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
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. …