Table of Contents

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In Ruling the Root, Milton Mueller uses the theoretical framework of institutional economics to analyze the global policy and governance problems created by the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses. “The root” is the top of the domain name hierarchy and the Internet address space. It is the only point of centralized control in what is otherwise a distributed and voluntaristic network of networks. Both domain names and IP numbers are valuable resources, and their assignment on a coordinated basis is essential to the technical operation of the Internet. Mueller explains how control of the root is being leveraged to control the Internet itself in such key areas as trademark and copyright protection, surveillance of users, content regulation, and regulation of the domain name supply industry.

Muellel recounts the fascinating process that led to the formation of a new international regime around ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. In the process, he shows how the vaunted freedom and openness of the Internet is being diminished by the institutionalization of the root.

About the Author

Milton L. Mueller is Professor, Director of the Convergence Center, and Director of the Graduate Program in Telecommunications and Network Management at the School of Information Studies, Syracuse University.

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Ruling the Root-Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace

Milton L. Mueller

The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England

© 2002 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or
information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.

This book was set in Sabon by Graphic Composition, Inc., Athens, Georgia

Printed and bound in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Mueller, Milton.

Ruling the root : Internet governance and the taming of cyberspace / Milton L. Mueller.
p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-262-13412-8 (hc : alk. paper)

1. Internet-Government policy. 2. Internet addresses-Government policy. 3. Cyberspace-Government policy. 4. Telecommunication policy.
5. Right of property. 6. Institutional economics. 7. Organizational change.
I. Title.

TK5105.875.I57 M845 2002
004.67 8-dc21


10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

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Chapter 1: Introduction: The Problem of the Root


For two days in July 1998, one hundred and fifty people gathered in a windowless hotel convention room in Reston, Virginia. The crowd comprised techies in T-shirts, trademark lawyers in suits, academic and business people, and a small but significant number of Europeans, Latin Americans, and Asians. The meeting had an ambitious goal: to 'prepare a model, a set of common principles, a structure and general charter provisions' for the formation of a global governance body for an Internet naming and addressing authority. [1 ]The meeting was compared to an Internet 'constitutional convention' by some. But the delegates to this convention were not diplomats or legislators, and its participants held no formal credentials. There had been some attempts to encourage preregistration, but for all practical purposes attendance was completely open-anyone who walked in could participate. A call had been issued by a self-appointed, hastily assembled, and loosely defined steering committee, whose membership remained fluid and controversial for weeks afterwards. Aside from a few basic agenda and scheduling decisions, the process was made up on the spot. There were no formal committee chairs; facilitators either volunteered or were appointed. There were not even arrangements for breakout rooms for subgroups to work in, so the committees had to huddle in corners of the same noisy room and sometimes shout to make themselves heard.

The Reston meeting was the first in what turned out to be a series of four such conferences known as the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP). Reston, Virginia, was an appropriate location for the inaugural meeting; it was ground zero of the commercial Internet explosion of the mid-1990s. The region was home to Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI), the government contractor that had turned domain name registration into a multimillion dollar business and that was the site of the critical A root server, the central source of data for coordinating the world's Internet names. Reston itself was the headquarters of the Internet Society. The Pentagon and the National Science Foundation, whose sponsorship of the Internet had pushed it to the brink of global critical mass, were only a few miles away. So was the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), which hosted the secretariat of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and once served as the organizational home of Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf, the joint inventors of the Internet protocol. Commercial firms that had risen to prominence with the Internet, such as MCI, PSINet and America Online, located their headquarters nearby.

For several years it had been clear that the Internet was no longer a subsidized tool of education and research but a vibrant new global medium. The Internet was growing at exponential rates, and its importance to the economy was becoming increasingly evident. But key technical functions such as name and address management were still performed under contracts with the U.S. military and the National Science Foundation. Foreign governments were becoming increasingly restive about unilateral U.S. control of such an important part of the global communication infrastructure. Network Solutions' unplanned-for and increasingly lucrative monopoly over domain name registration was also a point of growing contention.

The transition process, everyone knew, would be risky and controversial. Domain names and IP (Internet Protocol) addresses stood at the core of the Internet's operation. If they were handled poorly, the Internet could break. As the stakes grew higher, however, the Internet community had fallen into rancorous battles over policy and control. The years of escalating tension became known as the domain name wars. Finally, in July 1997, the U.S. Department of Commerce initiated a formal proceeding to privatize the domain name system (NTIA 1997). The result was a policy document officially titled 'Management of Internet Names and Addresses' but universally known in Internet circles as simply 'the White Paper' (NTIA 1998b).

With the release of the White Paper on June 3, 1998, the U.S. government took an unusual approach to the transition. Instead of using its rule-making powers to settle issues, instead of creating an organization and specifying the rules it would follow, it threw the responsibility back to the warring parties, back to what it called private sector stakeholders. The government's announced intention was to 'recognize . . . and seek international support for a new, not-for-profit corporation formed by private sector Internet stakeholders' (NTIA 1998b, 31749). That new corporation, not the U.S. government, would make the difficult policy decisions. It was up to the Internet community itself to form this organization and come to the U.S. government with a single proposal that commanded the unified support of the global Internet community. This had to be done in only four months.

[1 ]The IFWP call for participation, June 1998. Some materials from the original IFWP has been archived by Ellen Rony at < >.

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