State of the Net 2011

The State of the Net conference just wrapped up in Washington, DC. This is a unique event that brings policy wonks and technologists to Washington in order to help Congress understand the Internet better; it’s been going on for seven years, and has helped to make the Congressional Internet Caucus one of the most vibrant of the caucuses.

The themes for this year’s event reflect the shift in Congressional concern away from things like net neutrality and toward such issues as privacy, cybersecurity, broadband deployment, and piracy; at least that was the plan until the FCC altered the playbook by passing their two most significant orders of the past year in the two weeks leading up to the event, the Open Internet order the Comcast/NBCU merger order. So SOTN grew an extra day to accommodate panels on these two orders.

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R, Tenn.) addressed the group with her take on the FCC’s Open Internet order yesterday (speeches by members of Congress are one of the SOTN highlights;) suffice it to say, she wasn’t pleased and has already filed a bill to stop the FCC in its tracks. Most regard the bill as largely symbolic, on the assumption that the Senate won’t go along with the House and that the President would veto it in any case, but politics are far from certain. Whatever develops with the Blackburn bill, the FCC is likely to face legal challenges from both the left and the right as soon as it’s published in the Federal Register. So there’s no great clarity regarding Internet regulation after all.

Cameron Kerry (General Counsel, U.S. Department of Commerce) and John Morton (Director, Department of Homeland Security U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement) explained the copyright protection measures their departments are taking. These measures have generated some controversy, and later panels dealt with these concerns, but the talks by Kerry and Morton provided a factual baseline on what’s actually being done.

The first of these panels dealt with COICA, featuring Daniel Castro (Information Technology & Innovation Foundation,) Dan Kaminsky (Doxpara,) Andrew Pincus (Mayer Brown,) Greg Piper (moderator, Warren Communications,) and David Sohn (Center for Democracy & Technology.) Daniel explained the rationale for COICA, and Dan gave the alarmist perspective (“It won’t work and besides, it will break the Internet!!!”) Daniel had the facts on his side, citing two studies that show that similar measures have been largely effective and haven’t broken anything (see Daniel’s blog post.)

Over lunch, we had a keynote from Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that celebrated the internet and tended to reinforce Rep. Blackburn’s opinion of the FCC’s Internet order. Following the Congressman, Ed Amoroso (Chief Security Officer, AT&T) and Howard Schmidt, (White House Cyber-Security Coordinator) gave tutorials on security.

The afternoon sessions were highlighted by panels on Internet freedom and Congressional action on broadband. The freedom panel featured a lively debate over some of the issues that came out in the COICA panel, aided by a visit from Dan Kaminsky to reinforce his claim (a largely unjustified one, as it turns out) that anti-piracy measures can never be effective because they can’t be perfect; David Israelite, a lawyer for songwriters, dealt with Kaminsky’s issues this time. Rebecca MacKinnon and Milton Mueller took on the issue of the Internet’s apparently untapped potential to spread democracy about the world. There is clearly a long-standing desire to evangelize populist models of government around the world, and a corresponding disappointment that it’s not really working that way. Turns out that transforming a centrally-managed system like China into a liberal democracy takes more than a DSLAM and an Internet transit provider, but these things certainly help. Realistic expectations are the order of the day here.

The last panel of the day in the track I attended (there were three at a time on Day 1) was “Legislating Broadband Policy: A Government Staff Perspective with Neil Fried and Brian Hendricks from the Republican side, House and Senate respectively, and John Branscome and Roger Sherman on the Democratic side, Senate and House respectively. The general tenor was that the Open Internet remains a radioactive issue, but the issues of privacy, USF reform, spectrum, and the National Broadband Plan are much less partisan and acrimonious.

Day Two in the next post.

While you’re waiting, a number of videos are up on the committee’s YouTube channel.

  • Don Michaels

    Daniel Castro’s blog addresses many of Dan Kaminsky’s tech objections to COICA. However, despite the headline, I’m not aware of Dan ever saying that COICA would break the Internet. He certainly didn’t on the panel with Mr. Castro or at another State of the Net session where, during a dialogue when he was an audience questioner, a panelist representing the IP community equated laws concering Rhianna song piracy with laws related to child pornography.

    In addition, Mr. Castro’s discussion regarding concerns that COICA will break DNSSEC is so inadequate as to be non nexistent. The real problem is with DNS? That’s nice. And what are the odds that will change. We have DNS now and we have DNSSEC now, and mechanisms that will be used should COICA pass will create problems with DNSSEC. It’s not EFF or PIR that are doing the analyses. The PIR letter posted on EFF’s site uses statements from Dan Kaminsky and Steve Crocker, whose credentials in Internet operations and security far outstrip Mr. Castro’s. The same is the case with the 96 engineers who signed an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing COICA largely because of its potential effects on Internet operations and public confidence. FWIW, the list includes Paul Vixie, the author that Mr. Castro cites during his contention that DNS flaws are the real problem.

  • Richard Bennett

    The EFF’s letter opposing COICA does have several engineers among its signatories among many other people who haven’t engineered a day in their lives, such as Gordon Cook and Esther Dyson. It’s pretty much the standard laundry list of cyber-libertarians who oppose any form of Internet regulation that might impinge on universal anonymity and free speech. To say that this letter is signed by prominent Internet engineers is to make a false claim.

    Regarding Paul Vixie, I suggest you read “Taking Back the DNS” to get his take on a similar system that includes policy rules in the system:

    “Here, in 2010, I’ve finally concluded that we have to do the same in DNS. I am just not comfortable having my own resources used against me simply because I have no way to differentiate my service levels based on my estimate of the reputation of a domain or a domain registrant. So, we at ISC have devised a technology called Response Policy Zones (DNS RPZ) that allows cooperating good guys to provide and consume reputation information about domain names. The subscribing agent in this case is a recursive DNS server, whereas in the original RBL it was an e-mail (SMTP) server. But, the basic idea is otherwise the same. If your recursive DNS server has a policy rule which forbids certain domain names from being resolvable, then they will not resolve. And, it’s possible to either create and maintain these rules locally, or, import them from a reputation provider.”

    Kaminsky’s very passionate about advancing his belief that all forms of behavior should be permissible in terms of the Internet’s technical systems, but that’s not a credible viewpoint any more.

  • NT

    Can’t wait for COICA to pass. The DARKNETS will see a flood of new users to those anonymity crypto-anarchic networks. What will you do then? Shutdown the darknets? Block cryptography ? You guys do not have a god damn clue. Censorship of the DNS system isn’t the way. The internet doesn’t like censorship and will route around it. What do you not understand about that simple concept? Watch and learn newbie.

  • Richard Bennett


  • Don Michaels

    I agree with you that the engineers list should have been more selective on who is included. However, to mention only two individuals and then say that “To say that this letter is signed by prominent Internet engineers is to make a false claim” is ridiculout, as is using the easy label of “cyber libertarian” to describe all of the signers.

    I know Paul and am very familiar with his DNS RPZ concept. I just find it ironic that Mr. Castro, and now you, cite him very selectively, citing “Taking Back the Internet” but ignoring the fact that he signed the letter against COICA.

    Much of the arguments may be moot. S. 3804 died at the end of December and new bills haven’t been introduced yet. Hopefully some more sensible language can be crafted that protects the interest of the IP community without introducing the collateral technical, process, and political problems of last year’s COICA.

  • Richard Bennett

    As I understand Vixie’s objections to COICA, they’re more to do with the concept of using the Internet’s technical system to curb piracy than with any plausible fallout from the mechanisms; it’s a slippery slope objection against embedding goodies for one particular industry into a general system. He’s obviously not against black listing as a general matter, he just has a particular viewpoint – as we all do – about who should be blacklisted.

Comments are closed.