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NOVEMBER 2005
Vol IV, No. 11

WSIS and the Governance of the Internet

EDITOR'S NOTE: POLICY AND TECHNOLOGY IN TUNIS
This month concludes a four-part series on the interaction of the public and private sectors on important standards issues. Print this article
   
EDITORIAL: NOT WITH A BANG BUT A WHIMPER
After four years of wrangling over the control of the number and name directories of the Internet, the United States "won." But the emotions - and the memories - of how the process played out will be with us for a long time. Print this article
   
FEATURE ARTICLE:

WSIS, ICANN AND THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET

For the last four years, the nations of the world assembled in the WSIS process have spent more time wrangling over "who should govern the Internet" than how to bridge the Digital Divide. Perhaps now that a compromise (of sorts) has been reached, they will be able to get down to the real work for which the WSIS process was intended. Print this article
   
STANDARDS BLOG: SPIN SETS IN ON INTERNET GOVERNANCE COMPROMISE
There is reality, and then there is perception. We need to live with the former, but press releases are all about the latter. Print this article
   
CONSIDER THIS: THE WAY AIN'T FAR, BUT YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE

Where you end up has a lot to do with where you begin. When people start too far apart, that's likely where they'll end up as well. Print this article

 
NEWS SHORTS:  
News and Views from All Over on WSIS; Negroponte's $100 Wind-up Laptop; Everybody has a Patent Infringement Protection Project; New Semantic Web Initiatives from the W3C (and OASIS); Forming Consortia is Back in Style; the Massachusetts ODF Follies Continue eHealth Standards and ANSI are an Item; and, as always, much, much more. Print this article
 

 




EDITOR'S NOTE:

POLICY AND TECHNOLOGY IN TUNIS

This month's issue completes a four-part series of CSBs dedicated to examining the relationship between government at all levels and private sector standard setting. The previous issues focused on lack of coordination between the public and private sectors ( Government and SSO's: Optimizing the System, in August), the role that governments can sometimes play in accelerating the uptake of standards (Massachusetts and OpenDocument: The Commonwealth Leads the Way, in September), and on the increasingly complex standards challenges that governments and industry will need to cooperatively address in the future (Standards for a Small Planet, in October).

This month, the subject is once again global standard setting, and the focus is on second plenary meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which was held in Tunis, Tunisia earlier this month.  The WSIS process is dedicated to bridging the Digital Divide between the First and the Third World, and has set a goal of bringing the Internet "within reach" of half of the world's peoples by 2015.  Despite this worthy goal, much of the time and effort of the 175 nations involved has been squandered thus far in a wrangle over the question "Who should govern the Internet?"

In my Editorial, I reflect on the fact that while the governance issue has been finessed for now, the United States has (once again) stepped on many international toes in order to maintain its hegemony over the root zone of the Internet, which it currently controls via its oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Number and Names (ICANN).  Perhaps some day what goes around will come back around in a way that we find less than desirable.

This month's Feature Article provides an in-depth review of the WSIS process, describing how it came into being, what it sought to accomplish, how the ICANN impasse arose, and how it was resolved (at least for now).  The article closes on a more hopeful note than the Editorial, hypothesizing that with time the ICANN episode will be seen as an irrelevant diversion.

This month's Blog entry was written on the closing day of the WSIS Summit in Tunis, and highlights some of the party lines that each of the various camps involved sought to spin to the press to put the best gloss on the governance compromise that was reached on the eave of the Summit.

Of course, in another sense what this issue of the CSB is really about is the challenge of achieving consensus among those with widely divergent, and strongly held beliefs.  Accordingly, my Consider This piece also explores some of the problems with getting to "yes" when perspectives are very different.  To make my points I return to a story that was featured through the last two issues, and which is continuing to play out in Massachusetts: the face-off between the supporters of the OASIS OpenDocument format, and Microsoft, which has pledged to offer its XML Office Schemas to Ecma, a European standards organization, as a standard.  The piece contrasts two equally valid modes of analysis that can be applied to Microsoft's XML "covenant not to sue" to reach very different conclusions, as an example of why consensus is so hard to achieve.

Next month, you can look forward to our annual wrap up of the year's most significant standards stories, as well as our recognition of those journalists whose work was most consistently informative during the year.

As always, I hope you enjoy this issue. 

 

    Best Regards,
  signature
  Andrew Updegrove
  Editor and Publisher
   

2005 ANSI President’s
Award for Journalism



EDITORIAL

NOT WITH A BANG, BUT A WHIMPER

Andrew Updegrove

In December of 2003, the representatives of 175 nations met in Geneva with the avowed purpose of bringing the blessings of the Internet to all peoples, everywhere.  The name given to the endeavor was the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS), and its sponsor was the United Nations.  Last week, the agents of 174 nations and their retainers and camp followers reassembled, some 19,000 strong, in Tunis, Tunisia to report on what progress had been made against achieving the grand vision to which they had pledged their efforts two years before.   Sadly, that progress appears to amount to very little, although the benefits that universal connectivity can bring grow richer by the day.

Nowhere was the record of non-achievement more visible than with respect to making progress on a topic that was originally called "Internet governance," but which eventually narrowed to the single question of "Who should govern the Internet."   More specifically, the argument concerned who should control the Internet Corporation on Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), which was created in 1988 by the United States Department of Commerce to administer the country codes and site addresses upon which the Internet is, in part, based. 

Although ICANN's governance structure includes a degree of international representation, it is ultimately under the control of the Department of Commerce, which abruptly announced less than five months before the Tunis Summit that it would not relinquish control of ICANN in 2006, as had earlier been promised.  The result was an uproar that eventually culminated in even the European Union deserting the American camp just a few weeks before the Summit.

In many ways, the ICANN conflict represented one of those prismatic issues that appear to be discrete, but under closer scrutiny can be broken into a spectrum of equally contentious matters, any one of which would be challenging to resolve.  All at the same time, opinions relating to the "go it alone" attitude of the United States, the inefficient bureaucracy of the United Nations, the power of multi-national corporations, the demands of technology versus governance ideals for civil society, and much more were brought into conflict, and all without an established mechanism to break the impasse. 

So complex were the forces at work and so firm the opinions, that three quarters of the way between the Geneva and the Tunis Summits a meeting held to reach a consensus position on Internet Governance resulted in not one, or even two proposals, but four.

The difficulty in arriving at a solution that was truly acceptable to all on ICANN may not be surprising, because to some extent the ICANN issue was more symbolic than material.  The actual role of ICANN is limited and in the main quite technical and administrative.  But the potential damage and mischief that could be caused by its mismanagement or manipulation is great.  This led the U.S. government to focus on the importance of maintaining stability, and much of the rest of the world to focus on the inequity of a single nation asserting the right to unilaterally control what has become an essential global resource.  Ultimately, the issue became binary – in order for one side to win, the other would have to lose, and there proved to be no middle ground of acceptable compromise. 

Given that the Internet is at the very heart of the WSIS process, the rancor generated over the ICANN issue came to overshadow almost everything else that was under discussion, and perhaps undermined the effectiveness of the entire process.  Ultimately, the common wisdom that "possession is nine tenths of the law" resulted in the formation of a weak, international "Internet Governance Forum" that might, or might not, grow into a more significant governing body in the future. 

As with the failure of the U.S. Senate to approve American participation in the League of Nations in 1919, this new assertion of unilateralism so early in the WSIS process may weaken the ongoing influence of the WSIS initiative, just as it certainly diverted energies from more fruitful goals during the second phase of the WSIS process.

For now, a Band-Aid has been placed on the issue of who will  "govern the Internet," but beneath the thin film of the Tunis "compromise" the wound continues to fester.  Over time, it can be assumed that more rather than fewer information and communications technology (ITC) issues will arise that have global significance, and it will not be tolerable to 175 nations to be beholden to one for their control forever.

The ultimate irony is that the Internet (and the Web) are built not on national power, but on technical standards.  ICANN is merely the entity that employs some of those standards to provide addresses for countries and Websites.  If the standards can be set by consensus, why cannot a way be found to manage their use by the same means?

Ultimately, the United States would be better served by working to conceive such a consensus-based organization than by seeking to lock up the Internet in an American basement.

After all, the next core element of the ITC infrastructure may be developed in some other country's basement.  And then the shoe will be on the other foot.

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Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove



FEATURE ARTICLE

WSIS, ICANN AND THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET

Andrew Updegrove

Abstract:  For the last four years, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process has been the locus of a contentious argument over the control of the name and number directories of the Internet, which are currently under the indirect control of the United States Department of Commerce.  This dispute has been a diversion from the more important work of "bridging the Digital Divide," and has resulted in acrimony that may undermine future efforts towards the same goal.  This article surveys the origin of the controversy, its evolution over time, and the probable impact of the compromise on Internet governance announced on the eve of the concluding WSIS Summit in Tunis, Tunisia, on November 16, 2005.

Introduction: For more than three years, there has been an ongoing global process that is intended to achieve great and meritorious goals, and bears an appropriately imposing title: the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Launched by the United Nations and administered by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), it's goal is to bring to the third world all of the first world educational benefits and economic opportunities that can be delivered via the Internet. Or, as the U.N. speaks of it, to "bridge the Digital Divide" between the haves and the have-nots.

Following a lengthy planning process, the first phase of WSIS concluded with a plenary meeting at the close of 2003, and a grand (if vague) program was announced.  Two years later, on November 16 – 18, 2005, the closing plenary session of the second phase of WSIS convened, bringing more than 19,000 people from 174 countries to Tunis, Tunisia to conclude the initial process, and to decide how next to proceed. 

The original goals of the second phase, however, were almost completely overshadowed in the global press by two related, but tangential issues.  The first was the (at best) ironic choice of Tunis as a host for the meeting, given that Tunisia is one of 15 countries that block access to Internet sites that the government finds objectionable, and because that same government has a record of imprisoning bloggers and journalists whose articles it finds to be unacceptable.

The second issue was the question of "who should govern the Internet," which in this context came to mean whether the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, more familiarly known as "ICANN," should continue to be subject to the ultimate control of the United States Department of Commerce.  In point of fact, ICANN already has an international advisory group and an Australian as its President and CEO, and all agree that the ICANN's technical stewardship (at least) of the registries that it administers has been very successful.  But the theoretical potential for the U.S. to actively exercise control at some future point in time to the disadvantage of a sovereign country (e.g., "switching off" its access to the Internet by delisting its national identifier) angered some countries, and the mere fact of one country controlling a key element of an increasingly essential global resource was inconsistent and objectionable to many others.. 

As the dust settles on the Tunisian desert where a tent city arose to house those that would build a brave new equalitarian world of universal internet access, the question hangs in the air:  what, if anything, has the WSIS process accomplished to date?

The Dream :  The progress of WSIS has been far from rapid from its start. It was first proposed by the Government of Tunisia at a Plenipotentiary Conference of the ITU held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1988. In due course, the ITU proposed a two-phase approach to the U.N., which approved that process, as well as the lead role of the ITU in convening it, on December 21, 2001. 1

A series of Preparatory Conferences (PrepCons) and Regional Meetings were held in 2002 and 2003, culminating in the gathering in December of 2003 of representatives from 175 nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in a Summit hosted by the Swiss government. The official output of the first phase was a Declaration of Principles and a related Plan of Action. 2 The first document is subtitled, "Building the Information Society: a global challenge in the new Millennium," and incorporates 67 articles, arranged into three sections outlining a common vision, principles for achieving that vision, and a closing commitment to act. The first article states, in the elaborate style of United Nations documents:

We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, assembled in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003 for the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The other 17 articles comprising the vision section acknowledge various core principles of the United Nations, such as the sovereignty of member states, but also commit to assist the poor, the marginalized, and the neglected, as well as various identified groups, from women in underdeveloped countries to nomadic peoples.

The operative principles recognize pragmatic needs (e.g., creation of infrastructure to enable universal connectivity and offering appropriate content, and the need of local government participation), identify the specific societal benefits that such an infrastructure could facilitate (better governmental action and sustainable development), and highlight the ethical and related dimensions of the enterprise (fostering free speech and honoring local diversity). The articles conclude with the following statement:

We are firmly convinced that we are collectively entering a new era of enormous potential, that of the Information Society and expanded human communication. In this emerging society, information and knowledge can be produced, exchanged, shared and communicated through all the networks of the world. All individuals can soon, if we take the necessary actions, together build a new Information Society based on shared knowledge and founded on global solidarity and a better mutual understanding between peoples and nations. We trust that these measures will open the way to the future development of a true knowledge society.

Even a cursory reading of the full text conveys the enormity of the undertaking that would be necessary to achieve these lofty goals.

The Plan of Action in turn quantifies the challenge, calling in Article 6 upon those committed to the WSIS process to provide everyone in the world with access to television and radio programming by 2015, and to bring the benefits of information and communications technology (ICT) "within the reach" of at least half of the world's inhabitants by the same date, among other goals.
But while the aspirations expressed are grand and clear, the path to implementation is not.  The balance of the Plan is more general than specific, calling for national governments to set their own goals, and using words such as "encourage," "explore," and "promote" rather than setting firm goals.  Where specifics are given they are modest, as in article 8.d:  "Each country is encouraged to establish at least one functioning Public/Private Partnership (PPP) or Multi-Sector Partnership (MSP), by 2005 as a showcase for future action," and no proposal for dedicated new funding is included.

The Plan of Action closes with an article that looks towards the Summit to be held at the end of the second phase of the WSIS process, stating vaguely:

[T]he second phase of the WSIS should consider, inter alia:

a. Elaboration of final appropriate documents based on the outcome of the Geneva phase of the WSIS with a view to consolidating the process of building a global Information Society, and reducing the Digital Divide and transforming it into digital opportunities.

b. Follow-up and implementation of the Geneva Plan of Action at national, regional and international levels, including the United Nations system, as part of an integrated and coordinated approach, calling upon the participation of all relevant stakeholders. This should take place, inter alia, through partnerships among stakeholders.

The reality :  Given such grand goals conjoined with such a general plan of action, it would perhaps not be fair to have expected dramatic progress to be made towards achieving WSIS goals in two short years. But questions relating to Internet "governance" arose even before the Geneva Summit, and quickly assumed a level of visibility and contentiousness that came to overshadow all other activities.

In a sense, this was hardly surprising, given that the fact that WSIS was all about the Internet after all.  As recognized in article 48 of the Declaration of Principles, the Internet had:

…evolved into a global facility available to the public and its governance should constitute a core issue of the Information Society agenda. The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations….

Too, given that WSIS had been convened under the auspices of the U.N. and one of its agencies (the ITU), it could only be expected that U.N. principles would be applied to all issues at hand.

Still, the next article in the Declaration acknowledged (in a nod to ICANN and the several standards consortia that provide the technical protocols upon which the Internet and the Web depend) that, "The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations." 

Having given everyone a seat at the table, Article 49 then makes an important, if not completely realistic, attempt to tell everyone where to sit.  It does this by defining the roles that the various stakeholders are entitled to play, and seeks to define the boundaries of their authority:

a. Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues;

b. The private sector has had and should continue to have an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields;

c. Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role;

d. Intergovernmental organizations have had and should continue to have a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues;

e. International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.

Article 50 calls upon the Secretary-General of the United Nations to create a "working group on Internet governance…to investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on the governance of Internet by 2005."

Article 13 of the Plan of Action provides the charter of the Working Group on Internet Governance (which inevitably became known as WGIG), reading in part as follows:

b.  [The WGIG]… should, inter alia:
   
i. develop a working definition of Internet governance;
ii. identify the public policy issues that are relevant to Internet governance;
iii. develop a common understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of governments, existing intergovernmental and international organisations and other forums as well as the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries;
iv. prepare a report on the results of this activity to be presented for consideration and appropriate action for the second phase of WSIS in Tunis in 2005.

Obviously, a precondition to making any progress at all on items ii – iv would in large part require first agreeing upon the definition of what "Internet governance" should mean, and those familiar with international relations might have guessed that achieving consensus on such a definition in less than two years might prove to be an aggressive goal in itself.

But one thing that almost everyone seemed to agree on immediately was that whatever else Internet governance may or may not involve, control of the "root zone" of the Internet was part of the package.  Not too surprisingly, the root zone has been under the control of the United States since DARPA funded the development of the Internet decades ago.  Since 1988, it has been under the immediate administration of ICANN.

ICANN and the root directory:  From the technical perspective, the duties that ICANN supervises represent trivial chores, rather than valuable privileges. ICANN itself is a non-profit corporation that is incorporated in California, and receives no compensation for its trouble. Moreover, what it manages is neither grand, nor even large: in fact, it is but two databases, one of modest size, and the other of trivial proportions.

The first database comprises the so-called top-level domain names (or TLDs), which collectively form the "root zone file".  This is the file that holds the country-unique extensions seen in Internet addresses (.uk, .uk, etc.), as well as the handful of generic extensions such as .com, .gov and .edu.  The technical art of creating such extensions goes no farther than avoiding duplicates, and the policy discussions relating to the creation of new generic extensions, while they can be tedious, are hardly complex in concept or execution.  The second data repository contains the addresses that are unique to individual computers. 

The actual day-to-day administration of these databases is not carried out by ICANN, however.  Those duties are performed under ICANN’s supervision by another organization, called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. 3 As a result, the number and name directories are sometimes referred to as the "IANA Databases."  ICANN’s contract to supervise the IANA was most recently renewed (for three years) by the Department of Commerce on January 28, 2003.

IANA does not itself, in fact, directly administer the individual numerical addresses assigned to individual computers.  Instead, it assigns batches of addresses to five "Regional Internet Registries," each of which is responsible for assigning names within its individual territory to ISPs (in smaller batches), which in turn eventually assign individual addresses to individual computers.  

The dramatic contrast between the attenuated role of ICANN over these simple name and number files and the level of controversy over its powers has been aptly summarized by one commentator as follows:

Conventional wisdom has it that these files could easily be managed by one person. IANA was, in fact, for many years, managed by one person. The key question, as wiser folk than us have pointed out before, is: “Who tells that guy what to do?" 4

The answer to that question today is ICANN – unless the Department of Commerce decides to veto an ICANN decision and tell IANA what to do instead.  And therein lies the rub.

The (perceived) sins of ICANN:  If the root zone was all that was at stake, however, the situation might be less contentious. Instead, there is concern that ICANN might venture out in other directions, and that even within its narrow purview, that it (or the Department of Commerce) could discriminate among countries and regions. Technical issues can also have political overtones, particularly as respects setting priorities for the resolution of issues. For example, current names don't yet resolve well in Korean, and there has been controversy over whether ICANN has been too casual in forming consensus (e.g., concluding that if Japan is in favor of a decision, then all Asia has been satisfied).

There is other baggage as well, some of which ICANN is responsible for, and some of which it inherited.  For example, in the days before address needs began to proliferate wildly (and before ICANN became responsible for the IANA Databases), IBM was assigned 33 million addresses, Stanford was awarded 17 million, and the entire Peoples Republic of China was magnanimously awarded just 9 million.  The situation was later rectified on ICANN's watch, but the original decision continues to rankle.

And although it has always been conceded that the various U.S. stewards of the IANA Databases have capably managed the technical process with little interference by the U.S. Government, 5 the governing structures of ICANN have been roundly criticized for some time.  This resulted in the decision on November 15, 2001 to form what was initially called the Committee on Restructuring, and later as the Committee on ICANN Evolution and Reform 6 The work of the Committee was strongly influenced during its deliberations by a report presented by ICANN’s then President, Stuart Lynn, called "ICANN – The Case for Reform." 7

This Committee in due course delivered two documents, titled “Recommendations for the Evolution and Reform of ICANN,” and  “ICANN: A Blueprint for Reform". 8 The Committee’s reports are notable in a number of ways, one of which is that the issues that it struggled with in 2002 remain topics of contention today.  As noted in the Blueprint:

The essence of the debate over ICANN's Mission lies in the nexus between ICANN's technical coordination role, its operational role, and its policy role. There are some who see ICANN as merely an agent to carry out technical, operational instructions. The ERC does not support this view because it leaves unanswered the question of responsibility for the policy-development work necessary to provide answers to precisely what instructions should be followed, that is, answering the question: "if not ICANN, then who?". We have not found any credible answers to that question offered by those who favor a purely technical operational ICANN, other than transferring such responsibilities to some international treaty organization, a direction that is viewed with disfavor throughout most of the community (as judged by the comments we received), or to a constellation of organizations that would again beg the question of who will coordinate these organizations….

In the view of the ERC, there is not any more a legitimate debate over whether ICANN has a role in policy development and implementation. It does. We also believe that role should be limited to those policy areas that are reasonably related to ICANN's technical mission. 9

ICANN has also been the subject of close external examination.  For example, the Markle Foundation commissioned a report titled “Enhancing Legitimacy in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” to coincide with the work of the ICANN reform committee.  The report is critical of the ICANN Blueprint, and offers a variety of “guidelines, codes, approaches and practices which may be effective and appropriate for the governance structure of ICANN." 10

Another example of the charges levied against ICANN can be found in an analysis prepared under the imprint of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Internet & Public Policy Project in preparation for the Tunis summit. 11 The analysis acknowledges that ICANN has incorporated a number of policies that are intended to ensure regular review of its structure, in order to keep step with technical and societal evolution.  But it also concludes that ICANN must be viewed, and governed, as a regulatory body.  It cites many areas of deficiency from this perspective, with the following lapses in “Internal Processes” being representative:

…ICANN’s bylaws have been fluid and unpredictable. They have been frequently amended (approximately 20 times,) with the substance of the changes reflecting the distribution of power among various stakeholders. Presumably, the changes were made in consultation with political authorities, but such high-level political processes were closed to public scrutiny.

The rule of law does not prevail in ICANN’s internal processes. In 2002 industry representatives to ICANN’s board eliminated user representation on the board altogether.   An expert on democratic process from the US-based Carter Center characterized this action as a “coup,” i.e. a lawless seizure of power. 12

The same author found evidence that ICANN had experienced multiple episodes of “regulatory capture” by interest groups, usually to the benefit of Corporate America.  He cites the following “main episodes:”

Capture of International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP) (1998): The process by which the Internet community was to design ICANN was captured by powerful industry and technical stakeholders. They boycotted public meetings and successfully proposed their own secretly-written bylaws for ICANN.
Capture of ICANN Board (2002): The same industry and technical interests eliminated user representation on the board. (This remains the case today.)
Capture of the Internet Society (2002): In 2002 ISOC revised its bylaws to ensure that the society would be governed by its largest corporate members. This has led to two derivative acts of capture:

  • Capture of .ORG registry. This registry is now managed by ISOC.
  • Capture of ICANN’s At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC). Nearly 60% of  certified user-related organizations in ICANN are chapters of ISOC.

Capture of .COM by Network Solutions. This US corporation has extended its very profitable control of the most popular domain name. 13

It is worth noting in passing that the above is the analysis of an American author.  Critics abroad have often been less complimentary.

A detailed review of the various proposals that have been made over the years for the reform of ICANN and/or the transfer of its power to a multinational entity is beyond the scope of this article, and in any event is irrelevant to the point being made.  The fact is that three and a half years after the issuance of the Recommendations and the Blueprint, ICANN has not succeeded in making sufficient changes to satisfy many in the world community, despite the incorporation of a number of significant changes.

Political Forces It may therefore hardly be surprising that most of the rest of the world found it clearly inequitable that a single country should control, in any way, a resource as essential as the Internet, however effective the management of the IANA Directories might have been to date from the technical point of view. ICANN's control of the root zone, in particular, became increasingly problematic in the eyes of some as the standoff between the U.S. and the U.N. over Iraq deepened.

At the same time, it had not escaped the notice of conservatives in the U.S. that some of the strongest advocates for transferring control of the IANA Directories to international control included traditional U.S. bête noires like Cuba, Iran and China, nor that WSIS was operating under the auspices of the United Nations – a body already reviled by many conservatives for (among other things) the level of bureaucracy that had grown up within it over the decades.  Why, in their view, would the U.S. ever wish to relinquish something so important to the control of an organization that they already regarded to be terminally inefficient and ineffective?

While the Iraq war may have inflamed feelings on the part of the rest of the world, the "oil for food" scandal unfolding within the U.N. provided ample fodder to support the arguments of those in the U.S. that the control of the Internet was better left where it was.  Further fuel for American fires came from the fact that some of the strongest advocates for international control also included nations with poor human rights and free speech records, such as Tunisia.  

Nor were all political suspicions drawn along national boundaries.  The fact that the ITU (itself an agency of the U.N.) had both proposed, and assumed the primary role in WSIS raised suspicions that it regarded itself as the proper steward of the Internet.  After all, it already was the primary global arbiter of telecommunications regulation, with participation at the national level, in most cases by governmental entities.  The IANA Directories had in fact ended up with ICANN more by default than design, and many thought that the ITU was still regretting its lack of interest in bidding on the business when the business was arguably up for grabs.

The question of who would administer the IANA Directories was also timely, given that a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Commerce and ICANN looked towards a transfer of control of ICANN from the DoC to the international community by September of 2006.  In Mid-June of 2005, ICANN CEO Paul Twomey had stated publicly that ICANN was on track and meeting all milestones to permit that transition to occur on schedule.

It therefore came as a shock when at the end of June, 2005, Michael Gallagher, the Assistant Secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (the division of the Department of Commerce that directly supervises ICANN), announced during a speech on telecommunications topics that the U.S. was withdrawing its commitment to cede control of ICANN, citing business and national security concerns.  In making the announcement, Gallagher stated in part:

Given the Internet's importance to the world's economy, it is essential that the underlying DNS of the Internet remain stable and secure. As such, the United States is committed to taking no action that would have the potential to adversely impact the effective and efficient operation of the DNS, and will therefore maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file. 14

It did not help that the chief U.S. negotiator at WSIS appeared to be cut from the same confrontational cloth as John Bolton, the controversial American Ambassador to the U.N. whose approval had been blocked in Congress not long before. 15 That individual was David Gross, the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy at the State Department, who was wont to make statements such as this:

We will not agree to the U.N. taking over the management of the Internet.  Some countries want that. We think that’s unacceptable. We’ve been very, very clear throughout the process that there are certain things we can agree to and certain things we can’t agree to. It’s not a negotiating issue. This is a matter of national policy. 16

The stage was therefore well-set for escalating emotions in the run up to the Tunis summit.

Technical concerns:  At the same time, there was genuine concern on the part of the technical community that political forces would intrude into their domain, causing who knew what mischief to be wrought within the unprecedented global network that had grown up around a handful of protocols and standards. Would domain names need to be localized to assuage concerns over national languages? Could the Internet still operate at all if such changes were demanded? Would it become Balkanized as demands for political correctness trumped technical imperatives? And did anyone truly want the technical operations of the Internet to be subject to the famously glacial progress of treaty organizations?

The Result :  Following the unexpected desertion by the EU from the American camp at PrepCon 3 it might have seemed as if the United States was in an impossibly isolated position, but for one fact: it still had actual control of the IANA Directories, and there was no effective way for other countries to alter that fact without doing more harm than good.

Until the eve of the Tunis conference, neither side was publicly blinking, despite the fact that a conversation on the topic was held not long before between President Bush and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.  For his part, Ambassador Gross stated the American position upon his arrival in Tunis as follows: ”We would be sorely disappointed not to have a document at all, but that would be better than to have a bad document." 17

The result was an urgent need for some sort of compromise, and ideally one that was as face-saving as possible for both sides.  That compromise was reached in a private meeting on Sunday, November 13, 2005, and announced prior to the convening of the formal part of the Summit on November 16.

The substance of the agreement reached was one that both sides claimed validated its position.  But it was clear that the United States had given up little, and that its opponents had settled for the formation of a new forum which would explicitly have no powers over Internet governance. 18

For all the sturm und drang of the preceding four years, the formal documents approved at the Tunis Summit were very muted on the topic of Internet governance.  The Tunis Commitment 19 that was approved had only this to say on the subject, in article 7:

We reaffirm the commitments made in Geneva and build on them in Tunis by focusing on financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide, on Internet governance and related issues, as well as on follow-up and implementation of the Geneva and Tunis decisions, as referenced in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society.

The second document 20 deals with the topic in much greater detail, in articles 29 through 82.  But many of these articles merely “reaffirm,” “acknowledge,” and “recognize” bland goals and verities, and/or restate articles without change from the Plan of Action adopted at Geneva two years before.  The balance of the articles, however, cover a wide range of topics, such as the need for regional directories, initiatives to foster connectivity and ecommerce, and abuses demanding joint action, such as Spam, cybercrime, and terrorism.

The Agenda does include a set of statements touching on the IANA Directories and ICANN, albeit tangentially.  Beginning with article 57, a series of principals are laid down, including the following:

57. The security and stability of the Internet must be maintained.
58. We recognize that Internet Governance includes more than Internet naming and addressing. It also includes other significant public policy issues such as, inter alia, critical Internet resources, the security and safety of the Internet, and developmental aspects and issues pertaining to the use of the Internet.
59. We recognize that Internet Governance includes social, economic and technical issues including affordability, reliability and quality of service.
60. We further recognize that there are many cross-cutting international public policy issues that require attention and are not adequately addressed by the current mechanisms.

The Agenda then responds to the calls for a multilateral venue for Internet policy debate:

72. We ask the UN Secretary-General, in an open and inclusive process, to convene, by the second quarter of 2006, a meeting of the new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue—called the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).The mandate of the Forum is to:

a. Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet Governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet;

b. Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the Internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body;

c. Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organizations and other institutions on matters under their purview;

d. Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific and technical communities;

e. Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world;

f. Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future Internet Governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries;

g. Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations;

h. Contribute to capacity-building for Internet Governance in developing countries, drawing fully on local sources of knowledge and expertise;

i. Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in Internet Governance processes;

j. Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical Internet resources;

k. Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet, of particular concern to everyday users;

l. Publish its proceedings.

Equally significant is what would be specifically excluded from the IGF’s mandate:

77. The IGF would have no oversight function and would not replace existing arrangements, mechanisms, institutions or organizations, but would involve them and take advantage of their expertise. It would be constituted as a neutral, non-duplicative and non-binding process. It would have no involvement in day-to-day or technical operations of the Internet.

79. Diverse matters relating to Internet Governance would continue to be addressed in other relevant fora.

In short, a forum would be created where anyone could meet and discuss matters of policy, but the IGF would not have the power to tell anyone what to do.

And what of the central issue that had created so much controversy, and that had been styled as the question of "Who should govern the Internet?"  The sole statement that bears directly on that question is found in a single article of the Agenda document, and reads in its entirety as follows:

63.Countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country’s country-code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). Their legitimate interests, as expressed and defined by each country, in diverse ways, regarding decisions affecting their ccTLDs, need to be respected, upheld and addressed via a flexible and improved framework and mechanisms.

Pretty thin gruel after so much contention and posturing, especially since the United States had never disputed this principle to begin with, and no specific actions are mandated by the article.

While the EU tried to claim credit for brokering a compromise, and the U.S. tried to suggest that valuable progress had been made (while at the same time ensuring that no one could think that it had yielded an inch), there was little doubt that the peoples of the world, assembled in Tunis, had effectively been told to bugger off by the world’s sole remaining superpower, and had found that they had little choice but to acquiesce.

For his part, UN Secretary Koffi Annan put the best face possible on the situation: "Let me be absolutely clear: the United Nations does not want to take over, police or otherwise control the Internet.  Day-to-day running of the Internet must be left to technical institutions, not least to shield it from the heat of day to day politics." 21

Conclusions:  Was this a "good" outcome? Putting all political tactics and repercussions to one side, one could perhaps make a persuasive case that it was. In point of fact, the significance of the IANA Directories was always more symbolic than real, and more technically important than meaningful as a vehicle for advancing social policy. At the same time, for lack of another appropriate forum and due to the ongoing debate over its role, ICANN had the potential to venture into other policy areas where its structure, authority and mandate might be problematic in practice, and certainly controversial under its current structure.

By creating a new forum within which the many issues of true social significance could be addressed, ICANN’s potential for adventuring would be reduced, and its role more conclusively established as being limited to the name and number directories – and no more.

Too, ICANN already has a parlous history and a much-criticized structure.  The IGF will have a clean slate upon which to write, will be free to create whatever governance structure it wishes (within appropriate bounds), and may lead to a successor organization with real authority to cover real and serious issues that can only be addressed multilaterally, such as cybercrime. 

Ten years from now, perhaps, the entire controversy over “who should control the IANA Directories may seem to have been just a strange obsession that led to a great deal of wasted time during the four years of the WSIS process. 

Or, at least, so we can hope.

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Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove

Endnotes:

1. See Resolution 56/183, "World Summit on the Information Society," United Nations, < http://www.itu.int/wsis/documents/index1.html>

2. The full text of all "Key Documents of the Geneva Phase," deriving from the regional and preparatory meetings as well as from the Geneva Summit itself, may be found at the  ITU/WSIS Website: http://www.itu.int/wsis/documents/index1.html

3. The technical, as compared to geopolitical, orientation of the IANA is immediately apparent from the look and feel of the IANA website:  http://www.iana.org/

4. Murphy, Kevin.  "Who really runs the Internet?" Computer Business Review Online, October 14, 2005: http://www.cbronline.com/blog.asp?show=cbr/2005/10/who_really_runs.html

5. There have been rare technical lapses, as when Libya's domain went inactive for a week, as well as allegations of political pressure, as when Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher wrote a letter to ICANN "reminding it of its responsibilities to follow its own procedures" in deciding whether to approve a .xxx extension for pornography sites.

6. The Committee’s Webpage includes background on the Committee, as well as links to an extensive library of proposals, reports and other materials.  It may be found at: <http://www.icann.org/committees/evol-reform/>

7. The report may be found at <http://www.icann.org/general/lynn-reform-proposal-24feb02.htm>.

8. The Recommendations were issued on May 31, 2002 and the Blueprint on June 20, 2002.  They may be found at  <http://www.icann.org/committees/evol-reform/recommendations-31may02.htm> and <http://www.icann.org/committees/evol-reform/blueprint-20jun02.htm>, respectively.

9. Blueprint, pp. 2 and 3.

10. The report was prepared for the Markle Foundation by the Centre for Global Studies ad the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and issued on September 18, 2005.  It may be found at <http://www.markle.org/downloadable_assets/icann_enhancelegitemacy.pdf>.

11. Klein, Hans, "ICANN Reform: Establishing the Rule of Law," Internet & Public Policy Project, Georgia Institute of Technology.  See: < www.ip3.gatech.edu/images/ICANN-Reform_ Establishing-the-Rule-of-Law.pdf>.  The Project website has many other useful papers and materials about WSIS.  See: < http://www.ip3.gatech.edu/>

12. Klein, at p. 4.

13. Klein, at p. 5.

14. Morgenstern, David, Feds Won't Let Go of Internet DNS, eWeek.com (July 1, 2005) < http://www.eweek.com/print_article2/0,1217,a=155242,00.asp>

15. Bolton appointment as Ambassador to the U.N. was confirmed without the blessing of Congress by President Bush on August 1, 2005, utilizing a rule that permits Presidential appointments during recesses of Congress.

16. Interview in the Washington Post, as reproduced at RedHerring.com on September 30, 2005 http://www.redherring.com

17. Shannon, Victoria, "Tug of War Over Net Takes Center  Stage,"  International Herald Tribune, November 14, 2005 < http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/11/13/business/net.php>.

18. For examples of the various slants offered, see Updegrove, Andrew, "Spin Sets in on Internet Governance Compromise ," the Standards Blog, November 18, 2005, ConsortiumInfo.org, at < http://www.consortiuminfo.org/newsblog/blog.php?ID=1751>.

19. See: Tunis Commitment, November 18, 2005, at: < http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/7.html>

20. Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, November 15, 2005, at: < http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1.html>

21.Moore, Matt, “World Conference: Grumbling Continues Over Internet Control”, Associated Press, November 17, 2005 < http://www.governmententerprise.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleId=174300723>



STANDARDS BLOG:

November 18, 2005

Spin Sets in on Internet Governance Compromise

So the logjam on Internet governance has broken. The question is, who blinked - the U.S. or everyone else?

The issue of "who should rule the Internet" attracted increasing coverage after the EU reversed polarity and abandoned support for the U.S. position on this issue. That occurred not long ago, at the last formal meeting (called PrepCon3) preceding the vast summit meeting that came to order on Wednesday, bringing more than 19,000 participants together in Tunis, Tunisia, to plan a global "information society".

The question at hand has been whether ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names, would retain its control of the root directory of the Internet, and whether it would remain subservient to the U.S. government, via the supervision of the American Department of Commerce. Once the EU dropped its support of ongoing U.S. hegemony, it left the battle lines starkly drawn, and for all intents and purposes, the U.S. was on one side of the line, and on the other side was everyone else.

The last-minute desertion by the EU left the US with only two options: agree to a compromise of its control in advance of the Summit, or engage in a very public confrontation with multiple opponents in front of those 19,000 attendees, not to mention under the scrutiny of an intently watching world, served by legions of media looking for juicy stories where there would be few to be found.  But the U.S. did have one advantage, and that was a big one: current control of the root zone of the Internet.  If it wished to dig in, there was very little that anyone could do about it.

There were some reports heading into the final weekend before the Tunis Summit attempts were in process to break the impasse. And, sure enough, on the first day of the Summit it was announced that a concordat had indeed been signed the night before that would take the Internet governance issue off the table before the Summit began its debate. But if one side blinked, which one was it?

One of the first articles released spun the compromise as a defeat for the U.S., headlining the story WSIS: US caves over internet monopoly . That article opened as follows:

The US has agreed to consult with other governments over top-level domain names in a major shift in the US policy on control of the internet, EU officials confirmed on Wednesday....Under the deal, struck late on Tuesday night, all parties agreed that "no government should have the last word on another country's top level domain", said Martin Selmayr, a spokesman for EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, who attended the meeting.

But contrary to that headline, the "caving" by the US and the victory of the rest of the World appears to be more token than defeat: the same article indicates that the primary compromise made by the U.S. was simply that the American Department of Commerce would consult with a country before taking any action affecting its domain identifier. Hardly revolutionary stuff, that.

But if the U.S. didn't cave, does that mean that the opposition did? That's the way it looked to the Business Standard, in India, in an article posted yesterday called Internet Control. As the Business Standard saw it:

The rhetoric centred on control of the Internet turned out to be just hot air, after a compromise was hammered out at the World Information Summit in Tunis. The US remains in unilateral control. Status quo has been maintained with respect to technical functionality as well as regulatory power. While a multinational body, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) consisting of national governments, corporations and NGOs, has been created, this has “no oversight function and would not replace existing arrangements, mechanisms, institutions or organisations, but involve them and take advantage of their expertise”. The forum “would have no involvement in day-to-day or technical operations”. Translated, the IGF will act like a scaled-up version of the typical Internet forum. It will allow frustrated users to rant and rave, or to offer useful suggestions. But these suggestions will not be binding.

So it is that as details of the horse trading and next steps on Internet governance are finding their way into the media, each article manifests its own spin on what happened behind closed doors, and what will happen next.
Here in its entirety, for example, is the official (and self-congratulatory) EU press release on the compromise, which claims credit for putting back together what it had helped to put asunder only a few weeks before at PrepCon3:

EU brokers deal on progressive internationalisation of Internet
governance at Tunis World Summit

EU brokers deal on progressive internationalisation of Internet governance at Tunis World Summit

A worldwide political agreement providing for further internationalisation of Internet governance, and enhanced intergovernmental cooperation to this end, was brokered at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis last night. The compromise text agreed was based largely on EU proposals presented in the discussions since June. As a first important element of the agreement, a new international Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will be created to deliberate among governments, the private sector and civil society at large in a multi-stakeholder policy dialogue related to Internet Governance. A first meeting of this Forum will be convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations by the second quarter of 2006 and take place in Greece. The texts agreed in Tunis also include language that will allow for enhanced cooperation among governments, on an equal footing, on public policy issues. Such cooperation should include the development of globally applicable principles on public policy issues associated with the coordination and management of critical Internet resources. This cooperation will make use of relevant international organisations. There was also a consensus in Tunis yesterday that countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country’s Top Level Domain, thus meeting requests made, in particular, by the EU in the negotiations.

“I welcome the texts now agreed in Tunis. They pave the way for a progressive internationalisation of Internet governance”, commented Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, who is leading the Commission delegation in Tunis. “This agreement was possible because of the strong belief of all democratic nations that enhanced international cooperation is the best way to make progress towards guaranteeing the freedom of the Internet around the globe and also to enhance transparency and accountability in decisions affecting the architecture of the Web. The fact that the EU spoke with one voice in Tunis, and had stood by its case for more cooperation on Internet governance in the run-up to the summit, certainly strongly influenced this positive agreement”.

The text finalised last night reflects a consensus of all participants of the Tunis summit. It will now be officially adopted by the Heads of State or Government, or their representatives, in the course of the World Summit on Information Society that officially starts today and will last until Friday. For the Commission, the days to come will focus on gaining the support of other nations for the EU’s policy of investing in Information and Communication Technology, as a means to overcome the “digital divide”. In addition, the Commission will reiterate its position on the need to safeguard human rights, and in particular freedom of speech, in order to build a truly global Information Society.

As news continues to trickle out, I'll report on it here, and will post the full text of the principles that were agreed to as well.

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Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove

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CONSIDER THIS:

[][][] November 30, 2005

#34 The way ain't far, but you can't get there from here

The title above is the punchline for an ancient bit of rural humor.  It's the answer the local gives, after due deliberation, to the city guy in the car who's asking for directions.  But it often seems like an apt description of the likelihood of reaching agreement between two firmly entrenched points of view.

How can it be so often the case that two intelligent people can have firm – and diametrically opposed – opinions on the same issue? 

This situation is so common that we simply take it for granted, especially as election times approach.  But perhaps if we spent more time answering this question, we might find it easier to achieve consensus.

Of course, there are many reasons why people disagree, ranging from simple misreading of relevant facts to outright bigotry.  In fact, the process of forming an opinion involves a series of independent steps and processes, and any one of them can lead to divergent results.

For example, there is the gathering and confirmation of facts, followed by deciding which are relevant and which are not, after which one places them in a pattern that is meaningful, to which cone then applies intelligence, past experience and creativity to arrive, finally, at an opinion.  And that is an over simplification (or, for a thinking person, at least should be).

The following is an example of how two radically different results on the importance of a single sentence can be reached, simply by choosing which frame of reference to use in reaching a judgment.  The sentence is as follows:

Microsoft irrevocably covenants that it will not seek to enforce any of its patent claims necessary to conform to the technical specifications for the Microsoft Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas posted at http://msdn.microsoft.com/office/understanding/xmloffice/default.aspx (the “Specifications”) against those conforming parts of software products.

Does this sentence constitute a radical departure from historical Microsoft intellectual property rights policy, or a smokescreen meant to imply much, but promise little?  The answer is that it depends upon the frame of reference, and the situation, in which you ask the question. 

Consider the following:  On November 22 and 25 I posted two blog entries on this same topic.  The first was written and posted the day that Microsoft announced  "covenant not to sue" from which the sentence above is excerpted.  That covenant relates to the current version of its XML Reference Schema, and the covenant was issued as part of an effort by Microsoft to head off a challenge to its flagship (and extremely profitable) Office software suite by competing products based upon the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an OASIS standard that benefits from a covenant not to sue on the part of Sun Microsystems.

This first post was based primarily on a comparison of the Microsoft covenant, in the context of a yet-to-be-granted adoption of the XML Reference Schema by Ecma, a European standards body, with the Sun covenant, in the context of the already issued OASIS standard. You can read the lengthy line-by-line analysis, which was titled "Microsoft's Format Covenant Fails Comparison Test with Sun's" here, but for current purposes we'll simply skip forward to my final conclusion, and the questions to which that conclusion led me:

The upshot is that the Sun covenant is far superior in several important respects to the Microsoft pledge.

This raises the question: Why? Certainly, Microsoft must have expected that a comparative analysis like this would be done almost immediately, so it must have had a strong incentive to match the Sun covenant as closely as possible, and it decided not to. Again: Why?

There are three possibilities. The first is that it has evil entrapment plans afoot, but I really don't think that is likely to be the case, and certainly not in each instance, since it would be rightly pilloried for doing so. The second is that it hasn't gotten far enough through the knothole to bring itself to go as far as Sun did.

The third is that it has made the calculated decision that this is as far as it needs to go to obtain the objective that it is trying to achieve, which is to head off ODF at the pass.

Which is it? My guess is that it's a combination of 2 and 3. I'm told by those I know in Microsoft that making such a covenant was a difficult and contentious decision internally, and it would be tough to sell internally more than the absolute minimum necessary to arguably do the job.

Will it be enough? We'll find out. But on my review, there's a lot of light standing between the two covenants which will provide plenty for people to talk about. Microsoft knows its customers well, though, and it’s the customers ultimately that will say whether Microsoft bet its hand conservatively and still won, or didn't act boldly enough to walk away with the pot.

Given that Microsoft has already collected some endorsements from European governments in favor of its formats, backed by the Ecma announcement (its not coincidence that Ecma is a European standards developer), its clear that its already test marketed its bid with its customers.

The bid now passes across the table. Who's going to make the next bet?

Lots of people found that pretty convincing, and the right mode of analysis.  But was it?  Three days later, I took a crack at it from another perspective in a post titled "The Microsoft Covenant Reexamined," which you can read in full (if you are so inclined) here. I explained the basis for this second analysis as follows:

Some of my friends at Microsoft thought that [my first analysis] was an unfair way to present the covenant. By comparing the Microsoft covenant to Sun's, I was necessarily ending up with a "glass half full" result. Instead, they thought I should have provided an analysis of the covenant solely on its own merits.

This strikes me as a fair request, so in order to present a more balanced picture, in this post I'll look at the Microsoft covenant from the following perspective: how much better is the new covenant than the old 2003 XML Reference Schema license? At the end of this entry, I'll then try and reconcile the two analyses and see where we come out.

This time, my analysis came out rather differently, because now I was asking a different question as the first step in reaching a final conclusion.  The analysis therefore concluded as follows:

So is the new covenant a significant improvement? There is no question that it is, and Microsoft therefore deserves credit for moving its IPR position so substantially. Hopefully it will take the same posture with other patents in its portfolio in the future, where significant standards opportunities arise.

Of course, that still left the task of reconciling the two analyses in order to attempt to come to a final, valid conclusion, but that’s not really the point of this essay (if you’re curious, though, you can read the last part of the second blog entry).

There are two morals to be drawn from this simple exercise.  The first one is that it's very easy to adopt a single analytical approach (especially if it is sympathetic with your personal viewpoint), and then stick with it.  But once you become locked into a given perspective, it may become difficult or impossible to agree with someone else on an answer, unless they have adopted the same perspective.  It may also make it extremely unlikely that you will come up with the "right" answer yourself.

The second moral is that while perspectives are wonderful tools for examining a problem in order to appreciate certain dimensions of an issue, by definition they sacrifice a degree of objectivity in exchange for heightened perceptivity, much as intense light may highlight certain subtle features that might otherwise escape notice, but will also wash out colors, yielding a distorted picture.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter which end of the telescope you look through.  Either way, things will appear larger or smaller than they really are when you use your unaided vision.  The trick is in reconciling the images to get at the truth.

Sadly, all too often we take the easy way out in an argument, and simply conclude that you can't get to an answer from here.

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Read more Consider This… entries at: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/blog/

Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove

 


 

THE REST OF THE NEWS

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WSIS/Internet Governance

The WSIS speaks in a vague way of the internet as a facility. We believe it is a universal public provision which should be available to all [November 17, 2005 ]

 

Anita Gurumurthy, Indian association IT for Change...Full Story

   

It is essential to preserve private sector and technical community leadership in the technical management of the Internet [November 11, 2005]

  Bernhard Rohleder, director general of German technology federation BITKOM...Full Story
   
We are looking to build a new model of private-public cooperation on this existing structure [November 11, 2005]
 

Jean-Michel Hubert, French representative to the WSIS summit...Full Story

   
It is a myth that U.S. oversight is completely neutral and intrinsically harmless [November 5, 2005]
 

Report of the academic Internet Governance Project...Full Story

   
But let me be absolutely clear the United Nations does not want to ‘take over’, police or otherwise control the Internet [November 17, 2005]
 

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking at the opening session of WSIS in Tunis...Full Story

   
There is something about United Nations summits that makes one lose the will to live [November 20, 2005]
  The Observer's John Naughton...Full Story

If you still haven't had enough WSIS for one day, here's more:  WSIS received a huge amount of coverage, albeit only on one or two aspects, as reported elsewhere in this issue.  Here are a random sampling of other news and views.  The first is an example of the dour predictions that the brinksmanship of both sides in the Internet Governance debate inspired, while the second reports on the (ultimately successful) last-minute efforts to break the impasse.  The third is included as a cautionary example of where things could head if people some day don't agree on the root zone. The next pairing of viewpoints matches the sunny press release issued by WSIS-host ITU on the opening festivities, which does not address all of the grumbling (and worse) that surrounded the deal worked on the eve of the Summit regarding ICANN – a topic that is the subject of the second article.  The penultimate item selected from the hundreds available has the merit of beginning with what may be the most memorable line of journalism to be inspired by the Tunis Summit.  But better to close on a high note than a low one:  the last article reports on everyone reporters favorite WSIS Moment:  Nicholas Negroponte's unveiling of the $100 windup laptop.

France: Internet summit likely to get nowhere
Reuters, November 11, 2005 -- The United States will not heed requests by the European Union and other countries to accept a multinational approach to running the Internet, a French government official said Thursday.... An international summit next week on how the Internet should be run was likely to end in stalemate, the official said. ...Full Story

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Last-minute negotiations aim to save summit
SwissInfo, November 13, 2005 -- Unresolved squabbling at the final preparatory meeting in Geneva before the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has forced two sets of extra talks. It is hoped that an intersessional gathering in Geneva and a so-called Resumed PrepCom-3 immediately before this month's summit in Tunis will resolve key stumbling blocks.Like the first phase of WSIS in Geneva in 2003, PrepCom-3 came to an unsatisfactory end on September 30 with serious divisions between main players and no clear solution in sight. ...Full Story

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Dutch tech firm wants to rid the Web of the .com
CNETNews.com, November 27, 2005 -- Dutch technology company has breathed life into a project to rid the Internet of suffixes such as .com, and instead offer single names which can be countries, company names or fantasy words. Such a system, which enables countries, individuals and firms to have a Web address consisting of a single name, offers flexibility and is language and character independent. "The plan is to offer names in any character set," said Erik Seeboldt, managing director of Amsterdam-based UnifiedRoot. ...Full Story

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The "Summit of Solutions" opens on a high note
ITU WSIS site, November 17, 2005 -- The World Summit on the Information Society opened this morning with Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali welcoming participants to Tunis-Carthage, ancient city of dialogue, for the purpose of building a society that offers equal opportunities to all to benefit from the advantages of information and communication technologies....The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, reminded participants that their task in Tunis was "to move from diagnosis to deeds," and that above all, that the summit "must generate new momentum towards developing economies and societies of poor countries, and transforming the lives of poor people." Mr Annan offered a definition of what the Information Society should represent. It should be a society "in which human capacity is expanded, built up, nourished and liberated, giving people access to the tools and technologies they need, with the education and training to use them effectively." The hurdle here, he said, is more political than financial. "The costs of connectivity, computers and mobile telephones can be brought down. These assets — these bridges to a better life — can be made universally affordable and accessible. We must summon the will to do it." ...Full Story

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NGOs disappointed with internet accord
swissinfo, November 17, 2005  -- Civil society groups in Tunis are disappointed with the decision to leave control of the internet in the hands of the United States. Under a compromise reached on the eve of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a California-based organisation will remain in charge of the web. Icann, the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, was set up by the US Department of Commerce in 1998 to take over a number of internet-related tasks including managing the assignment of domain names. ...Full Story

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The world doesn't get it - no one 'owns' the internet
By: John Naughton
The Observer, November 20, 2005 -- There is something about United Nations summits that makes one lose the will to live. All that fly-blown cant about Declarations of Principles and Plans of Action. All those delegates from countries of which one has never previously heard, unable to believe their luck at getting abroad on expenses and determined to make a speech to justify them. All those corporate sleazeballs, circling the delegations like flies round dung-heaps, hoping for Heads of Agreement and laying the groundwork for contracts, not to mention the associated kickbacks generally required to do business in parts of the world where dysentery is an occupational hazard. ...Full Story

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No Mac OS X on $100 laptops
Macsimum News, November 15, 2005 -- The open standards of Mac OS X “have been trounced by open source software in a project to develop a $100 computer to help bridge the digital divide,” reports Macworld UK. An organization called One Laptop Per Child is developing the machines to bridge the gap between the developed and the developing world. According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple CEO Steve Jobs offered to furnish the project with free copies of Mac OS X for each machine, but the project team elected to choose open source rather than proprietary solutions. ...Full Story

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Intellectual Property Issues

What was once a fear has now gone [November 24, 2005]

 

OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen, on the potential for an infringement suit against Linux...Full Story


Patent, patent, who's got the patent?  The focus on innovative solutions for patent problems in the context of open standards in general, and open source software in particular, has been multiplying lately, and has doubtless not yet reached an end state of creativity.  A number of tools and interim solutions have been launched recently, from unilateral assertions, to group commitments, to databases that can be readily searched on line.  The following articles provide an overview.

Saving Linux from the lawyers
By: Graeme Waerden
ZDNet Australia November 24, 2005 -- Concern has grown over the past year that Linux could be under legal threat from claims it infringes certain software patents. No court cases have been filed, but the issue is serious enough that several companies have pledged not to use their patent portfolios against the open source operating system. Some activists have claimed that the whole concept of patent pledges is misguided. ZDNet Australia sister site ZDNet UK spoke with OSDL Chief Executive Stuart Cohen to understand the wider aims of the project. ...Full Story

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OSDL opens online patent commons reference library
By: China Martens
InfoWorld, November 15, 2005 -- Open Source Development Labs Inc. (OSDL) is to launch its online patent commons reference library Tuesday. The group hopes it will give users more confidence about using open-source software by allaying some concerns about the possibility of patent litigation. The library which will consist of five interlinked databases forms the basis of the Patents Commons Project, the Linux development consortium first announced back in August. ...Full Story

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Software & Patents – "Open Invention Network" Formed to Buy Linux-Related Patents
Open Source Magazine, November 13, 2005 -- Aiming to head off any perceived intellectual property risk associated with Linux and open source, IBM, Philips, Sony, Red Hat, and Novell have formed the Open Invention Network (OIN) to buy Linux-related patents from holders and create a pool of intellectual property that it then can license out – without charge – to others. Gerald Rosenthal former Vice President Intellectual Property & Licensing at IBM, will head up the new nonprofit company. Its initial assets, according to a Reuters report, will include patents purchased for $15.5 million by Novell from Commerce One Inc. "Open collaboration is critical for driving innovation, which fuels global economic growth," said Rosenthal. ...Full Story

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Semantic Web

They're still at it:  The W3C continues in its effort to build out the Semantic Web and populate it with useful projects.  This month, it announced two new initiatives, one intended to address the infrastructure of the Semantic Web itself (the first item below), and one to help people use it (the second item).  But the W3C isn't alone in this effort – the third article below describes a third new initiative, this one launched within OASIS.

Next Leg For W3C, Semantic Web
By: Clint Boulton
InternetNews.com November 8, 2005 -- The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has formed the Rule Interchange Format (RIF) working group with the job of standardizing the rules that propel data across the Web, regardless of format. Rules are a cornerstone of the Semantic Web, the idea that the Internet can be tapped for information as though it was one, giant database. RIF will provide a way to allow rules written for one application to be published, shared, merged and re-used in other applications and by other rule engines. ...Full Story

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W3C Launches Group Linking Medical Industry with Semantic Web
Business Wire, November 23, 2005 -- The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is launching a new interest Group to connect medical industry verticals with Semantic Web experts in an effort to improve collaboration, research and development, and innovation adoption in the health care and life science industries. The first of its kind for W3C, the Semantic Web for Health Care and Life Sciences Interest Group (HCLSIG) deploys standardized Semantic Web specifications into specific services defined by a user community. ...Full Story

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ObjectWeb and Chinese consortium agree to collaborate
CBR Online, November 9, 2005 -- In an agreement announced late last week, two consortia representing European and Chinese open source constituencies have said they intend to converge middleware technologies. AdvertisementObjectWeb, best known for the JOnAS Java appserver, JORAM JMS, and more recently, the Celtix ESB (enterprise service bus) projects, has signed an agreement with OrientWare, a group representing several leading Chinese university research labs and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, to build common open source middleware components. Until now, both organizations were active in Java appserver, CORBA, and web services bus technology development. According to Jean Pierre Laisne, chairman of ObjectWeb, the goal is to eventually merge the technology bases. ...Full Story

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New OASIS Committee Organizes to Provide Semantic Foundation for SOA
BusinessWire, Boston, MA, November 2, 2005 -- Members of the OASIS international standards consortium have formed a committee to define an architecture to incorporate the application of semantics into service-oriented systems, providing intelligent mechanisms for consuming Semantic Web services. The new OASIS Semantic Execution Environment (SEE) Technical Committee will develop guidelines, justifications, and implementation directions for an execution environment for Semantic Web services. "The technology of Semantic Web services envisions easy access to various systems and facilitates the consumption of the functionality exposed by these systems on the Web," explained senior Ovum analyst, Bola Rotibi. ...Full Story

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New Consortia

Consortium futures trend upwards: This years rate of new-consortium formation has been noticeably lower than over the last two years – a trend that was reversed in recent weeks as a healthy crop of new organizations was launched in the areas of mobile Linux, security and processors.

Consortium tackles Linux mobile phone standards
LinuxDevices.com, November 14, 2005 -- Eleven companies today launched a cross-industry consortium chartered to turn embedded Linux into a plug-and-play mobile phone platform comparable to Microsoft's Windows Mobile Smartphone OS, but with greater flexibility and lower costs. The LiPS (Linux Phone Standard) Forum intends to help make Linux a more standardized, interoperable mobile phone OS. Compared to commercial mobile phone stacks from Microsoft and Symbian, embedded Linux is generally considered to be more flexible, but less complete. ...Full Story

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Vendors Forge Web Services Security Group
By: Clint Boulton
InternetNews.com, October 27, 2005 -- UPDATED: Purveyors of Web services are so concerned with security that they have formed a technical committee to improve the work of the WS-Security standard created by OASIS. Microsoft, IBM, BEA Systems and other top software makers will lead Web Services Secure Exchange (WS-SX), a group to improve the way users safely exchange SOAP (define) messages for Web services transactions. WS-SX will also define security policies for those messages. WS-SX is meant to build upon specs for WS-SecurityPolicy (WS-SP), WS-Trust and WS-SecureConversation (WS-SC). ...Full Story

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The Multicore Association Prepares ForOfficial Launch on Nov. 30
Press Release, November 24, 2005 -- A new industry group that aims to provide a neutral forum where vendors in the multiple-core processor space can work out standards for inter-processor communications, debug, and other common technology hurdles in multi-core implementations will be discussing its official formation during a meeting in Santa Clara, Calif., on Nov. 30. Being organized as The Multicore Association™, the new group is an outgrowth of meetings among chip vendors, semiconductor IP providers, as well as RTOS, compiler, and development-tool vendors that have been ongoing since May. Its focus will be on nonproprietary implementations where products from multiple vendors must work together.On the agenda for Nov. 30 will be discussions in three workgroups that have already formed around the issues of the multitasking and communication API, the debug API, and the Transparent Inter Process Communication (TIPC) protocol. ...Full Story

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Open Source

Europe and open source on 8 screens a day: It would appear that the maximum attention span of someone reading news on the Web is measured more in seconds than minutes, given that the most typical length of an on-line news article is one screen, and three screens is a treatise. This article is therefore a pleasant surprise: while still hardly a true treatise, it does dedicate a full 8 screens to briefly profiling the national (and in one case regional) attitudes of a variety of countries on open source: US, UK, France, Germany, Norway, Spain, and Poland/Eastern Europe, giving a quick case study of a current OS major project for each.

Europe and the US philosophically divided on open source?
By: Ingrid Marson
ZDNet.com.UK November 10, 2005 -- Open Source in Government: Some governments have embraced the potential of open source, while others seem culturally opposed to the whole concept.... A good look at how different states in Europe have approached open source, compared with the historically technically advanced US, reveals that "getting the facts" isn't as straightforward as some companies would have us believe. ...Full Story

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Open Document

It's a tactical move by Microsoft to give its proprietary document formats a glimmer of openness [November 23, 2005]

 

Ovum Research Director Gary Barnett...Full Story


Downloadable to a computer near you: Our September issue was dedicated to the adoption of the OASIS OpenDocument format by Massachusetts, but what we covered then was only the beginning of the sage. New twists and turns have continued to occur on an almost daily basis, with each raising the stakes from the last. The following are only a sampling of the articles you can find at the OpenDocument subcategory heading at the ConsortiumInfo.org News Portal. For much more information, visit the Standards Blog , where commentary, links and more on the OpenDocument saga are added on a daily basis.

Senators question file-storage shift
By: Hiawatha Bray
The Boston Globe, October 30, 2005 -- Massachusetts lawmakers are questioning an effort by the Romney administration that could jettison Microsoft's popular Office software from thousands of state computers. At issue is how the state government stores the millions of digital documents and other public records it creates. The Romney administration wants documents stored in a particular format that would allow the records to be read by a variety of software packages -- except Microsoft Office. ...Full Story

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IBM, Sun team up to support OpenDocument
By: Elizabeth Montalbano
IDG News Service, November 3, 2005 -- IBM and Sun Microsystems will host a private meeting Friday to rally industry support for OpenDocument, a specification for standardizing documents that proponents hope will spur adoption of software that competes with Microsoft's Office productivity suite. The meeting, which will be held at the IBM Learning Center in Armonk, New York, is aimed at discussing with other technology companies ways to advance the adoption of OpenDocument, said Todd Martin, an IBM spokesman, on Wednesday. ...Full Story

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Massachusetts senate bill challenges OpenDocument plan
By: Matthew Aslett
Computer Business Review Online, November 6, 2005 -- The Massachusetts Information Technology Division's decision in early September to adopt OpenDocument 1.0 as the standard for all office documents by January 2007 was seen at the time as a significant victory for open standards, and potentially open source software. But it could end up costing the ITD some of its decision-making power following a last-minute amendment to the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee's proposed Commonwealth Investment Act. The bill contains the amendment that would create a seven-member information technology expert task force made up of political appointees to approve all state IT policies, standards, and procurement. ...Full Story

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Mass. reference model controversy over open formats
By: Joab Jackson
Government Computer News/GCN.com, November 13, 2005 -- Since its release last September, a technical reference model issued by Massachusetts has sparked considerable debate within the government technology community—and beyond. At stake is the issue of how active a role public offices should take in fostering open standards. Should an agency adopt a new open format—one that would better suit its goals but may prove more difficult to deploy and manage? Or should agencies follow the best practices of the commercial IT industry, taking full advantage of cost efficiencies and new features that may follow? ...Full Story

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Mass. Governor Supports OpenDoc Policy
By: Paula Rooney
CRN/InformationWeek, November 17, 2005 -- Governor Mitt Romney sees OpenDoc as a good policy that is essential to ensuring citizens have free access to government documents in the future, but he distanced himself from the policy's genesis. He gave credit for the idea to Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn and the Secretary of Administration and Finance. ...Full Story

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First beta of Office 12 released
By: Clive Akass
ComputerActive, November 20, 2005 -- Microsoft has released the first beta version of Office 12, which will introduce the biggest changes to the world's most-used applications for a decade. The 'technical' beta will be available only to certain big customers, but a general release is expected early in 2006....However Microsoft has so far said filters to allow legacy software to use the new formats will be available only for more recent versions. It seems that this does not include Word 97, for instance. This could cause confusion in organisations with thousands of computers, some of them IT antiques. A more long-term, and fundamental, question about the new formats is whether they can or should qualify as a standard for cross-platform information exchange. There are calls, including one from the EC, for international agreement on standard formats that are not controlled by one company. ...Full Story

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Microsoft 'open' format move met with scepticism
By: Ingrid Marson
UK.Builder.com, November 23, 2005 -- While some have applauded Microsoft's move to Office Open XML, others have questioned the software giant's motives Industry observers have expressed concern about Microsoft's decision to submit the file formats for its new Office 12 applications to ECMA International, a European standards body....But Gary Barnett, a research director at analyst firm Ovum, said on Tuesday he doubted that the move would result in the format becoming "truly open". ...Full Story

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Open debate flares: Sun says Microsoft vows can’t stand the light
By: Jesse Noyes
[Boston]Herald.com, November 24, 2005 --  A key Microsoft competitor urged caution yesterday as Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration warmed up to the software giant after its recent announcement that it would take steps toward opening up its latest Office program to a standardized format.... “We’re pleased that Microsoft has moved in this direction,” said Secretary of Administration and Finance Thomas Trimarco.... “We’re very pleased with the finance secretary’s positive comments,” Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft’s office division, said in a statement....“I’m not seeing anyone asking the questions. I see people taking . . . Microsoft’s announcement at face value" said Sun Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps. ...Full Story

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From the Outside Looking In: Analysts, Developers on Microsoft, Open Standards
By: Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols and Mary Jo Foley
eWeek.com, November 24, 2005 -- Is Microsoft embracing open standards or strangling it with its proposed open XML Office standards? It all depends on who you ask. If you believe Jean Paoli, co-inventor of XML and a Microsoft senior developer, Microsoft hopes "to create an open standard that will enable customers, technology providers and developers around the globe to work with the Office Open XML formats without barriers, with or without Microsoft products." Many, though, like Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst for Jupiter Media, are taking "a wait-and-see approach on Microsoft's announcement, because of past XML-based format shenanigans, where Microsoft: got behind XML, but restricted usefulness to most users; claimed to open up XML schemas, when less was the case; and touted its new Office 12 formats as XML—they're XML-based—and open—which they are not." ...Full Story

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Standards and Society

Providing health care providers and patients with clear, concise information about their prescriptions will help ensure safe use of drugs and better health outcomes [November 8, 2005]

 

Health & Human Servs. Sec. Mike Leavitt, announcing that the FDA will now require electronic prescription submission using SPL...Full Story

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Creating a MedWeb: The following article describes a joint effort by health standards developer HL7, industry and government to create semantic tools that will make prescription information both human as well as machine readable, thereby fulfilling multiple functions: first, the schema meets U.S. regulatory requirements, as well as being compatible with those of other governments. Second, because the data is machine readable, data entered can be more easily used for other current and future purposes. And finally, the standard is not specific to drugs, but can be expanded in the future to be useful in connection with other health-related needs. To learn more about SPL, see the CoverPages entry on that topic. The second article also addresses health standards, which the government has decided must be created under the more regulated process controls of the accredited standards developer process.

FDA to drug makers: Submit labels electronically
By: Linda Rosencrance
IDG News, November 8, 2005 -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now requiring drug manufacturers to submit prescription drug labels electronically....Drug manufacturers, technologists and the FDA worked together to develop the SPL standard [upon which the system relies], according to FDA spokeswoman Karen Mahoney....As the FDA receives the SPL-formatted labeling information, it will become available, free of charge, via the Web ...Full Story

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Medicare E-prescribing Rule to Require Standards from ANSI-accredited SDOs
ANSI.org, November 18, 2005 -- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a final rule governing the adoption of standards for an electronic prescription drug program under the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA). The final rule issued in a November 7 Federal Register notice requires that standards for certain electronic prescriptions be developed by standards development organizations accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). CMS supported its reasoning in the February 4 proposed rule stating that “the ANSI accreditation process is open and based upon consensus, so accredited standards are more likely to adequately address, and effectively respond to, industry needs.” ...Full Story

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Wireless

We are proud that our licensing program has enabled many new entrants to design innovative wireless devices and compete in the 3G marketplace [November 6, 2005]

 

Qualcomm CEO Dr. Paul E. Jacobs, denying allegations made to the EC...Full Story


The wireless news just keeps on coming:  Standards news relating to new technologies, like the product news that it enables, tends to describe a bell curve. As the technology begins to take hold, the number of news items takes off, eventually dropping down to an ongoing plateau as the technology moves into a more mature state. Web services standards news is now heading towards that plateau, but wireless news is still ramping up, as demonstrated by the following selection of stories from the past month.

Wi-fi standard: rivals in looming showdown
By: Ephraim Schwartz
ComputerWorld, November 20, 2005 -- Battle lines are being drawn over the forthcoming WLAN standard IEEE 802.11n, which promises speeds of 100Mbit/s-plus and increased range.... Despite the apparent schism, there seems to be some movement towards reconciliation among the warring parties. The EWC has met with some of the IEEE working group companies and, as a result, will resubmit a spec that addresses some of their concerns. The splintering among the usually single-minded wi-fi industry players has prompted Gartner to warn customers to wait before buying 802.11m gear. ...Full Story

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Forget the 802.11n standards war: buy MIMO
By: Craig Mathias
TechWorld, November 6, 2005 -- There is one great truth in anything high tech - faster is always better. Which is why customers are eagerly anticipating 802.11n wireless LAN products that promise greater throughput, not to mention greater range and reliability, than today's 801.11a/b/g/ products. But if you're looking to buy standards-based, Wi-Fi Alliance approved, enterprise-ready 802.11n Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) gear, you'll will have to wait while competing vendor groups hash out their differences. ...Full Story

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OPNET Launches WiMAX Model Development Consortium; Motorola Joins as Founding Member
Broadband Wireless Exchange Magazine, October 30, 2005 -- OPNET Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: OPNT), a provider of management software for networks and applications, announced the formation of a model development consortium focused on the new WiMAX (802.16) communications standard. WiMAX is a wireless network technology that is expected to compete with DSL, cable, and T1 for delivering broadband Internet access to businesses and homes. The consortium is led by OPNET and includes representatives from several leading technology companies, with Motorola participating as a Founding Member. ...Full Story

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Story Updates

If somebody robs the same bank you do, are you still guilty?  The tangled tale of Rambus is about to take another twist this week as Rambus seeks to gain access to documents that it claims will prove that it was the victim of a price fixing conspiracy. There's no question that there was misconduct among several SDRAM companies, since they've already been hit with enormous fines for their deeds. What Rambus wants to show, however, is that their misconduct should excuse its own actions, which remain the subject of an FTC proceeding. According to an opposition filed by the FTC in an attempt to prevent Rambus from gaining access to the documents it seeks, however, the chip technology company's efforts are simply an attempt to "deflect attention from its own conduct by blaming third parties." In other Rambus news, the second item below reports that Rambus has won a skirmish in its litigation with Samsung. And the final item relates to Infineon – for many years the company in the leading litigation with Rambus – has decided to exit the market where it all began –DRAM chips.

Rambus and a Price-Fixing Tale
By: Arik Hesseldahl
BusinessWeek.com October 30, 2005 -- It's a matter of public record that at least three companies participated in a global conspiracy to manipulate the prices of computer memory chips. The U.S. Justice Dept. settled the issue by handing down more than $600 million in fines against the businesses. What isn't known, though, is why they did it. And Rambus, a designer of chip technology, is intent on finding out. Rambus on Oct. 31 will urge a California Superior Court in San Francisco to release documents it says will help in that pursuit. ...Full Story

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Samsung's Suit Against Rambus Dismissed in Virginia (Update2)
Bloomberg.com, November 8, 2005 -- A judge in Virginia threw out Samsung Electronics Co.'s lawsuit over four patents against the computer chip designer Rambus Inc., allowing Rambus to focus its legal strategy on cases in California. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Payne in Richmond, Virginia, today granted Rambus's request to dismiss the suit after Rambus said it no longer planned to seek royalties from Samsung for the patents. Rambus's action removes the litigation from Payne's court, where the company in March lost a key ruling over the same patents against Infineon Technologies AG. ...Full Story

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Infineon throws in the DRAM towel
By: Chris Mellor
Techworld, November 15, 2005 -- Infineon is getting out of the DRAM business. According to a EE Times report using Reuters information Infineon will sell its DRAM facilities to Micron and Nanya Technology. Micron would buy the US facility and Nanya the non-US ones. In August this year it was reported that Infineon was to supply DRAM components to Microsoft for its XBox games console. Assurances must have been given to Microsoft about continuity of supply and Micron is probably the inheritor of that contract. ...Full Story

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Another old friend heard from: Rambus wasn't the only long-running serial with new developments this month. The hoary Eolas case that threatens Web browsers also continues to rattle around the court system. The skirmish this time around went to Eolas, when the Supreme Court declined to hear a plea from Microsoft on the damages element of the case.

Supreme Court rejects Microsoft appeal in Eolas case
By: Robert McMillan
InfoWorld.com November 3, 2005 -- The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear a Microsoft Corp. appeal in the software company's ongoing Web browsing patent dispute with the University of California and Eolas Technologies Inc. Microsoft had already been dealt a $520.6 million judgement in the case two years ago, but appealed it on several fronts. With Monday's decision, the Supreme Court has decided not to hear Microsoft's argument relating to how damages in the case should be calculated. ...Full Story

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Seppuku comes back into style: Now that the multi-year rivalry between next-generation DVD format factions HD-DVD and the Blu-Ray Group are approaching commercial introduction of their competing devices, their tactics are becoming more desperate and self-destructive. After having recruited all the vendors they could, and then all of the content owners they could -- and still without becoming the clear winner, Toshiba has gone to the limit, by offering to license its HD-DVD technology to low-cost manufacturers in China. How rational is that? Well, the whole idea of winning the format wars instead of reaching a compromise with the Blu-Ray Group years ago was to reap the big royalties on controlling the winning standard -- and therefore earning high royalties on every player sold. Now its sacrificing much of that advantage before sales even begin, sacrificing much of the high-margin early years of production to low margin competition right out to the gate. Can you say "hara-kiri?"

Toshiba’s strategy: Grab China DVD market from Sony at any risk
The Financial Express, November 6, 2005 -- In the high-stakes battle with Sony over whose format will power the next generation of DVD players, Toshiba has adopted a potentially perilous strategy: encouraging low-cost Chinese competitors to crank out machines using its standard, known as HD-DVD. Courting Chinese makers has been largely taboo in Japan, where manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic have long tried to delay the transition of their technologies into cheap commodities. Toshiba’s decision could have major ramifications in the race for the billions of dollars likely to flow from the next generation of DVD technology, which promises enhanced pictures and audio and more disc space. ...Full Story

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