Chapter 7: The Root in Play

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Overview

Postel . . . really passionately believed that he, personally, owned the root, and that neither USG [the U.S. government] nor NSI had any rights at all. But he also understood that he had to be careful how he said that, and to whom, lest he be thought of as either deranged or power-mad. (He was neither.)

-Brian Reid, August 2000

On October 31, 1996, Paul Vixie, maintainer of the BIND software used by nearly all the Internet's domain name servers at the time, sent the following warning to the main mailing list of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF): 'I have told IANA and I have told InterNIC-now I'll tell you kind folks. If IANA's proposal [draft-postel] stagnates past January 15, 1997, without obvious progress and actual registries being licensed or in the process of being licensed, I will declare the cause lost. At that point it will be up to a consortium of Internet providers, probably through CIX [Commercial Internet eXchange] . . . to tell me what I ought to put in the 'root.cache' file that I ship with BIND.'

Vixie's message contained a not-so-subtle threat: If something wasn't done about the Network Solutions (NSI) monopoly, the IP addresses of alternative root servers would find their way into the default values contained in the BIND software. Inclusion of alternative root servers in the dominant name server software would have made the new, homesteaded top-level domains visible to most of the world's name servers. The traditional Internet groups' centralized control over the root would have been completely broken. Vixie was not the only one contemplating such a move; at that time two major U.S.-based Internet service providers were also considering pointing to the AlterNIC root. [1 ]

Vixie's action was but one of several symptoms of the institutional crisis afflicting the Internet name and address spaces from the end of 1996 to the beginning of 1998. While packets continued to move and the domain name system (DNS) continued to resolve names, there was no clear policy authority over the root.

The root was literally 'in play' for a span of about 14 months, a period that witnessed a power struggle over another Internet Society-led plan to privatize the DNS root, a hijacking of the InterNIC registration site in July 1997, an antitrust suit against Network Solutions (NSI), and a redirection of the root servers in January 1998 by Postel himself. The period is punctuated by the formal intervention of the U.S. government, in the form of a Green Paper that asserted U.S. authority over the root.

[1 ]'The chief technical officers of two of the largest ISPs on the planet indicated privately to me that unless something happened soon, they were going to point to AlterNIC.' David Conrad, email to author, February 18, 1997.



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Ruling the Root(c) Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace
Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace
ISBN: 0262134128
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 110

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