[AfrICANN-discuss] Looking Towards the Future, Vint Cerf

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Sat Nov 3 01:54:32 SAST 2007

Looking Towards the Future

Vint Cerf

October 2007

* *

*Introduction *

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was formed
nine years ago. Its creation followed a period of considerable debate about
the institutionalization of the basic functions performed by the Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Nearly simultaneous with the inauguration
of ICANN in September 1998 came the unexpected and untimely death of the
man, Jonathan B. Postel, who had responsibility for these functions for over
a quarter century. The organization began with very limited sources of
funds, a small and overworked staff, and contentious debate about its
organizational structure, policy apparatus, and operational procedures. The
organization underwent substantial change through its Evolution and Reform
Process (ERP). Among the more difficult constituencies to accommodate in the
organization's policy making process was the general public. An At-Large
Advisory Committee emerged from the ERP and has recently formed Regional
At-Large Organizations (RALOs) in all of ICANN's five regions.

Today, ICANN is larger, more capable, more international, and better
positioned to fulfill its mandate. It stands for one global interoperable
Internet and the model of stakeholder representation has worked. But the
Internet and its vast user population have grown during the same time by a
factor of over 20 in all dimensions. The 50 million users of 1997 have
become nearly 1.2 billion users today. The 22 million hosts on the network
have increased to nearly 500 million today. The bandwidth of the core data
circuits in the Internet have grown from 622 million bits per second to
between 10 and 40 billion bits per second. This dramatic growth in physical
size has been accompanied by an equally dramatic growth in the number and
diversity of applications running on the Internet. All forms of media now
appear on and are carried by Internet packets. Consumers of information are
producing more and more of it themselves with email, blogs, instant
messaging, social and game playing web sites, video uploads, and podcasts.
The Internet continues to evolve and while ICANN has achieved more than most
people realize, it must continue to evolve along with it.

*Operational Priorities *

ICANN's primary responsibility is to contribute to the security and
stability of the Internet's system of unique identifiers. In the most direct
way, it carries out this mandate through its operation of the Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority. There can be no doubt that the conduct of this
function in an exemplary fashion is essential not only to ICANN's mission
but also to inspiring confidence in ICANN as an organization.

But ICANN's role in the Internet goes beyond these specific IANA functions.
ICANN is an experiment in the balancing of multiple stakeholder interests in
policy about the implementation, operation and use of the Domain Name System
and the address spaces of the Internet. Its policy choices can have direct
impact on the business models of operating entities involved in the
management of domain names and Internet addresses. The privacy and
Internet-related rights of registrants and more generally, Internet users,
may also be directly affected. Some policy choices raise public policy
issues in the view of governments and methods are and will be needed to
factor such concerns into the making of ICANN policy.

Effective, fair and timely policy development should be a priority for
ICANN. That this needs to be achieved in a global setting is simply another
challenge to be met. ICANN leadership and staff must seek to maintain and
improve the ability of all of ICANN's many constituencies to achieve
consensus or at least to prepare the Board to make choices when consensus
may not be forthcoming. Because policies often have technical, economic,
social and governance implications, it is vital that ICANN's practices draw
on expertise in all of these domains.

Clarity in the roles and responsibilities of the many participants in the
Internet arena, especially those with specific interest in ICANN policies
and practices, will be helpful and should be documented. In some cases, the
documentation might take the form of relatively formal relationships such as
the contracts between ICANN and domain name registries and registrars. In
other cases, they may need only to characterize in plain terms the roles
that each party plays.

In some areas, such as root zone operation, excellence can be measured in
such terms as responsiveness, scalability, resilience to disruption, and
ability to adapt to changing needs such as Domain Name System Security
(DNSSEC), internationalized domain names (IDNs) and the addition of IPv6
records to the root zone. Many parties currently play a role in the
maintenance of the root zone file and clear documentation of responsibility
and lines of authority will be beneficial. As the technology of the Internet
continues to evolve, the roles of various parties may need to change to meet
the objective of stability and security of the Internet's system of unique
identifiers. Managing the evolution of these roles represents another
priority for policy development and implementation.

Because of the potential impact of decisions made through the ICANN policy
process, it is important to put into place checks and balances that serve to
make all aspect of ICANN's operation accountable and transparent. There is
still work to be done in this area so that legitimate issues arising out of
policy making can be independently reviewed where this is deemed necessary.
At the same time, it is vital that the mechanisms chosen do not have the
effect of locking up the policy making process and preventing any decisions
from being made. One seeks a balance between a potentially unfair tyranny of
the majority and an equally unacceptable tyranny of the minority.

The general success of the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process (UDRP)
suggests that ICANN should seek mechanisms for resolving disputes arising in
connection with implementing ICANN policy that scale, permit choice without
abusive "forum shopping", and make efficient use of ICANN resources.

Outreach, transparency, and broadly participatory processes on an
international basis are not inexpensive. It is vital for ICANN to continue
to refine its models for sustainable operation, taking into account the
economics of the various actors in the Internet arena that rely on ICANN's
operation, and fairly apportioning costs of ICANN operation to appropriate
sources of support. Not all of the beneficiaries of ICANN's work derive the
same level of revenue from the Internet (and some, none at all). ICANN must
take into this into account in devising mechanisms for supporting its
operation and should work to make transparent the need to provide services
to parties who may not be in a position to contribute commensurate with
cost. Adequate and stable funding for ICANN is necessary if ICANN is to
fulfill its charter. Over the past several years, ICANN has significantly
increased its ability to staff vital functions, contributing to the
effectiveness of the organization. It should be a priority to assure
adequate reserves to weather unanticipated expenses or periods of decreased

*Organizational Perspectives *

ICANN is a multi-stakeholder institution operating in the private sector but
including the involvement of governments. Throughout its history, ICANN has
sought to draw on international resources and to collaborate, coordinate and
cooperate with institutions whose expertise and responsibilities can assist
ICANN in the achievement of its goals. ICANN should see to establish
productive relationships with these institutions, cementing its own place in
the Internet universe while confining its role to its principal

As part of its normal operation, ICANN engages in self-examination and
external review of the effectiveness of its organizational structure and
processes. Improvements in all aspects of ICANN operation and structure will
increase confidence in the organization and its ability to sustain long-term

Finding and engaging competent participants and leaders in each of ICANN's
constituent parts must be a priority. ICANN should seek to improve its
ability to identify from around the world and attract highly qualified
staff, executive leadership, board and supporting organization participants.
It is possible and even likely that improvements in the processes by which
this is done today will have significant payoff in the future.

While ICANN does not bear a specific responsibility for achieving the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) developed during the conduct of the
World Summit on the Information Society, it has an opportunity to contribute
to them in direct and indirect ways. Its operation of its IANA functions and
support for actors in the Domain Name, Internet Address and standards
development areas provides ICANN with a specific opportunity. Participation
in forums dedicated to developing policies for Internet expansion and use
offer indirect ways for ICANN to draw upon and provide expertise in these

It has been demonstrated that the presence of ICANN staff in various regions
and time zones around the world and familiarity with local languages and
customs has been beneficial to parties reliant on ICANN for its services.
ICANN should continue to seek ways to improve its effectiveness in this
area. The introduction of the Fellowship program that supports the
participation of qualified candidates in ICANN-related activities is a vital
step in facilitating ICANN's outreach to the developing world. Expansion of
this program through partnerships with other like-minded organizations
should be pursued in the interest of globalization of ICANN.

It is possible that the present formulation of ICANN as a not-for-profit,
charitable research and education entity under California law could be
beneficially adapted to a more international framework. As part of its
long-term strategic development, ICANN should evaluate a variety of
alternatives on the possibility that a change could increase the
effectiveness of its operation.

The successful creation of five Regional At-Large Organizations, one in each
of ICANN's five regions, needs to be followed by a serious effort to engage
these entities in the formulation of ICANN policies and in dialog with the
general user community. The various constituency reviews that form part of
ICANN's normal processes should address the role of these entities in the
conduct of ICANN business. To the extent that Civil Society is not fully
represented through the Governmental Advisory Committee and the ALAC/RALO
system, an organizational home may be needed to accommodate the interests of
that constituency.

The five Regional Internet Registries represent a key element in the
Internet and ICANN pantheon. The RIRs have responsibility for allocating IP
address space to Internet Service Providers and sometimes individual
end-user organizations. They are the means by which bottom-up global policy
is developed and recommended, through the Number Resource Organization, to
ICANN. It will require substantial coordination and cooperation between the
RIRs and ICANN to work through the coming years of depletion of available
new IPv4 address space and the rising implementation of the new IPv6 address
space. There is little doubt that economic incentives will emerge that will
distort fair and neutral IPv4 address space allocations as the available
space is depleted. Minimizing the impact of this transition will be the
joint responsibility of ICANN and the RIRs.

Similarly, ICANN's cooperative relationship with the Root Server operators
will also demand coordination and capacity building as IPv4 and IPv6
addresses are associated with old and new domain names and as the IPv6
infrastructure grows. A vital objective is to assure that the IPv6 Internet
and the IPv4 Internet are, to the extent possible, completely and totally
co-terminous. Every termination needs to be reachable through both address
spaces. In the absence of this uniformity, some IPv6 addresses may be
unreachable from others, defeating the goal of a single, interoperable and
fully reachable network.

*Meeting the Challenges *

As ICANN approaches the close of its first decade, the operational Internet
will be turning twenty-five. In the course of its evolution, it has become a
global digital canvas on which a seemingly endless array of applications has
been painted. Despite the broad swath of its current applications, it is
almost certain that many, many more will be invented. All of them will rely,
for the foreseeable future, on the basic architecture of the system,
including the global Internet address space and Domain Name System. But the
structure will become more complex. Two parallel address spaces, IPv4 and
IPv6, will be in use. ICANN needs to promote the adoption of IPv6 so as to
limit the side-effects of the exhaustion of the unique address space
provided by IPv4.

A vast and new range of non-Latin, internationalized domain names may be
registered, certainly at the second or lower levels in the Domain Name
hierarchy and many will be proposed for the top level. Their diversity will
create new challenges for the protection of users from confusing and
potentially abusive registrations. New dispute resolution principles may be
needed to deal with domain name registrations and delegations of new top
level domains. The exposure of ASCII punycode strings in browsers or other
applications may produce additional stresses in the intellectual property
arena (e.g. xn- -cocacola).

Digital signatures will play an increasingly important role in validating
the assignment of domain names and Internet addresses and new protocols are
certain to be invented and their parameters recorded by the Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority. Infrastructure for the management of digital
certificates or other authentication mechanisms will be needed to realize
the value of the DNSSEC concept.

More generally, the Internet's multi-layer architecture shows
vulnerabilities of various kinds that demand redress. Attacks against the
Domain Name System's root servers, name resolvers and general name servers
at all levels must be mitigated. Some of the components of the Domain Name
System are actually used to exacerbate the effects of Denial of Service
attacks. While ICANN does not have responsibility for developing the Domain
Name technology, it can use its visibility and area of responsibility to
highlight the need for increased security measures for the protection of the
Internet's technical infrastructure and to facilitate its implementation
where ICANN has a direct involvement in its operation.

An increasing number of mobile devices will become Internet-enabled as will
appliances of all kinds. Access speeds will increase, enabling many new
applications and enhancing older ones. All of this will contribute to
increasing reliance on the Internet for a wide range of functions by an
increasingly large user population. Electronic commerce will continue to
expand, placing high priority on the stable, secure and reliable operation
of all aspects of the Internet, including those within ICANN's purview.

While some of these aspects of the Internet's evolution will be of direct
concern to ICANN, there will be additional matters to which the ICANN
organization and processes will need to pay attention. The business
processes that sustain the management of the Internet's address space and
domain names will almost certainly need to adapt to account for new
applications. Some of these will monetize various aspects of the Internet in
unexpected and innovative ways that will challenge existing policy and
procedures. It will be extremely important for ICANN to evolve and
strengthen its implementation of multi-stakeholder policy development. The
interests of a wide range of entities must be balanced in the process.

While adherence to a set of technical standards has allowed millions of
component networks and systems to interwork on the Internet, it is also the
case that many varying business models have sustained their operation. The
richness and diversity of these models is one of the reasons that the
Internet has proven to be so resilient in many dimensions. ICANN's policy
development processes need to take into account an informed understanding of
the economics of these varying business models and the ways in which ICANN
policy may affect them.

On the Domain Name side, the development of market-savvy rules of operation
for operators will be essential. ICANN needs to assure compliance with
policies developed through the ICANN consensus process to establish
confidence in the policy processes and their execution. Clear rules for the
creation of new TLDs of all kinds must be adopted and enforced.

The roles of registrars, registries, wholesale registry operators, root
server operators, regional Internet address registries, governments,
standards and technical research and development bodies, among others need
to be characterized so as to set expectations and permit the establishment
of practical working relationships. The documentation of best practices will
be beneficial especially where the introduction of the Internet is new.

In matters of public policy, including but not limited to public safety,
security, privacy, law enforcement, conduct of electronic commerce,
protection of digital property and freedom of speech, broad and
international agreements may be needed if the Internet is to serve as a
useful, global infrastructure. Many of these matters lie outside the formal
purview of ICANN, but some ICANN policies and resulting operational
practices will contribute to the global framework for life online. ICANN
must seek to contribute to public confidence in the Internet and the
processes that govern its operation. It cannot do this alone. The
coordinated and cooperative efforts of many distinct entities will be
essential to achieving this goal. At the same time, ICANN must protect its
processes from capture or abuse by interests that are inimical to the
openness and accessibility of the Internet for everyone.

*A Collective Goal *

As of this writing, there are only about 1.2 billion Internet users around
the world. Over the course of the next decade that number could conceivably
quintuple to 6 billion and they will be depending on ICANN, among many
others, to do its part to make the Internet a productive infrastructure that
invites and facilitates innovation and serves as a platform for egalitarian
access to information. It should be a platform that amplifies voices that
might otherwise never be heard and creates equal opportunities for
increasing the wealth of nations and their citizens.

ICANN's foundation has been well and truly fashioned. It is the work of many
heads and hands. It represents a long and sometimes hard journey that has
called for personal sacrifices from many colleagues and bravery from others.
It has demanded long term commitments, long hours, days, months and years.
It has called upon many to transform passion and zeal into constructive and
lasting compromises. ICANN has earned its place in the Internet universe. To
those who now guide its path into the future comes the challenge to fashion
an enduring institution on this solid foundation. I am confident that this
goal is not only attainable but that it is now also necessary. The
opportunity is there: make it so.
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