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Tim Wu replies on United Nations summit next week: Why it's important

Tim is a professor of law at Columbia University who is visiting this 
semester at Stanford University. Jonathan's earlier email is here:


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Politech] Jonathan Zittrain on U.N., Net governance: "I 
don't get it"
Date: Tue, 08 Nov 2005 19:01:35 -0800
From: Tim Wu <wu@pobox.com>
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>


A response to Jonathan.

I agree with JZ about most things.  But I think the reason that the root
matters is more subtle than he thinks. It has less to do, I think, with
actual technological power, and more to do with murky questions of
legitimacy, authority, and the evolving balance of power among nations.

Control of the root matters, I'm saying, because people think it matters,
and also because it could matter.  The first point is a point about the
legitimacy of government action.  My sense is that because much of the
internet's infrastructure is still under American sovereign control
(including the root) countries have a sense that regulating the internet is
always to challenge the sovereignty of the United States.  So long as
Americans believe -- as many do -- that in some deeper sense this is still
our network, policies like China will always seem an affront.  Even far less
radical policies in Europe may spark a confrontation.

What non-US countries are trying to do, then, is erode any perception that
the Internet within their borders is the U.S. Internet.  The root remains a
symbol, in other words, of persistent American interest, and they want that

Second, the root and naming and numbering could matter more than it does
now.  I think we may come to see a day where internet membership is heavily
qualified - where getting an IP address becomes conditional on good
behavior.  So long as the numbering authority remains at some level the
entity that controls who owns what numbers, its control over membership will
continue to have nagging importance.

JZ is right that a Dr. Evil takeover wouldn't mean no more email.  But like,
say, possession of some holy relic, root control has an undeniable influence
on claims to legitimately regulate the Net, and ultimately on the balance of
power surrounding the internet.

Posted by Declan McCullagh on Nov 08, 2005

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