The ICANN bit: U.S. and allies against the rest of the world.

NTIA head Larry Strickling, the U.S. guy in charge, explained the problem to me, “Dave, do you want Russia and China to run the Internet?” The world majority didn’t want the U.S. running things. Strickling’s plan was to reduce the criticism by handing off to a group that nearly always takes the same position as the U.S.Before I get too many flames, let me say I support the ICANN transition. I titled my writeup Ted Cruz is a bleeping idiot,Unfortunately, both sides treated this like a political campaign. We all know about politicians and truth.

The battle over ICANN was a symbolic fight between the Global North (led by the U.S.) and the Global South (BRICS and more.) The “problem” the ICANN transition is meant to solve is the demand by the majority of countries in the world to have a representative say in decisions about the Internet.

The Global South generally believes the system is rigged to protect things like high transit prices and unreasonable patent royalties. Many of their issues are on target, although ICANN itself has almost nothing to do with them. Despite the irrelevance, both sides choose ICANN and the ITU as the battleground.

Strickling’s comment came at the WCIT. I had asked him why he was fighting so hard on issues that were trivial. The Indians, Brazilians, Africans, Chinese, and Russians also thought fairly trivial issues, like ICANN, worth fighting for.

The vote at the WCIT was two to one against the U.S. and European control. So we said “It’s our Internet” and walked out. Strickling, a smart guy, realized the U.S. needed to make some concessions. The Global South is now about 2/3rds of Internet users and growing rapidly. The Global North is close to saturation. The gap will widen.

China was ready to set up an alternate root to ICANN, according to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade. As Columbia Professor Eli Noam has suggested, this might not be a bad thing, so long as there is robust interconnection. Noam sees advantages to having many Internets of different types. For example, Vint Cerf has said “If I could go back and put in public key crypto, I probably would try.” A company like Verizon could set up a separate system with crypto, 128 bit addressing IP-V6 style, and a few other goodies like Bob Kahn’s DOA. It could connect to the ICANN system through a robust gateway, just as the United States and French telephone networks connect. Noam is right, “splitting the Internet” could be harmless, except to the multi-billion dollar registry business and ICANN’s bottom line. (I don’t see many practical purposes. The Chinese eventually decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, especially after Fadi promised them, “A seat at the table.”)

Giving up nominal control of ICANN was a way to defuse the movement to change the system. In practice, the U.S. had nearly never exercised that authority because the folks running ICANN were almost always in agreement with the U.S. Most were from the U.S. and allies; some even had worked for what DC calls “three letter agencies.” They will be choosing their successors.

Russia and China are unlikely to control ICANN in my lifetime. We may also have set a useful precedent for a more open process. But we didn’t solve any “problem” that affects much on the Internet.

(Yes, I know we didn’t actually walk out, just refused to accept the treaty. I saw U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer on the floor the next day with his tourist gifts.)

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