Internet community more constructive says Cerf

Vint Cerf, head of the board of Icann, the body that oversees internet domain administration internationally, says the effort to come up with a structure for such a body was "in turmoil from day one".

He has confidence that a more constructive attitude now prevails in the internet community, and that the one-and-a-half-year effort will achieve its objectives.

Democratically-minded individuals and bodies insisted on public elections for the senior Icann positions, but that is more difficult than it seems at first sight, he says.

"We didn't clearly know who our constituencies were" and postal and online voting systems in an international context can be unreliable.

Icann faced the prospect of "expending a lot of resource to produce a not-very-good result," he says.

Some national constituencies, such as the Germans, were more energetic than others in whipping up their population to vote for their own candidates at government and media levels, and that threatened imbalance.

"It was becoming a circus," says Cerf, "and we just wanted the domain-name system to work."

The multiple-registry system has its drawbacks, he suggests, threatening to introduce inconsistency of service and a needlessly competitive atmosphere between national and international top-level domains trying to attract customers.

"I'm concerned that we don't get carried away with [establishing] new top-level domains," Cerf says. "It's a mistake to suppose that that's the way to partition the various constituencies of the internet."

Competent searching and indexing tools are a better way of finding an entity in an appropriate area than simply trusting that information service providers will be in the .info domain, he says.

"There are many parties offering similar services with widely differing domain names; our job is just to make sure that it all operates efficiently," he says.

Since Icann has not the power of a government or international regulatory body, contracts are, he maintains, the best way of ensuring consistent performance.

Country-code top-level-domain administrations (ccTLDs) have predominantly resisted the contracts Icann attempted to make them sign.

The only alternative is for a ccTLD to devise its own well-defined "code of practice", he says. "Having something written down means there's something to refer to", in the event of a failure or dispute.

One of the bugbears in the contractual arrangement for InternetNZ and other ccTLD administrations was Icann's insistence on access to ccTLDs' zone files - the databases used to translate domain names to IP addresses. Though well-intentioned "that was basically a stupid mistake," Cerf says. "We just wanted to make sure everything was well structured."

Icann and the national administrators are now getting together on a more positive basis to ensure consistent practice and quality with such data.

The advent of IPv6 "will make the internet bigger", but not easier to run, Cerf says. All sorts of equipment from individual organisations' routers to DNS boxes will for a long time have to handle both today's IPv4 and the new system and that will present difficulties. It's not as simple as putting dummy digits on the front of existing telephone numbers when the format is lengthened.

But IPv6 will get us away from the need to use address translation boxes, which do not always jibe well with security considerations, he says.

"I hope it will make possible peer-to-peer networking for a wide variety of devices."

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