[council] Request for clarification on IAB Statement
Stuart, Vint and Louis (I have cc:ed the Names Council list, as I expect
this to be a matter of some interest):
I am writing to ask what follows from yesterday's IAB Response to
questions about Verisign's IDN efforts.
Let me begin by stressing that it was absolutely proper for the BoD to
consult the IAB. This is an issue of technical stability and
interoperability which lies at the heart of ICANN's purview. And, if it
appeared that Verisign's IDN project would cause the DNS to crash and
burn then action under either the Cooperative Agreement or Verisign's
registry contract would certainly have been appropriate.
That said, it appears that the IAB did not reach that conclusion. As a
lay person, I am not entirely sure what the IAB precisely did say. They
clearly had some issues with Verisign's IDN, and in particular appeared
to favor a uniform approach among gTLDs arrived at via the traditional
We now come to the perilous intersection of technical stability and
policy. It appears that Verisign's IDN does not create a crisis. But
the IAB has issues. How do we (ICANN) proceed?
There is, of course, a straightforward legal question which lies in
Louis' baliwick. What is ICANN legally required to do, and what is it
empowered to do? But there is a broader question of what ICANN _should_
do. Arguably, having determined that no crisis exists, ICANN should
leave well enough alone. Alternatively, if the IAB assesment indicates
that there is a potential for real disaster, some prophylactic steps
might be justified. At the very least, further discussion is warranted
and some means of monitoring so as to avert a crisis before it occurs
would seem desirable.
But if the crux of the IAB objection is that Verisign has moved forward
without the blessing of the IETF, or that there is some potential for
consumer confusion, or that all IDN should be standardized for reasons
other than interoperability, then, it seems to me, a very different
approach is warranted.
As I have said before, I am very leary of ICANN becoming an industry
regulatory body. I have some experience of both public utility
regulation and media regulation in the United States. They are not
pretty, but such intrusive regulation is sometimes necessary. But the
entire purpose of ICANN is to spare the Internet from such a need.
While some have proposed treating gTLD registries as public utilities or
public assets, this has never been sanctioned as ICANN's mandate.
Rather, ICANN exists to maintain sufficient stability to allow the DNS
to both function and continue to evolve.
I would therefore personally urge a course that permits the greatest
autonomy for gTLDs consistent with basic principles of interoperability,
technical stability, and fairness to all registries. Verisign should
not, of course, enjoy a greater freedom to innovate than other TLDs.
But innovation in registry-level services is, it seems to me, a positive
good. Indeed, one of the criteria in the .org re-delegation was whether
the new registry proposed innovative services.
In particular, I hope that nothing is done which would appear to make
conformance to IETF standards mandatory, or which would limit innovation
until the IETF has formalized a standard or process. The great
strength of the IETF (again, from an outsider's perspective) has been
its voluntary nature. "Rough consensus and running code" has fostered
considerable innovation precisely because it imposed no orthodoxy.
Anyone with a different approach to a problem was free to try it, and
this competition of ideas has served the Internet exceedingly well.
While enough of us rely on the DNS that experimentation cannot be
allowed to place the Internet at-large at risk, I believe the Internet
-- and the IETF and IAB -- would be disserved by making IETF standards
I wish I had a definite suggestion to offer on how to proceed, but I
don't. I can only say that ICANN has behaved prudently so far, and I
hope it will continue to do so. But we must not equate prudence with
stasis, nor equate caution with the elimination of all risk.