contract to provide both types of assignment.

Besides the losing bidders, nobody really seemed to care all that much about NSI's monopoly--until the 14th of September, 1995, that is. That was the day NSI--at the direction of the NSF, mind you--began to charge registrants in the .com and .org domains $50 per year.

1995 was also the year that Netscape Communications Corporation began marketing Netscape Navigator and the World Wide Web pretty much took over the Internet. It was also the year that registrations in the .com domain exceeded registrations in .edu for the first time as the fundamental character of the Net began permanently to shift toward private, rather than public, concerns.

So, after considerable back-and-forth between interested parties--most of whom were primarily "interested" in making a fast buck--in late 1996, ISOC set up the International Ad-Hoc Committee and charged it with the task of coming up with a plan both to expand the number of generic Top Level Domains and to introduce competition in the domain name registry business.

The process failed, finally sputtering to a halt in Spring of 1998 after the U.S. Department of Commerce released its so-called "Green Paper"--aka "A Proposal to Improve Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses". It's why the IAHC process exploded that's at the heart of my interest in starting a Bay Area ISOC chapter.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

In my view--which is that of both a participant and an observer--the IAHC process deservedly failed for a number of reasons:

-It was not broadly representative of the general Internet community. Specifically, its membership was mostly representative of the Internet Old Boys' Club and was specifically constituted so as not to include any of the young Turks who were itching to challenge the established order of things--including NSI's de-facto monopoly.

-Its deliberations were conducted entirely in secret and no public record of them was ever made available. Even granting the good intentions of the IAHC's members--which I do--that alone was a fatal flaw in the process.

-Its recommendations on dispute resolution were driven more by trademark lawyers' input and concerns than by the best good of the Internet community in general.

The result of these shortcomings was that NSI's monopoly remains unchallenged today.

On November 25, 1998, the Department of Commerce entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers--the non-profit body designated by the DoC's own Green Paper to oversee the creation of new gTLDs and introduce competition into the domain name registry business. At this writing, that charge looks increasingly like a Sissyphean challenge--and most of the reasons have to do with the same kind of insular, old-boy-network problems that scuttled the IAHC.

I want to form a Bay Area ISOC chapter to help prevent that disaster by changing the clubby, exclusive culture of ISOC from within.

Because I have a problem with authority.

(Copyright© 1999 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)