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Why ICANN Won’t Revoke Russian Internet Domains

Why ICANN Won’t Revoke Russian Internet Domains

Ukraine’s request to cut Russia off from core parts of the internet has been rejected by the nonprofit group that oversees the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). CEO Göran Marby of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said the group must “maintain neutrality and act in support of the global internet.”

“Our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the internet—regardless of the provocations,” Marby wrote in his response to Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. “ICANN applies its policies consistently and in alignment with documented processes. To make unilateral changes would erode trust in the multi-stakeholder model and the policies designed to sustain global internet interoperability.”

Ukraine on Monday asked ICANN to revoke Russian top-level domains such as .ru, .рф, and .su; to “contribute to the revoking for SSL certificates” of those domains; and to shut down DNS root servers in Russia. Fedorov argued that the requested “measures will help users seek for reliable information in alternative domain zones, preventing propaganda and disinformation.”

ICANN Was “Built to Ensure the Internet Works”

Experts warned that granting Ukraine’s request would harm Russian civilians, have little impact on Russia’s government and military, and fail to achieve the goal of countering propaganda. Marby agreed with that assessment, telling Fedorov in his response:

As you have said in your letter, your desire is to help users seek reliable information in alternative domain zones and prevent propaganda and disinformation. It is only through broad and unimpeded access to the internet that citizens can receive reliable information and a diversity of viewpoints. Regardless of the source, ICANN does not control internet access or content.

While “ICANN and its global community are aware of and concerned about the terrible toll being exacted against your country,” ICANN itself has “no sanction-levying authority,” Marby wrote. “Essentially, ICANN has been built to ensure that the internet works, not for its coordination role to be used to stop it from working.”

“Devastating” Effect on Global System

Regarding the request to revoke top-level domains, Marby wrote that “globally agreed policies do not provide for ICANN to take unilateral action to disconnect these domains as you request. You can understand why such a system cannot operate based on requests from one territory or country concerning internal operations within another territory or country. Such a change in the process would have devastating and permanent effects on the trust and utility of this global system.”

Marby’s response to the request to shut down DNS root servers in Russia was brief, saying that the “root server system is composed of many geographically distributed nodes maintained by independent operators.” Concerning Ukraine’s other request, Marby wrote that ICANN does “not have the ability to revoke the specific SSL certificates for the domains you mentioned. These certificates are produced by third-party operators, and ICANN is not involved in their issuance.”

Marby’s denial of Ukraine’s request cited the decentralized nature of the internet. “No one actor has the ability to control it or shut it down. ICANN’s primary role, through the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is to ensure the consistent and unique assignment of internet identifiers in line with global policies,” Marby wrote.

“These policies were developed by a multi-stakeholder community that includes technical experts, businesses, academics, civil society, governments, and other stakeholders who worked collaboratively to solve policy and technical challenges through consensus,” Marby continued. “It is a model that has allowed the internet to flourish over decades, and this broad and inclusive approach to decision-making fosters the global public interest and makes the Internet resilient against unilateral decision-making.”

Though ICANN won’t sever DNS links, that doesn’t mean Russians have unfettered access to the internet. Russia is reportedly blocking Twitter, Facebook, various news sites, and major app stores, as we wrote on Friday. Separately, US-based internet backbone operator Cogent Communications is reportedly cutting off service in Russia in a move that could cause some outages and poor network performance.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.

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Facebook Renews Its Ambitions to Connect the World

Facebook Renews Its Ambitions to Connect the World

Facebook first revealed its plans to build a 37,000-kilometer subsea cable, named 2Africa, in the spring of 2020, and it announced an expansion last month. It’s expected to be completed in 2023 or 2024. The new transatlantic cable project will supposedly provide 200 times more capacity than the submarine cables that were laid in the early 2000’s.

Its latest announcements aren’t aimed just at Africa or other emerging markets. The Bombyx robot could be deployed anywhere there’s existing power structures, since it leverages already-built power lines; and Facebook says 30,000 Terragraph units have already been rolled out in Anchorage, Alaska, and Perth, Australia, among other places.

Bombyx looks nifty, as far as robots go. After a technician places it on a power line, it crawls along the line, wrapping itself around the cable as it goes, spooling out Kevlar-reinforced fiber (both for strength and to withstand the heat of medium-voltage power lines). Since it requires a certain amount of balance for the bot to stay on the line, the Facebook team says it has reengineered the bot to be lighter, nimbler, and more stable. And it lowered the bot’s load from 96 fiber optic strands to 24, after determining that a single fiber can provide internet access for up to 1,000 homes in a nearby area.

To be clear, Facebook hasn’t reinvented fiber-optic cables; it’s come up with a scheme to run them above ground, using existing power infrastructure, instead of digging trenches to lay the cables underground. And it has come up with a semi-autonomous way to do this, by building a robot that it claims will eventually be capable of “installing over a kilometer of fiber and passing dozens of intervening obstacles autonomously in an hour and a half.”

As for Terragraph, Facebook’s Rabinovitsj and Maguire described Terragraph as a system composed of several technologies. It relies on the 802.11ay standard established by the WiFi Alliance. It’s a technology reference design, developed in partnership with Qualcomm. And it’s also a mesh Wi-Fi system that uses nodes on existing street structures, like lamp posts and traffic lights. The result, they say, is multi-gigabit speeds that match the speeds of fiber lines—but in this case, it’s being transmitted over the air.

“That means anybody can deploy this without having to go get a license from a regulator,” Maguire says. “So that makes it very affordable, and is one of its other innovations.”

Complaints From Human Rights Activists

Facebook is not unwise to try to leverage existing infrastructure and reduce labor costs when it comes to building out a fiber network. But the company’s earlier forays into telecommunications have rankled both telecom operators and human rights activists. Some have accused the company of building a two-tiered internet that could widen disparities in access.

In the interview, Rabinovitsj, who leads Facebook Connectivity, insisted that Facebook is not an internet service provider and is not interested in becoming one. He said the company is not looking to generate revenue from the project and is licensing the technology to others for free. He did concede, however, that Facebook does benefit from more data being shared around the globe, and that anyone else with a digital property benefits as well.

Peter Micek, general counsel for the digital civil rights nonprofit Access Now—which has in the past received funding from Facebook for the organization’s RightsCon conference—says that over the past four years, the rate of laying fiber for wired internet access has basically stalled, which is “not ideal. It’s not happening at the rates needed to bring the next billion people online anytime soon.” He says people in less developed countries are “still largely dependent on mobile, but there’s still a lot you can’t do on mobile.”