September 6, 2004

A Little Tale

Netburg is a nice place to live.  It barely existed a decade ago.  Today it is home to millions of people and corporations worldwide are moving their headquarters.

Netburg is built of wood, nice dry wood; the kind that catches fire easily.

Netburg has a problem.  There are people and groups around the world who send incendiary devices into Netburg 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  So far only small parts of Netburg have burned.  But everyone knows that a big fire could happen at any time.

Netburg does not have a fire department.  It has thirteen self-appointed fireman who have invested their own money in trucks and equipment.  But those fireman aren't obligated to put out fires or to be impartial about choosing whose fires to put out and whose buildings it will let burn.  To date these fireman have had the self motivation, the resources, and good will to do the job.

Six years ago, back in 1998, Netburg's traffic department empanelled a board of fire commissioners and instructed them to professionalize Netburg's fire prevention and firefighting systems.  Nobody has ever explained why it was the traffic department rather than the city counsel or mayor rather that set up the fire commission .  And nobody is sure whether the traffic department's actions are within its scope of authority or not.  But that is another tale for another day.

To help get things started, the traffic department gave Netburg not only the right to decide who can build a home or business on each street in Netburg but also to charge a fee for making that decision.  The traffic department told the fire commissioners that they could also levy a yearly charge on every home and business in Netburg.  Few complained at the time: the traffic department had formerly been charging a $35 yearly fee and the fire commissioners lowered it to about $15 and practically nobody noticed that that $15 amount was an arbitrary figure and much higher than could be justified.

The traffic commission, the fire commissioners, and the firemen have worked to create a public belief that no other firemen ought to be allowed into Netburg.  And the commissions have ceaselessly encouraged the public to believe that the commission is protecting Netburg against fires and that everything is safe and under control.

Unfortunately, Netburg's fire commissioners want to be real estate commissioners.

As a consequence the fire commission has done nothing to protect against fires.  Netburg's fire commission has no fire station, no fire trucks, no hoses, no ladder.  Netburg is about as well protected against burning down as Chicago was protected from Mrs. O'Leary's cow.

In the meantime, the fire commission has proven itself rather poor at the real-estate game.  They have allowed only seven new houses to be constructed in Netburg during the last six years.   And those houses are mostly small, shabby affairs.  Some are so ill conceived that they are barely able to stand without being propped up.

Netburg is suffering from a dual curse: it is unprotected against fire and its real-estate industry is an over-regulated shambles with business practices that would embarrass even a used-car salesman.

I hope the reader recognizes Netburg as the internet and the fire commission as ICANN.

What's the point of this tale?  It is this: ICANN has done nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect the internet from disaster.

instead, ICANN has squandered its entire existence pretending to be the Pooh-Bah of domain-name trademark rules and the Grand High Commissioner of domain name business practices.

ICANN has not suffered from its digression - ICANN's budget now wants to be $15,000,000(US) a year.  ICANN's directors and staff flit around the world (and most do not fly coach class!) to be wined and dined and flattered and partied.  And how the law firm that created ICANN is raking in the legal fees!

The internet, on the other hand, has been left unprotected and vulnerable.

ICANN has not done anything to improve the technical stability of the internet or to make the upper layer of DNS less vulnerable to attack or failure.  The only protection has come from the efforts of an amazing cadre of independent actors who, perceiving the vacuum, have stepped in and assumed the job that ICANN promised that it would do.

These actors, however, are mortal or are institutions that have goals and budgets that may not always coincide with the level of effort required to continue in this role.

ICANN, by pretending that it is protecting the net, has created a grave danger.

The community of internet users has been misled by ICANN to believe that the net is being guarded.  Yet ICANN, because it is engaged in other matters, has left the internet at risk, protected only by a few volunteers who are free to walk away at any time.

Netburg, the community of internet users, deserves better.

ICANN seems to be neither willing nor able to do what it was supposed to do in the first place, which is to ensure that the upper layer of the domain name system runs reliably, accurately, and efficiently 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

A city that has a fire department that doesn't care about putting out fires ought to replace its fire department.

ICANN has had six years to get its act together; there is no sign that it is improving.  The internet community is paying for an ICANN that ensures the stable technical operation of DNS.  We are not getting what we are paying for.  How much longer are we willing to tolerate a status quo in which the entire internet is put at risk?

Posted by karl at September 6, 2004 2:46 AM