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Ten years later—Why so little progress? (7 September 2011)
As the world marks the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, it seems that our nation has made scant progress in correcting the serious problems with public safety communications that hampered the efforts of first responders that terrible day, and that were subsequently highlighted in the 2004 9/11 Commission Report. It is not that money hasn't been spent, but there doesn't seem to be much to show in the way of tangible progress. Furthermore, some of the new radio technologies seem to be falling short, as is highlighted in the article Firefighters balk at new digital radios, as failures risk lives authored by Lydia Mulvaney and Greg Gordon. The BiPartisan Policy Center's Tenth Anniversary Report Card on the Status of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations also documents the disappointing progress (ref. page 14) made during the past decade towards improving public safety communications, and highlights the lack of effective political leadership.
As communications systems technologists, we have to wonder how our industry has failed to deliver on promises of reliable, interoperable communications. Are we rushing to implement standards that were outdated by the mid 1990s? Have the unique requirements of first responders been adequately factored into the standards and designs? Is there effective third-party testing and evaluation of communications systems that address real-world operating environments? There is much our industry has to answer to.
As the smartphones and tablets in the market today clearly demonstrate, we have made enormous progress in communications technologies over the past decade, but neither the smartphone, nor the traditional brick public safety radio, seems capable of meeting the essential requirements of first responders. Clearly there is a vital need to achieve more, without necessarily having to spend more. The right solutions are often the most cost-effective, while inappropriate solutions cost more than they should in both dollars and lives.


ICANN sets 12 January 2012 start date for new gTLD program (25 June 2011)
On 20 June the ICANN Board approved a resolution calling for the long-awaited program to add new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to the Domain Name System (DNS) to begin accepting applications on 12 January 2012. The first round of applications, which will be governed by the Applicant Guidebook published on 30 May 2011, will remain open until 12 April 2012, and new gTLDs could be operational as early as November 2013.
One Board member (George Sadowsky) voted against the resolution, and two members (Bruce Tonkin and Mike Silber) abstained. Early reactions to the Board's decision have ranged from outrage to cautious optimism. Many governments, including the EU, strongly oppose the program. The companies that hope to profit by providing advice and services to new gTLD applicants, however, have been lining up for years; their reactions focus primarily on business opportunity rather than public policy.


Most were ready for IPv6 (13 June 2011)
8 June 2011 was World IPv6 Day (see the item below). Reports seem to indicate it went well with few disruptions. Two articles from Network World sum it up: No news is good news on World IPv6 Day and World IPv6 Day Results: New Internet Protocol Proves It's Ready. With Y2K many saw it as a non-event (having expected the worst) though then we couldn't go back. With World IPv6 Day over, we can still continue to use IPv4 — but now we can see that IPv6 is real. Of course, now everyone is going to have to figure out what moving to IPv6 will really cost them, and if it is worth it.


Are you ready for IPv6? (1 June 2011)
As the available pool of new IPv4 addresses is rapidly diminishing, there is a heightened awareness to ensure that IPv6 connectivity can be accomplished. To that end, 8 June 2011 has been designated as World IPv6 Day when many sites (including Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Bing among many others) will make their main pages reachable via IPv6. You can test your own systemís ability to use IPv6 (exclusively or in conjunction with IPv4) using the test site http://test-ipv6.com — even after World IPv6 Day is over.
On a related topic, a new RFC has been released by the IETF which might be of interest: RFC 6127 IPv4 Run-Out and IPv4-IPv6 Co-Existence Scenarios. And there is a related article in Network World: "What if IPv6 Simply Fails to Catch On?"


No one knows exactly what an Internationalized Domain Name "variant" is...
...but that doesn't deter patent applicants (16 May 2011)

The Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) was designed to work exclusively with labels composed from a limited set of ASCII characters (the "letter digit hyphen" (LDH) set specified by RFC 1035). Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) permit labels to be composed from (almost) any character in the vast Unicode repertoire, freeing non-Latin linguistic communities from the constraints of LDH — but not without problems. LDH is simple; Unicode is not. One of the thorniest problems is how to deal with characters or character sequences that can be represented in more than one way using a particular script but "mean the same thing" — so-called "variants." Before anyone can figure out how to handle "variant" IDNs, we have to figure out precisely what they are, and what they should mean in the context of the DNS. But at least one patent applicant isn't waiting.


What is an IP address worth? (9 May 2011)
Perhaps the real question is, what should an IPv4 address be worth? Traditionally, IPv4 addresses have been treated as free to anyone who could justify a need. However, IPv4 addresses represent a finite resource where demand now exceeds supply. For some time, the presumed solution to this dilemma has been the introduction of IPv6, where there is such an overabundance of addresses that they can be treated as essentially free for all time. The problem is that transitioning to IPv6 is anything but free. In fact, aside from economic collapses, there are no historical precedents for a technological transition that offers so much pain for absolutely no gain.

The inescapable conclusion is that a market will emerge for IPv4 addresses, and some would argue already has, as was reported recently in Network World. However, what sort of legitimacy will markets in IPv4 addresses have, and who has authority to establish or regulate such markets? There are also vital policy objectives that should be defined, and ideally markets should be structured to achieve at least some of these policy objectives. Benjamin Edelman's 2009 Harvard Business School Working Paper (pdf) provides a thorough summary of the issues and challenges inherent in establishing any sort of market for IPv4 address redistribution.

At this point, possession probably represents nine tenths of the law, and those who currently have IP address allocations are likely sitting on assets that will assume tangible value in the coming years. Sadly, all the current incentives promote hoarding of IPv4 addresses, which may be the strongest argument for allowing markets in IPv4 addresses to emerge.


Preserving the Free and Open Internet - and not just in the U.S. (2 May 2011)
The debate over "network neutrality" did not end with the publication of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Rules (pdf) last December - far from it, as the FCC's rules have been widely criticized for failing to adequately protect Internet users' interest in a "free and open Internet." Now the European Commission has followed the FCC's lead with the equally timid announcement on 19 April of new EU telecoms rules (pdf) concerning "the open internet and net neutrality in Europe" that will take effect on 25 May 2011. Europe and the U.S. still lead the world in protecting Internet freedom - the recent study Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media (pdf) released on 18 April by Freedom House ranks Estonia first and the U.S. second among the 37 countries surveyed with respect to "barriers to access, limitations on content, and violations of usersí rights" - but the FCC and EC regulations still rely heavily on optimistic expectations for market competition in telecom services. In a 21 April Federal Register notice the FCC announced the formation of an Open Internet Advisory Committee (pdf) to "track and evaluate the effects of the FCC's Open Internet rules." No details concerning membership or mandate have been provided by the FCC, so it is not clear what role it will play in the debate over how and to what extent the FCC (and similar regulatory agencies in other jurisdictions) should act to preserve a free and open Internet.


IPv6 is still all push and no pull - but push is coming to shove (23 April 2011)
Watching the Regional Internet Registries RIRs) manage the dwindling pool of available IPv4 address blocks has so far done little to inspire businesses, much less individual users, to finally get serious about embracing IPv6 as the alternative. Hoping to change this, the Internet Society (ISOC) - with support from some of the largest Internet companies, including Facebook, Yahoo!, and Google - is promoting World IPv6 Day on 8 June 2011. The idea is for mainstream Internet sites to demonstrate how easy it is to use IPv6 to reach them and their popular content. They won't shut off IPv4 on 8 June, of course; unlike the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which ran an IPv6 experiment in 2008 during which it did just that, no Internet company could survive without IPv4 for even a few hours, much less an entire day.
The National Telecommunications and Information Agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce has developed and published an IPv6 Readiness Tool for Businesses, a "comprehensive checklist" (in the form of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet) for "businesses preparing to deploy and adopt IPv6." Because nothing is pulling businesses to IPv6, few are likely to make the effort until they are pushed hard enough by their Internet service provider(s). That day will surely come - but not on 8 June (2011).


ICANN publishes updated Guidebook for new gTLD applicants (16 April 2011)
ICANN posted the latest Draft Applicant Guidebook on 15 April. The Guidebook specifies the rules and procedures for new generic top-level domain (gTLD) applicants. This discussion draft is scheduled for a "final" vote by the ICANN Board on 20 June in Singapore, after a public comment period that will close on 15 May. Among the most important changes in this draft is a much stronger role for governments, including a new "early warning system" for ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and special provisions for governments to object to individual TLD applications. Despite these new provisions, the GAC remains opposed to significant elements of the new gTLD application process.


New .XXX domain is up and running (16 April 2011)
At its meeting in San Francisco in March, the ICANN Board approved the application from ICM Registry to operate the top-level domain "XXX". That domain has now been delegated and icmregistry.xxx is up and running. Pending agreements with registrars, the XXX domain contains only a few placeholders, such as porn.xxx and sex.xxx. Among other things, the approval of XXX has revived debate about blocking and filtering in the domain name system (DNS); India was the first country to announce that it will block resolution of domain names that end in .XXX, and others are expected to follow suit. In his dissent from the Board's vote to approve .XXX, Director George Sadowsky expressed concern that "the approval of the application for dot xxx could encourage moves to break the cohesiveness and uniqueness of the DNS." Other observers note that "widespread blocking of the Internet exists today" and downplay the significance of governmental efforts to block or filter new top-level domains.


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