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Senate Oversight Hearing Explores "Test Drive" of IANA Transition

CircleID - Fri, 2016-05-27 23:45

The IANA transition still appears to be on track for consummation at the end of the September 30th expiration date of the current contract between NTIA and ICANN in the wake of the May 24th Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing on "Examining the Multistakeholder Plan for Transitioning the Internet Assigned Number Authority". That is, while there are clearly some concerns on both sides of the aisle about terminating the remaining U.S. government ties to ICANN, a critical mass of Committee members did not demonstrably voice support for near-term intervention to delay the transition. However, some of them are flirting with the concept of a "short extension" to permit a "test drive" of the new accountability mechanisms, and this concept could gain momentum over the summer.

One overall observation is that, for all the talk (and unfortunately, the evidence) of partisan rancor and dysfunction in federal government activities, the hearing was a remarkably encouraging display of solid, bipartisan oversight conducted by Senators who had clearly arrived well briefed and focused. All the Senators involved in this exercise deserve praise for the way they conducted themselves on behalf of their constituents, the nation as a whole, and the global Internet community that needs assurance of a functional and accountable DNS coordinator.

Here are some observations on what transpired:

  • Not a single Senator present opposed the transition outright, although some want NTIA to extend its contract with ICANN so that the accountability mechanisms can be tested.
  • Concerns were voiced that the .Mil and .Gov TLDs might no longer be reserved for the exclusive use of the Department of Defense and General Services Administration, respectively. But NTIA moved quickly post-hearing to provide assurance that they would; and this will likely be locked down pre-transition, possibly via contracts executed with ICANN.
  • The future role of the GAC was amply explored. Testimony and Q&A exchanges clarified that on one hand the GAC would be locked into providing advice by full consensus if it wanted ICANN's Board to have to give it consideration — but that on the other hand the GAC would go beyond its advisory role by having discretion to join the Empowered Community (EC) on accountability decisions, except when the issue being reviewed concerned Board action to implement GAC advice (the "GAC carve-out").
  • It was made clear that the threat of the ITU expanding its Internet remit would not dissolve regardless of whether the transition proceeded. A recent joint declaration by India, China and Russia favoring such a course was made after the ICANN community approved the transition and accountability proposals.

Sen. Ted Cruz, who elected not to attend the hearing and thereby missed a chance to advance his cause, is reportedly drafting a bill that would halt the transition, at least until affirmatively approved by Congress. But there's not enough time left in this election year for Congress to enact any free-standing legislation, and Cruz would face tough odds attaching that to another bill — especially as it might elicit a Presidential veto.

Just hours after participating in the hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio, joined by four other Senators, dispatched a letter to the NTIA requesting that it consider an extension of its contract with ICANN beyond September 30th to ensure that "the transition establishes a stable system that reinforces the multi-stakeholder model and does not contain unforeseen problems or consequences that could jeopardize the security, stability, and openness of the Internet". Commerce Committee Chair John Thune declared some interest in such an approach, while not yet endorsing it. But NTIA is highly unlikely to act upon it if, as expected, it declares next month that the transition and accountability proposals meet its March 2014 criteria. Further, various trade and public interest groups which support the transition are weighing into Congress against a contract extension.

While two witnesses supported a contract extension, the majority opposed it on such grounds as:

  • Demonstrating a preference for continued government control versus multistakeholder oversight, at odds with stated U.S. policy
  • Causing disillusionment within an ICANN community that is gearing up to deal with work stream 2 issues
  • Not providing an authentic test, since the U.S. would still have ultimate accountability power
  • Irritating the technical numbers and protocols communities to the extent that they might reconsider their voluntary adoption of the IANA-based DNS
  • It might possibly take years before the Board acted in a way that justified community utilization of the accountability powers.

While not considered during the hearing, which was largely focused on a possible "road test" of the new community accountability powers, another problem for such a proposal would be whether it could be implemented in a way that also tested the new IANA arrangements — after all, the critical root zone IANA functions are the "dog" in the transition, while the new accountability measures are the accompanying "tail". If NTIA were to simply extend its current contract with ICANN, that could preclude ICANN from entering into new contracts with the separate PTI established to handle the IANA functions, and with VeriSign for Root Zone Management (RZM--which the company presently does under contract to NTIA); resulting in a failure to test these new arrangements, as well as the PTI oversight role of the Customer Standing Committee (CSC).

So with the blunt instrument of an IANA contract extension, you'd get only a partial test of the new accountability measures, and likely none at all of the revised and fundamental IANA functions arrangement. However, it might be possible to design a more sophisticated testing arrangement in which NTIA surrendered its current middleman role of reviewing ICANN's proposed Root Zone changes before authorizing VeriSign to implement them. That would permit ICANN, PTI and VeriSign to wholly assume the IANA functions, yet could reserve NTIA back-up authority to intervene against Board or EC actions that it viewed as a fundamental threat to the DNS or as jeopardizing the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet. But creating such an arrangement in the current political atmosphere and the limited time remaining until September 30th could prove a daunting task.

All of this prior discussion relates to the apple of the Department of Commerce's authorizing committee, and not to the oranges of potential Appropriations Committees' "power of the purse" action to extend the present freeze on NTIA's expenditure of a single penny to facilitate the transition — a step already taken by House Appropriations for the next fiscal year. Enacting that continued freeze could invite a Congressional vs. Executive Branch showdown if NTIA determines that its transition criteria have been met, and the White House elects to take executive action before the next President takes office.

But if that occurs it will not be because of anything that transpired during the Commerce Committee's late yet thorough discharge of its oversight responsibilities.

Written by Philip S. Corwin, Founding Principal of Virtualaw LLC, a Washington, DC Law and Public Policy Firm

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More under: ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation

Categories: External commentary

May 31 Deadline for $517,000 US in Internet-related Grants in Africa and Asia Pacific

CircleID - Fri, 2016-05-27 23:36

If you are located in Africa or the Asia Pacific region, this coming Tuesday, May 31, is the application deadline for an excellent series of grants related to Internet infrastructure, development, security and education.

I just wrote about the Internet Society Cybersecurity Grant for up to $56,000 AUD (roughly $40K USD) in the Asia Pacific region… but it is part of a larger set of grants that all have a deadline of May 31.

The Information Society Innovation Fund Asia (ISIF Asia) has $386,000 AUD (roughly $277K USD) to award in four categories:

  • APNIC Internet Operations Research Grants
  • Internet Society Cybersecurity Grant
  • Community Impact Grants
  • Technical Innovation Grants (including IoT and IPv6)

These are for projects that will be conducted in the Asia Pacific region (see the list of countries and economies eligible for the grants).

Meanwhile, FIRE Africa has $240,000 USD to be awarded in three different sets of grants (including two grants sponsored by the Internet Society) that cover topics including:

  • Technical Innovation
  • Community Development
  • Governance Enhancement
  • Education
  • Internet Security
  • Internet Access

These grants are available for projects in the African and Indian Ocean region.

All of these are projects funded as part of the Seed Alliance.

The application period has been open since February 24, but this is the final few days to put together and submit an application proposal. I could see it being a very busy weekend for some groups and organizations in those regions!

It is great to see these kind of grants being made available in these regions and I look forward to learning in a few months about the projects that get funded!

Written by Dan York, Author and Speaker on Internet technologies

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More under: Access Providers, Internet of Things, Internet Protocol, IPv6, Privacy, Security, Web

Categories: External commentary

Are Blockchains the Solution to Financing Smart Cities?

CircleID - Fri, 2016-05-27 17:37

One of the most difficult elements in the development of smart cities is how to finance them. Local government doesn't have the money for it and while state and federal governments might have more money to spend there is no way that their current tax funds could pay for even a fraction of the investments that are needed.

Indeed the reality is that in order to create a smart city — one that will be far more cost-effective to run, where significant money can be saved, and where costs and benefits can be more equally spread — massive up-front investments are needed.

At the same the benefits of a smart city are social and economic and can lead to very significant cost savings (there are many examples of 60%-80% cost savings — just look at the digital economy companies). But in general they don't generate the large new revenues on which more traditional business models rely.

There are no easy solutions to this dilemma, but perhaps some new ideas are emerging that fit well into the new economic models that are beginning to emerge in the sharing economy.

Could Blockchains be of assistance here? While based on the same principle as bitcoins blockchains for smart contracts is perhaps the first mainstream application of this technology. Bitcoin has taken off in the market of criminals and shady businesses, and that is not necessarily how we as a society believe that new technologies should be developed. But, possibly at least in part due to the success of the criminal activity, the technology has received more attention and fortunately that has led to a far more constructive development.

What this technology does is establish a real-time, independent, reliable, transparent and incorruptible ledger where the various transactions take place in real time, with real-time payments being transacted between the parties involved.

This is crucial for the development of new business models, and it also reduces the administrative costs to near-zero.

I recently used the example of smart grids where distributed renewable energy and storage devices can be linked to a blockchain system wherein real-time transactions and payments are made.

It is also not too difficult to envisage that such a transaction-based system could be used in the broader sense of a smart city. If we look at many of the smart city projects that are being planned — and in some instances are already operating on a project or pilot basis — and add blockchain to it, the light clearly comes into view at the end of the financial tunnel.

A smart city will depend heavily on an IoT infrastructure linked to big data and data analytics.

If we have that data and are able to use it in sophisticated ways we can link that to smart city applications. Looking at the smart grid/blockchain example, what can happen here is that those who generate more renewable energy can easily make that and offer it cheaply to the market, and get paid for it. And the same goes for people who have invested in smart devices that can store — not just batteries but also hot water systems, fridges, etc. Energy can do the same or both. Those who save energy benefit, and those who don't pay more for it.

Now think about systems such as Uber and AirB&B. With blockchain many other sharing economy businesses can be developed within a city, neighbourhood or community and, depending on the nature of the service, can be linked to a smart transaction and payment system.

This will be a much fairer system, since everybody can participate and will be rewarded to the extent of their participation in the sharing economy. It also allows those who care about the environment, society and sustainability to participate through separate distributed blockchain systems linked to specific services created for those groups. It provides the economic model that can underpin a much broader sharing economy model with a range of sub-models within it. For example, it can also apply to government services such as transport, garbage collection and community services. It enables services to be linked to transaction-based payment systems, but equally to a bartering model or to a model based on voluntary services.

Cities such as London, Milan and Singapore operate congestion-based tax systems for car use. This can also be managed through a blockchain-based system that provides accurate and fair information — based on real-time data from the actual (smart) cars wherever they are — about congestion. And 'the system' could charge accordingly, not just based on a one-size-fits-all model; or people can adjust the way they will reach their destination, thus avoiding the congestion charge.

These systems will provide people with accurate information, according to which they will change their behaviour in relation to energy use, transport, garbage collection/recycling, job and business opportunities and so on.

So how to proceed ...

First of all, blockchain is an open system so the barrier of entry is very low. Trust will be a key issue and if the various levels of government are going to take a lead here that would greatly stimulate its uptake. If it is implemented at the same time as IoT-enabled smart city systems the two parts could be seamlessly linked.

Banks are already taking great interest in the blockchain technology, so we can certainly expect models to emerge from that sector. While this is admirable, blockchain also offers a far more bank-independent distributed financial system — in fact this was the key reason for the invention and development of the blockchain technology.

There is obviously still a long way to go before we will see a widespread use of blockchain-based transactions, but I think we are onto something here.

Written by Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication

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More under: Internet of Things, Policy & Regulation

Categories: External commentary
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