How the ITU got in the domain business

How the ITU got in the domain business

We first meet Bob Shaw in Carl Malamud's book in section three: Round 3: In Search of a Standards Haven, in which we meet the world's most intelligent building, try to convince people to do the bloody obvious, and learn the origins of the Internet. Copyright 1992, 1997 Carl Malamud.

Preface: Carl and managed to get authorization to put the extremely expensive ITU telecommunications standards put online. They were so costly they prevented emerging nations from telco development and this was hurting the net. But this was not to last.

Here's the relevant passages:

    "...The next four weeks were spent reading mail, paying bills, and sorting out hotel reservations in 43 cities. About half-way through my stay at home, I came home from the travel agent to find a fax from Pekka Tarjanne of the ITU.

    The letter congratulated me for the wonderful work I had done and terminated the Bruno experiment as of December 31, 1991, a mere 90 days after it went operational.

    The letter disingenously said that although the experiment was terminated, "measures are in progress for a similar service to be made available under ITU auspices."

    I had talked in Geneva to Robert Shaw, the technical staff member working on an Electronic Document Handling System. His vision, still very much in the conceptual stage, was to put a PC with X.400 software on the ITU network and offer only working documents to a tightly controlled group of people.

    The letter from Tarjanne also insisted that I somehow convey to "all those who are operating info-servers with copies of the ITU standards that it's authorization for distribution of this material ceases after December 1991."

    Kind of like publishing a newspaper and then asking people to return the copies. Even worse, many of the 21 sites around the world had invested money in upgrading their equipment to handle the ITU standards. A 90 day experiment was a farce. Pekka Tarjanne, despite his good intentions, had finally been beaten down by the bureaucracy.

    I tried to find out what had happened from Tony Rutkowski. He had been called in (but only after the letter was dispatched to me), sat down at a table, and read the letter. He had protested vainly that once the cat is out of the bag, there is not much you can do, but his arguments fell on the unwilling ears of a bureaucracy threatened by any sign of innovation.

    Meanwhile, I sent out notes to the Internet community, informing them of the ITU's decision. Even if the ITU had not kept its commitment, we didn't want to expose any of the other sites to an unwitting legal liability.

    Of course, chances were highly unlikely that the ITU would sue anybody. A strong legal argument could be made that by allowing uncontrolled dissemination of its standards, the ITU had given up any claim to a copyright it might have once had.

    One problem with undoing distribution on the Internet was that I had no idea where all the copies were. Just to make sure that I reached all the servers, I dashed off a piece for Communications Week, letting Tarjanne's office know that I was performing this service for him."

Bob Shaw has only ever produced one paper: how to write X.400 addresses onto business cards.

General comments about the relationship of the ITU to the Internet and Internet standards process:

    "The IP process was organized to suit the needs of the technical people, not the desire to reach a political consensus among marketing representatives. The crucial difference between the two groups was that implementation and testing was the cardinal rule for the engineers. Bob cited the recent extensions to SMTP and RFC 822 to handle different kinds of data as an example. By the time the implementations reached standards status, a half-dozen implementations would already exist and be deployed.

    The success of the Internet community didn't necessarily mean that there was no role for the more formal (i.e., slower) procedures like those used at the ITU. Bob pointed to a low-level substrate, such as the definition of a digital hierarchy of line speeds, as an issue that needed to be codified, ratified, and digested by a hierarchy of committees.

    Of course, if low-level issues are the province of the public standards cartel in Geneva, that kind of leaves OSI out in the cold. After all, OSI starts work at about the same level as TCP/IP does. Since the OSI standards potatoes insist on defining theory first and leaving the implementations to "the market," they have little to contribute to the upper layers of the network, where implementation and testing are crucial.

    I bid Bob Kummerfeld goodbye and went to my room to watch Dallas. It struck me that the politics of the Geneva standards cartel had an overwhelming resemblance to the goings-on at the Ewing Ranch. Perhaps I could write a nighttime soap called "ISO," complete with a season finale of "Who Killed FTAM?"

Off on slight tengent, notice the involvment even back then of the ISOC in beginning to convince people that it had a role.

    "Since Software Tool and Die was an AlterNet hub, Barry Shein estimated that they had access to over 80 percent of the Internet. AlterNet was on the CIX, and most regionals had set up back door paths to one or the other of the commercial networks. Several commercial links to Europe existed, making international access to the EBONE and its regionals straightforward. In the U.S., only a few regionals in the Midwest had a single connection to NSFNET and were unreachable by Software Tool and Die customers. Most of the Pacific Rim, however, squeezed through the single Fix West link, and was cut off."

The coincidence here is the day I found out the Internic was going to begin charging for domain nams, Barry was one of the three poeple I emailed about this. He suggested we could "stick our computers in each others DNS and do away with the roots".

    "...Geoff Huston was quite adamant that the Internet was facing many serious issues, fragmentation being one of the more visible. The address space was quickly filling up, there were so many networks that routing protocols were thrashing, and a host of other problems were surfacing.

    These problems were not inevitable in Geoff's eyes. The Internet began as a single global community with ad hoc regulation of the network for the common good. Over time, under the pressures of massive growth and commercialization, the common view splintered into many camps. Global connectivity is a key issue for the Australian community. At the end of a long, skinny pipe, much of their traffic is communication with other parts of the world.

    There is no group that worries about global connectivity, or even provides much in the way of a global regulatory framework and places like Australia, on the frontier of the Internet, feel the impact of this lawlessness first. The IAB had long been charged with looking out for the Internet, but Geoff pointed out that the heavy American bias of the IAB doomed it, particularly in Europe. Many Europeans continue to refer to the TCP/IP protocol suite as "DoD IP" to emphasize the American military origins of the Internet.

    While the IAB had failed to provide a global framework for connectivity, the engineering arm, the IETF, had not always provided solutions to the problems that needed solving. Geoff emphasized that the IETF was a "tremendous asset" but also cited Marshall T. Rose's comment that "adult supervision" was needed.

    The problem he saw was the lack of direction given to the IETF. The IAB and the IETF Steering Group (IESG) failed at times to provide a solid agenda and timetables of engineering problems that needed solutions. Problems such as the address space exhaustion were studied in a fairly ad hoc fashion, even as the problems became more and more pressing.

    The IETF also suffered from an influx of goers and an increasing tendency by many to treat the occasion as a social forum rather than a working environment.

    So what forum should guide the evolution of the Internet? Geoff placed some hope in bodies like the Internet Society, but also wanted to see an operational solution to the problem of global connectivity."

Geoff Huston ended up on the ill fated IAHC committee as was Bob Shaw who went on to work behind the scenes to get the GAC recognized as part of ICANN, cause there just can't be enough government to keep Bob happy, and then went on the the UN to help organize the WSIS efford to move the Internet root out of America.

Here's Bob at a WSIS meeting

    "...Take the issue of country codes, the two letter abbreviations by which you send a letter or provide the root portion of a DNS name. The list of such codes used to be fairly static, but with the disintegration of the Soviet Union there were a bunch of new roots to the name tree.

    Managing that root was a sign of power, and in more than one case, fights had broken out within a country between groups who felt they were the rightful namespace administrators. The right to control the top of the kee was a touchy issue in a place like Yugoslavia. Imagine a Serb administration of the Croatian subdomain, for example.

    RIPE served as a place where these types of issues could be ironed out. Not everything can be solved on an informal technical level, of course, but it is amazing how many problems can be worked out this way.

    One exchange in the RIPE plenary that I found interesting was the issue of where to find the current country codes. Officially, these codes are listed in an ISO standard and, in response to a query from the audience, a bureaucrat got up and explained that one obtained ISO standards from one's own national standards body.

    Not a very useful solution to a simple problem, so somebody else got up and suggested that the information be obtained from the back of a Sun manual. The representative from Israel suggested that Larry Landweber maintained this information as part of his list of connectivity.

    Finally, somebody wanted to know if this information wasn't online. He had heard about some standards server "someplace in the U.S.," but when he tried to obtain standards there he had received an error message.

    I had the dubious honor of trying to explain why the ITU had withdrawn their permission for posting standards since the server wasn't helping "the right sort of people." Many of the Eastern Europeans were furious about the decision since it had been their only access to the vital documents. Would ISO be posting their standards, somebody wanted to know?

    I explained the concept of a standards haven in some friendly location like Budapest. Everybody laughed and the plenary broke up."

The ITU has a history of unproductive meddling. First this then IAHC to take the root away from IANA then ICANN to take the root away from IANA and NSI, then the GAC take the root away from ICANN and lastly WSIS to take the root away from America.