13 November 2005
You can go your own way
Brian Carney of the WSJ thinks it's possible to give those Other Countries some play in Net governance without involving the graftmeisters at the UN:
Here's how it might work. At some point, China will grow tired of the U.S. refusal to give up control to the U.N., and it will secede from the status quo. It will set up its own root server, tweaked to allow access only to those sites the government deems nonthreatening, and simply order every Internet service provider in the country to use it instead of Icann's. The change will be seamless to most users, but China will have set up its own private Net, one answerable to the people's revolutionaries rather than to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Others may follow suit. Root servers could spring up in France, or Cuba, or Iran. In time, the Internet might look less like the Internet and more like, say, the phone system, where there is no "controlling legal authority" on the international level. More liberal-minded countries would probably, if they did adopt a local root-server, allow users to specify which server they wanted to query when typing in, say, Microsoft.com.
As a technical means of content control, going "split root," as they say in the business, is too compelling for governments not to give it a try. But the user experience would likely be much the same as it ever was most of the time. ISPs, as well as most vaguely democratic governments, would have an interest in ensuring broad interoperability, just as no one in Saudi Arabia or China has yet decided that dialing +1-202-456-1414 the White House switchboard number from those countries should go somewhere else, like Moammar Gadhafi's house. Nothing stops phone companies from doing things like that, except that the market expects a certain consistency in how phone calls are directed, so it is in the interests of the operators to supply what the market expects. The same principle would apply in a split-root world.
This won't play well at the General Assembly, where it will be pointed out that members of the Bunghole tribe of West Easteria won't be able to achieve the same level of technical asshattery as the Chinese, but this is the situation for which the phrase "Who gives a flying fish?" was invented.
(Via Robert Prather.)