An Internet Discussion between Wallace Koehler, Ph.D. Director/Associate Professor Master of Library and Information Science Program Odum Library Valdosta State University and Vinton Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist

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An Internet Discussion between Wallace Koehler, Ph.D. Director/Associate Professor Master of Library and Information Science Program Odum Library Valdosta State University and Vinton Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist


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The following is an account of an exchange between Vinton Cerf and Wallace Koehler. It is largely written in Koehler's voice. It results from an e-mail exchange between the two authors in March 2006. Statements from Cerf's e-mails are indented.

Shortly after my piece 'An Omnibus ICANN and Internet Update" appeared in Searcher (vol. 14, no. 3, March 2006, pp. 41-4), I received an e-mail from Vinton Cerf. Vinton Cerf, is, of course, the highly respected "father of the Internet," chair of ICANN, and--as he signs himself--chief Internet evangelist. Cerf was calling me to task for errors and misstatements in the paper as he found it published in Red Orbit.

Because I have such immense respect for Cerf and for his contributions to the Internet, I examined his assertions closely. Mind you, I did not publish my piece in Red Orbit; in fact I had never heard of Red Orbit. Cerf kindly sent the URL to the paper. Indeed, it seems that Information Today, Inc. had syndicated some or all of the articles in the magazine and that this paper and at least one more of mine made it into Red Orbit [http://www.redorbit.com/news/display/?id=427042].

Cerf corrected one major misstatement:

   You assert that ICANN was created
   to replace the IETF and the
   IAB. This is an incredibly wrong
   statement and I wonder how you
   came to such a conclusion.
   ICANN supports the IETF
   through its IANA operation (they
   tell ICANN what parameters need
   to be recorded in tables relevant
   to standardizing the growing suite
   of Internet protocols). The IAB is
   responsible for the management
   of the .ARPA top level domain and
   oversight of the Internet architecture.
   As an example, E164.ARPA
   was assigned by the IAB to support
   the ENUM system that maps
   international telephone numbers
   into targets in the Internet.

He is right; mine was a slip of the keyboard. I should have written (and I have done so in the past) something along the lines that ICANN performs Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, a job the late Ion Postel undertook almost single-handedly until his untimely death in 1998. The IETF and IAB do indeed continue to perform the tasks Cerf describes. I know better, I stand corrected.

Next, Cerf questions the statement that the U.S. "owns" the Internet. He writes:

   ... if you look at the "ownership" of
   the Internet infrastructure you will
   quickly find that 99% of it is in the
   private sector. Neither the US government
   nor other governments
   own more than a small fraction of
   it and even then, they typically are
   responsible for the operation
   of their part of it, not the global
   system. ICANN is neither the
   owner of nor is it the operator
   of the infrastructure. The
   Domain Name System physical
   plan is owned by the operators
   of the TLDs and also the many
   domain name servers of lower
   level registrations. IBM typically
   owns all the servers associated
   with ibm.com for example.
   Universities own their parts. ISPs
   (many registered in .net) own
   their parts. You seem to say that
   the US government "says it owns
   the Internet." That is not my
   understanding of any assertions
   by the US government made in
   recent years. In 1973 that might
   well have been the case, since
   the whole thing was paid for by
   the Advanced Research Projects
   Agency, but quickly the academic
   sector invested in its own facilities,
   notably local area networks and
   work stations and servers, to interconnect
   the ARPANET backbone
   and later the NSFNET backbone.

The term "own" is placed in quotation marks in the article under a heading "U.S. Control Lingers." I did not mean to imply, nor did I mean, that the U.S. government literally owns the Internet. The U.S. government exerts an implicit and now it would seem a sometimes explicit control over Internet decision making. …

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An Internet Discussion between Wallace Koehler, Ph.D. Director/Associate Professor Master of Library and Information Science Program Odum Library Valdosta State University and Vinton Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist
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