Who owns the top level Internet domains? How are decisions made over their assignments? This paper explores the recent history of the top level domain HT for Haiti, as an example of the need to re-examine procedures and processes developed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and other organizations and individuals.
Old Rules: RFC 1591
What Did the Haitian Government Actually Request?
Status Quo Ante?
IANA's New Rule
Who Should Own HT?
Why Doesn't the Haitian Government Clarify?
Is a Domain Worth the Controversy?
ALyC and Monroe
Nonprofit vs. Commercial
Who Reviews IANA?
IAHC, iPOC, or POC
Origins of IANA
What Can Be Done?
Input and Acknowledgments
IntroductionOn 6 March 1997, REHRED (Reseau Telematique Haitien pour la Recherche et le Developpement or the Haitian Telematic Network for Research and Development) received notification from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) that its registration of the top level domain HT for Haiti was completed. Registration was visible in the InterNIC WHOIS server. InterNIC is the recording agency for all top level domain registrations.
A week later, REHRED received the following electronic mail message from IANA:
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 16:10:31 -0800 From: iana@ISI.EDU Posted-Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 16:10:31 -0800 To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: HT domain Cc: iana@ISI.EDU
We recently received a FAX from the Haitian government, asking us to redelegate the HT domain to another company for the time being. The Internic has been informed, and we suggest you stop all activity concerning the HT domain. FOCUS DATA has now been given the rights to the HT domain. Please comply with this decision. The Internic will redelegate the domain to this company ASAP. Thank you for your cooperation. Josh and --jon
Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
No warning, no discussion, not even a copy of the fax.
The DetailsAll the electronic mail messages REHRED exchanged with IANA as well as many others are available through http://www.ht.refer.org/rehred/domaine/. For FOCUS DATA, apparently the web server is http://www.haitiworld.com, which claims to be Haitifocus.
Old Rules: RFC 1591It may seem normal for a national government to determine theassignment of a national domain. However, in IANA's own published guidelines, RFC 1591 of March 1994 entitled "Domain Name System Structure and Delegation" and authored by J. Postel, there is no mention whatever of any involvement of national governments inthe selection of registrars for top level domains. RFC 1591 doesmention "significantly interested parties" and presumably a national government could be one of those. But RFC 1591 does not say that such parties may determine the assignment of a domain, nor that a national government is in any way a specially designated party.
RFC 1591 remarks that:
The IANA tries to have any contending parties reach agreement among themselves, and generally takes no action to change things unless all the contending parties agree; only in cases where the designated manager has substantially mis-behaved would the IANA step in.
Clearly IANA did not follow this guideline in this case. There was no indication from IANA that there was contention that needed resolution and no allegation of misbehavior on the part of the existing registrar.
What Did the Haitian Government Actually Request?After several inquiries from REHRED, IANA transcribed the fax and mailed it electronically, which read:
MINISTERE DES AFFAIRES ETRANGERES March 13, 1997 Port Au Prince, Haiti SM-105.97 Mr. Jon FOSTER Associate Director of Networking International Assign Numbers Authority (IANA) USC/Information Sciences Institute 4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 1001 Marina del Rey, CA 90292-6895 USA Dear Mr. FOSTER: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Haiti is pleased to inform you that it has decided to grant to FOCUS DATA, on a non-exclusive basis, the right to use Haiti's Top Level Domain. FOCUS DATA is a company duly registered in Haiti as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Here are the specifications of the company's server located in Petion-Ville, Haiti:
Primary DNS Server Address: 18.104.22.168 Secondary DNS Server Address: 22.214.171.124 Primary Server Name: ns.haitiworld.com Secondary Server Name: appsrv.haitiworld.com E-Mail Address: email@example.com FAX Number: (509) 57-9040 Telephone Number: (509) 57-0377
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Haiti would appreciate it if you would take the necessary steps to implement that decision. Sincerely yours, ------------------------- Fritz LONGCHAMP Minister
The wording is rather strange; "non-exclusive basis, the right to use Haiti's Top Level Domain." That reads like the government wants to be sure FOCUS DATA can have subdomains under HT. It doesn't seem consistent with asking for FOCUS DATA to be the registrar for HT, since there really can only be one registrar for a top level country domain, and thus "non- exclusive" doesn't apply. It's also strange that the company actually appearing now in the InterNIC WHOIS database as the owner of HT is named HINTELFOCUS, not FOCUS DATA.
It is hard to see how this fax could have been considered an authoritative request to reassign the HT domain without further clarification as to what it meant. Unless, of course, IANA had received previous correspondence asking how to get the domain reassigned and had told the interested party that a communication from the Haitian government would be sufficient or required. One would think it would be a simple matter of looking in the online files of domain requests that IANA keeps. Except that if IANA keeps such files, online or not, it is not clear where or how to access them. Transparency is lacking in this process.
This is also apparently not the first time IANA has suddenly changed the registrar for a national domain and then refused to reconsider. The same thing apparently happened with DO, for Dominican Republic. See gopher://gopher.funredes.org:70/11/english/M3/M3.4/M3.4.14.
I know that when I mentioned to Jon Postel that people in Haiti were concerned about setting a precedent of a national government being able to dictate a top level domain, he told me that HT would not be a precedent, because the precedent had been set long ago.
Status Quo Ante?Meanwhile, REHRED has never accepted the domain reassignment for HT and has made it clear at each step that it does not do so.
IANA has been asked several times, by parties in at least three different countries, to observe that there is no agreement that the Haitian government actually did request for the HT domain to be reassigned, and that it might be appropriate to cancel the reassignment and revert to the previous assignment of the HT domain until the situation is resolved. Despite its own previous comment that the domain was reassigned "for the time being," IANA declined to do this and instead issued a new rule.
IANA's New RuleThe following message from IANA promulgates a new rule of IANA procedure that IANA appears not to have documented elsewhere, so I quote it in full here:
Date: Thu, 3 Apr 1997 22:58:09 -0800 From: postel@ISI.EDU (Jon Postel) Message-Id: <199704040658.AA02499@zephyr.isi.edu> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Cc: iana@ISI.EDU, postel@ISI.EDU, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, lpress@ISI.EDU, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, iana@ISI.EDU, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: [NIC-961127.4583] HT seventh-step reaction
I am sorry if you do not understand that we have explaind to you that there is a rule we have adopted since RFC 1591 was published:
"Follow the expressed wishes of the government of the country with regard to the domain name manager for the country code corresponding to that country". We have decided that this rule takes priority. We do not believe it is wise to argue with the government of a country about the TLD for that country.
As near as I can tell, IANA can make any rules for its own procedures that it chooses to, so this new rule itself is not on the face of it a problem as far as IANA's authority to make such a rule.
One may wonder as to the wisdom of this specific rule, since there are few governments that understand the Internet and plenty of bad governments. Would one really want the old government of Zaire, for example, dictating anything about the Internet? But let's put that aside for the moment.
REHRED has pointed out that this rule was only announced after it was applied. So the parties involved were expecting RFC 1591 to apply, complete with its rules of due process, and were caught by surprise.
IANA has pointed out (for example in electronic mail messages sent to fewer addressees than the one just quoted above) that people in Haiti need to come to some arrangement among themselves. This is no doubt true, and I haven't heard anyone argue against it. The only catch is that apparently most people involved in Haiti thought they already had an agreement among themselves and with IANA until IANA's abrupt reassignment of the domain.
Who Should Own HT?
Who should be the registrar for the Internet Domain System top level domain HT? I don't know. My concern is with the process. I was asked by several people in half a dozen different countries to observe, advise, and comment on this situation, and finally to write and publish an article about it.
Why Doesn't the Haitian Government Clarify?If the Haitian government didn't mean to redelegate authority for the HT domain, why doesn't it send another fax and say so? Or if it did mean to, why doesn't it send an even shorter fax to say that? These are interesting questions. I can think of several possible reasons, such as that no government likes to admit a mistake and probably at this point the ministry involved isn't going to stick its neck out again, which leaves the Prime Minister's or President's offices as the only recourse. What the real reason for lack of further communication from the Haitian government is, however, I do not know.
Is a Domain Worth the Controversy?What are these people arguing about? The right to handle registrations for domains under the TLD HT, and to run name servers for HT. Such a registrar could theoretically choose to charge for its services, following the precedent of InterNIC, but no one in this case has suggested doing so or suggested registration fees as a topic of contention.
So why do they care? The registrar is allowed to spend money to provide a service with few, if any tangible benefits to the registrar. Who would want such a position?
There are a number of less obvious concerns. Among them are:
Process has made this case something more than a bit of temporary local confusion.
- Desire to fairly represent all of Haiti without favoritism.
- Concern that the other party might not do so.
- Concern that the other party may have ties to groups or ideologies that might cause favoritism or lack of competence.
- Technical abilities.
- Managerial experience.
- Financial capabilities.
- Legitimacy: the registrar of a national domain is a stakeholder in national network policy decisions.
There are still more plot twists in this tale of international intrigue, including a meeting of most of the affected parties that was held in Haiti and which appeared to produce a consensus on the part of all the attendees (including a Haitian government delegate), except FOCUS DATA. That session nonetheless did not change IANA's decision. You can read all the gory details at a previously cited URL.
I also don't want to get into the personalities involved. Suffice it to say that the people involved are from different cultures and educational backgrounds. I don't think these are the real issues, or at least they shouldn't be.
Let's get on to the bigger issues.
ALyC and MonroeLatin America and the Caribbean (ALyC) have been wary of the acts and intentions of their big neighbor to the north even before U. S. President James Monroe declared in 1823 that the United States would not tolerate interference in the western hemisphere from outside powers.
IANA is, insofar as it assigns names and numbers for the entire Internet, presumably not acting as an arm of the United States government. But it is nonetheless located in the United States and staffed entirely by U. S. nationals. More to the point, the organization to which IANA redelegated the HT domain allegedly has ties to a U. S.-based telecommunications company, MCI, while the organization from which the domain was taken is apparently entirely Haitian. And this was done with no due process and on the basis of a rule that was only promulgated after the fact. How could this situation not appear to favor a U. S.-basedmultinational at the expense of a local Caribbean company?
Such suspicions become even more rampant when one considers that the president of HINTELFOCUS (according to _WHOIS -h rs.internic.net HINTELFOCUS_) is Archie Marshall. Mr. Marshall was an assistant to Saul Hahn of the Organization of American States (OAS); OAS was involved in the aforementioned sudden change of domain registrar for the Dominican Republic domain, DO.
Were these factors in IANA's decision? I don't know. But they are more than enough to awaken ALyC fears of U. S. intervention, particularly for Haiti, a country with a long history of U. S. armed occupation.
The point here is not to allege that IANA is an agent of U. S. imperialism; I don't know that it is, and I sure hope that it is not. It is rather hard to imagine Jon Postel acting from nefarious motives. However, IANA could not have done a better job of making many think it is an imperialistic tool if it had tried. IANA's actions in this case have been devoid of political common sense.
Nonprofit vs. CommercialLarry Press examines nonprofit research networks and commercial networks in his article "Seats at the Policy- Making Table" in the Internet Society (ISOC) periodical, OnTheInternet ( OTI). In probably the majority of countries in the world nonprofit research networks have pioneered Internet access and then have been overtaken by commercial networks. Networkers in ALyC have heard me go on ad nauseam about how nonprofit networks don't scale and only for-pay networks can handle Internet growth. Not to mention that Matrix Information and Directory Services, Inc. is a for-profit corporation; one of our periodicals, Matrix News, is the oldest and the first non-academic, fee-based newsletter distributed over the Internet. Yet one of the primary topics of that newsletter is research networks, including REHRED.
But we're not talking about running a network here. We're examining a domain registry, an endeavor with different financial and political parameters. In addition, the real issue here is not for-profit vs. nonprofit. It is decision processes.
Who Reviews IANA?In this particular case, there are concrete allegations, with documentary evidence, that IANA is not following its own rules, neither the old ones of RFC 1591 nor new ones. IANA refuses to change its position. Who reviews IANA? Who may the parties involved turn to for relief?
ISOCThe most obvious answer may seem to be the Internet Society (ISOC), which has at least nominal review authority over the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and may perhaps have similar review authority over IANA. ISOC has been copied repeatedly on correspondence about this situation and several times asked directly to intervene. As of this writing, ISOC has not responded. If ISOC has any authority over IANA, it has chosen not to exercise it.
A distinction is sometimes made between the technical Internet bodies, such as the IETF and the IAB, and operational ones, such as IANA and IAHC. However, it is interesting that Jon Postel is both head of IANA and the RFC Editor. The distinction does not seem to be very strong.
InterNICSince InterNIC is the registrar for new top level domains, it might seem appropriate for InterNIC to speak to IANA. But actually IANA can and does tell InterNIC what to do in such cases, for which InterNIC is merely a scribe. And InterNIC has not responded to requests to get involved. This is not surprising, since InterNIC hasn't been known for responsiveness in disputes about domains they actually control. Their own dispute policy has numerous major flaws; see http://www.mids.org/legal/.
IDNBAccording to RFC 1591, the answer is the IDNB:
The Internet DNS Names Review Board (IDNB), a committee established by the IANA, will act as a review panel for cases in which the parties can not reach agreement among themselves. The IDNB's decisions will be binding.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the IDNB ever has existed. Despite searching for them, I have been able to find no RFCs published by IDNB, no Web site for it, and no mention of it in any other documents. Nor has IANA confirmed the existence of IDNB.
IAHC, iPOC, or POCThe International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) has been set up to deal with new registries for international top level domains. It might seem a likely review board for IANA.
As it happened, Dave Crocker contacted me in his capacity as a member of IAHC. I took the opportunity to ask him about the HT situation, and he said:
Of course I didn't respond on HT. I and the IAHC have nothing to do with it. Our scope is gTLDs. The ISO country code domains are beyond our scope.
He did at least express an opinion in favor of transparency:
To the extent that you want to relate to the IAHC work as, perhaps, "fixing" IANA it is worth noting that the IAHC work makes this, particular portion of IANA's work far, far more formal and visible.
I also asked Crocker, in his capacity as someone involved for a long time in the IAB and in Internet processes, who the parties in this HT situation could turn to for relief. He did not answer that question.
Since the beginning of these events, IAHC has dissolved itself in favor of an interim Policy Oversight Committee (iPOC) that will become a Policy Oversight Committee (POC) (for details, see http://www.iahc.org). The names have changed, but whatever it's called, IAHC, iPOC, or POC still has no charter to oversee national top level domains.
ALyCNICRIPE (Réseaux IP Européens) acts as an overall Network Information Center (NIC) for Europe. APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Center) operates in a parallel fashion for a portion of the Pacific rim. So it would seem appropriate to turn a similar organization in Latin America and the Caribbean for mediation in a dispute of this kind, including discussions with IANA. But there is no ALyCNIC. Why not? After more than five years of annual ALyC networking forums that have claimed such a NIC as a goal, it is a mystery to me. To prevent this sort of event from happening again, many need to stop talking about it and simply take some action on their own.
Who, Then?So who does review IANA? In the case of national top level domains, no one. IANA is the apex of the Internet governance hierarchy. Jon Postel might be called the pope of IANA. There is no appeal. We don't even know what "college of cardinals" elected him.
Origins of IANAHow did IANA get this authority? IANA's Web site claims that it is chartered by the Internet Society and the U. S. Federal Networking Council (FNC). IANA predates ISOC, so that part is a rewrite of history and not very significant. IANA appears to have been created by FNC. I believe I have seen mail from Jon Postel in a public mailing list that says IANA is funded by the U. S. government. So in two senses, IANA is simply an agent of the U. S. government. In that capacity, presumably IANA is subject to review by the U. S. president, federal courts, and Congress, and its records are accessible thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.
In a more important sense, IANA has the authority it has because it historically always has had this power. It is headed by Jon Postel, one of the oldest of the Internet Old Boys. Postel has been publishing RFCs about assigned numbers since at least 1972. His first RFC was in 1970, according to the RFC index.
For a long time it was useful for the Internet Old Boys to simply delegate one of their number to handle a given area of Internet activity. Dictatorial powers were actually an advantage in coordinating fractious researchers, when such powers were lodged in someone everyone trusted, such as Jon Postel. He was not called the Internet Numbers Czar for nothing.
But the world is different now, and the Internet is very different. What worked in a small community - composed of researchers and academics - doesn't work so well in a more diverse world where many view the Internet as a utility, not an experiment. Internet users and Internet providers have multiplied out of all recognition from just a few years ago. There is bound to be contention over allocation of even the most innocuous aspects of the Internet, such as national top level domains.
IANA continues to act as it used to in the old days. It can and does make rules as it likes, when it likes, without any warning, or even after a rule change. There seems to be no record of the identities of those requesting domain changes from IANA, nor a record of IANA's replies. These once were advantages but they aren't any more.
With the HT domain, IANA by its actions is chipping away at its own authority. It risks being seen as merely a U. S. government agency implementing arbitrary policies to the benefit of U. S. corporations. Many, both in ALyC and elsewhere, do not think that the Internet should be manipulated in this way. It is especially dangerous now when everyone - from individuals to corporations to governments of all sizes - has discovered the Internet is valuable and wants to control it. See, for example, "The Internet Goes to Harvard" in the November, 1996 issue of RS/Magazine or MN 610.
The Internet has often prided itself as being independent of governments and self-governing. IANA has been seen as a key Internet governance organization, both in keeping the Internet running and in keeping governments out. If IANA has now invited governments in to directly dictate major and highly visible aspects of the Internet such as national top level domains, IANA is damaging both its own usefulness and the Internet itself.
What Can Be Done?Obviously RFC 1591 needs to be rewritten; All parties agree on this remedy. But by whom? If IANA alone updates its own procedures document, the question of review of IANA is not addressed; remember RFC 1591 promised an IDNB that IANA never created. The issues of how IANA makes its own rules and of transparency to IANA's decision making processes also need to be treated.
As far as resolving this case of the HT domain, evidently there are only three ways out:
- IANA can restore the previous registrar of HT and follow the procedures of RFC 1591 to decide who should be the registrar. It's true this would be contrary to IANA's new rule, but if IANA can make a rule at will with no warning, it can unmake a rule, too. IANA may think its authority rests on not backing down, but at this point IANA would gain more moral authority by admitting it made a mistake and undoing it.
- The government of Haiti can send another communication to IANA clarifying its previous fax. That would be a statesman-like thing to do.
- Some higher authority can step in to review the situation. But there is no higher authority.
Regardless of what happens with the HT domain, it seems that IANA has compromised itself sufficiently that it is time for an oversight body. Who can that be? The missing IDNB could be created, but of course that begs the question of how and by whom. IAHC could expand its charter to include national top level domains, but it seems determined not to do so. InterNIC is about to lose its monopoly on international top level domain registrations because of IAHC, not to mention its contract with NSF regarding the domains it currently manages. InterNIC was never supposed to be a policy-making organization anyway, so it's not appropriate.
The only two existing bodies that seem capable of taking a hand are ISOC or the IAB. Will one of them please raise its hand?
Input and Acknowledgments
I thank everyone concerned for their input and their patience. This article is nonetheless from my point of view and represents no other party. I hope that this document may in some way assist in improving Internet governance.
* Copyright (c) 1997, Matrix Information and Directory Services (MIDS). A version of this paper appeared in Matrix News, volume 7, no. 5 (May 1997), and also SunExpert Magazine.
The AuthorJohn S. Quarterman is President of Matrix Information and Directory Services, Inc. (MIDS) of Austin, Texas, http://www.mids.org. MIDS publishes and he edits Matrix Maps Quarterly (quarterly, color), Matrix News (monthly), and the MIDS Internet Weather Report (daily, moves, online only). He has written numerous articles and columns and six books, the oldest of which is still the still in print: The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide published by Digital Press in 1990.
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