May 1, 2006 · Tim Wu
Carol Cosgrove-Sacks, until recently the United Nations’ Director of Trade, asked whether an Internet that increasingly reflects the will of individual nations, as our book suggests, won’t inevitably need a more globally responsive domain name system. In other words, she asked whether, in the long run, ICANN just cannot survive.
While she didn’t say this, ICANN under this logic is basically like a hobbit — an organization too weak to be a threat to anyone.
“ICANN has two things going for it” said Dyson, “it lacks power, and it lacks legitimacy. If ICANN tried to do anything controversial, the U.S., Europe, Japan, and the world internet community would resist and put a stop to it.”
So is that a good enough answer? Is a decent result enough, or does the process matter?
The question is central to our book. In writing Chapter 3 of our book we interviewed, among others, Ira Magaziner — who shed very helpful light on the whole process that lead to ICANN. (Readers may be particularly interested in his discussion of the famous 1998 “show down” with the late Jon Postel.)
The view taken by Magaziner and others in the Administration parallel Dyson’s hobbit thesis. The idea was something like this: the U.S. government needs to step in to prevent regulation of the Internet. Call it “unregulation,” or regulation to stop regulation.
That seems like a paradox, yet for Americans, how you feel about “unregulation” is a key to future debates over the internet and internet policy (it is crucial to the network neutrality issue, as I’ll discuss later this week). In short, given the enormity of government power, our book says that sometimes people will want and need government to keep the internet free from, yes, government, and governments.
More on this as we go on.