When your job is to be open to everyone’s ideas, sometimes the hardest part for you is to just go with the right one. In Part 2 of ReadWriteWeb’s interview with Internet Society (ISOC) senior public policy manager Sally Wentworth (Part 1 of which was published on Thursday), we discuss how difficult it can be to navigate the routes of change in Internet architecture, especially when everyone out there – ICANN, Comcast, Russia, etc. – seems to have a different idea.
While maybe hundreds of white papers are published every day leading off with the statement that the Internet is changing so very rapidly, with respect to its technical underpinnings, real change has been dreadfully slow. The exodus of Internet Protocol hosts to an IPv6 address system whose benefits are almost undisputed has yet to begin after nearly two decades of initiatives. And the top-level domain system that helped make Web addresses friendlier to the world than phone numbers is rapidly disintegrating into a bizarre carnival of conflicting interests and outrageous conduct. It’s a state of affairs that gives justification to proposals like that of Russian President Vladimir Putin: that the Internet be brought under more direct governmental control.
Scott Fulton, ReadWriteWeb: It’s hard to take a look at just what’s happened in the past few years, with respect to the opening up of the Top Level Domain system by ICANN, and not say there’s been a little bit of chaos there as a result of it. It seemed to many a good idea at the time to diversify and take the proposition of building top-level domains into a multilingual system one step further and expand it into a multi-social system. I myself spoke out in favor of the .XXX top-level domain, because I believed that it was useful to give people a very easy way to turn off a certain channel of content that they don’t want to see.
But since that time, I was cooking dinner the other day in my kitchen, and I had one of these basic cable channels on. And one of the ads was trying to sell me on the idea of getting my own .XXX domain name, the reason being that I should get mine before someone else does. Almost an implied blackmail there: If I’m a sensible person, then I don’t want my name associated with porn. We’re starting to see an opening up of the idea of private interests purchasing their own top-level domains, building up more on-the-fence TLDs like .vegas. Which makes me think it’s going to be hard to make the case that a deregulated model for Internet governance always works. When you have a chaotic example like that, it’s easy for someone like President Putin to simply point to the .XXX domain and say, “Look what happened there! Do you want this to happen to the rest of the Internet?”
Isn’t the final solution maybe something in between complete deregulation and complete government centralized control?
Sally Wentworth, Senior Public Policy Manager, The Internet Society: We have never said there is no role for government or for public policy. There is a role for public policy at the national level, and in some cases, there are quite good examples of international cooperation among policy makers. I’m not sure we’re talking about an either/or. One question is, how is the policy developed? Policy that’s developed in the back room, with limited transparency and a small number of interested parties, is likely not going to produce a result that is going to be good for end users or the Internet itself.
“Policy that’s developed in the back room, with limited transparency and a small number of interested parties, is likely not going to produce a result that is going to be good for end users or the Internet itself.”
– Sally Wentworth, senior public policy manager, The Internet Society
The question is, how is the policy developed? Who is allowed to participate? And is there sufficient sunshine/transparency/collaboration/participation by the relevant stakeholders in developing the policy so that a good outcome can be produced for that country, for that community? There are plenty of public policy initiatives that are quite useful. We see emerging a large number of broadband plans around the world, ICT strategies by governments to help promote the deployment of IPv6, strategies to try to address things like cybersecurity or consumer protections. These are all constructive, but again, it’s the direction of, can you do this, or are governments doing this in a way that is participatory and transparent and involves the relevant stakeholders, or is this just the providence of a few people in a room making policy for everyone?
RWW:I spoke a few months ago with Richard Jimmerson [who leads ISOC’s Deploy360 IPv6 awareness campaign] about ISOC’s efforts to incentivize the transition to IPv6. He told me a story about how a lot of commercial vendors are failing to explain IPv6 to their customers because they can’t come up with the “value-add” message: “IPv6 gives you _____” They don’t seem to be capable of filling in the blank. If ISOC truly is the multistakeholder model that you want it to be, how come so many companies, after so long – since IPv6 has been with us for decades – don’t have an understanding of the tremendous benefits that IPv6 offers?
SW: I think sometimes it is a matter of selling the story. Also, the resources haven’t yet to come to a point where there is a requirement to transition.
We are seeing quite a few companies worldwide now that see [IPv6] as an imperative. The question now is, can we convince them to build it as a transition, rather than them being confronted with a problem at some point? You want this to be a smooth transition to IPv6 rather than a difficult one, so they can be able to test it. So sometimes these technical issues aren’t as front-and-center, but… this is fundamentally good for the overall Internet. And there will be a transition; it will happen.
RWW: It’s hard to say that’s inevitable. I’ve covered IPv6 since the 1990s, and I’m starting to think the IPv6 transition might not necessarily happen in my lifetime anymore. It doesn’t seem to want to be a one-time event. It’s not like the VHF-to-digital transition in the United States, where we just threw a switch.
SW: Oh, no, absolutely not. I was at the White House when we did that! Very different!
RWW: The VHF transition was a magnificent success, for all intents and purposes. I think it went very smoothly, and that had to have confused millions of people who, despite all the news, didn’t quite understand what was going on. Their TVs weren’t working! But we made it work, one way or the other. And you’d think that if it were as simple as throwing a switch, we’d engineer the switch, and we’d have Microsoft and Red Hat and all the operating systems vendors create in their systems something that’s an obvious switch for the administrators to throw. And say, “On January 14, 2014, you press this button.” What’s to stop them from doing that?
SW: It’s hard because IPv4 is not going to disappear after a certain date. There will still be content and devices that depend upon IPv4. So what’s going to happen is – and we’re already seeing it happen – IPv6 is going to live on alongside IPv4. I think there will be – and there increasingly is – a move by companies, as they see others in the marketplace and as they see it’s good for their long-term business interests, they are making that transition. They’re deploying IPv6 already, and many of their devices are ready for it. There will be a preponderance of traffic that will move to IPv6. But it will not be a switch like the digital television transition.
It’s also not something that’s necessarily visible to the end user. I may or may not be aware of whether my network is running IPv6 or not, or whether my device is IPv6-capable. This is going to be something that happens over time as devices and content become IPv6-accessible.
Administrators do need time to test this in their networks, and that’s why we do things like World IPv6 Day last year, and World IPv6 Week this year. The goal this year is that you turn it on and you leave it on. Last year, a lot of companies had a chance to turn it on, test it, see what went right, what went wrong, where we needed to do more work. What we also found, though, is that a lot of companies left it on, because they didn’t have the problems they thought they would.
Photo credit: The Internet Society, 2012