Re: Last Call: Modern Global Standards Paradigm

John C Klensin <> Sat, 11 August 2012 14:56 UTC

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Date: Sat, 11 Aug 2012 10:56:38 -0400
From: John C Klensin <>
To: Eric Burger <>, Phillip Hallam-Baker <>
Subject: Re: Last Call: Modern Global Standards Paradigm
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--On Friday, August 10, 2012 15:52 -0700 Eric Burger
<> wrote:

> PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE read what the proposal is. The proposal
> being put forth is not that the ITU-T wants to write Internet
> standards. The proposal being put forth is that ONLY ITU-T
> standards will be the *legal* standards accepted by signatory
> nations.

> At best, this would be a repeat of GOSIP in the U.S., where
> the law was the U.S. government could only buy OSI products.
> The issue there was the private sector was still free to buy
> what it wanted and DoD did not really follow the rules and
> bought TCP/IP instead. TCP/IP in the market killed OSI.


In the interest of understanding our position in this area as
well as possible, I don't think the facts support "TCP/IP in the
market killed OSI" except in a vary narrow sense.  It would be
much more accurate to say that OSI self-destructed and the
TCP/IP was then available as a working technology that satisfied
most of the relevant requirements.  The self-destruction
resulted from some combination of untested specifications that
weren't quite implementable in an interoperable ways, promises
that things would be ready two years in the future (a sliding
target for more than a decade), gradually growing awareness of
excessive complexity and too many options, and possibly other

It is worth remembering that in the most critical part of that
period, the IETF wasn't developing/pushing TCP/IP in the
marketplace but had its face firmly immersed in the KoolAid
trough: we even had a TCP/IP transition area  into the 90s.  I
might even suggest that we have abandoned the principle of
simple and clear protocols with few options and, in a few cases,
adopted the "reach consensus by giving all sides their own set
of options" model that was arguably a large component of what
made the OSI suite vunerable to self-destruction.  The
once-legendary speed with which we could do things has also
yielded to a larger and more process-encumbered IETF.   Today,
we may have more to fear from ourselves than from the ITU.

None of that has anything to do with whether the proposed
statement is appropriate.

> The difference here is some countries may take their ITR
> obligations literally and ban products that use non-ITU
> protocols. Could one go to jail for using TCP/IP or HTTP? That
> has an admittedly small, but not insignificant possibility of
> happening.

What happened last time was that a number of countries banned
their communications carriers from carrying TCP/IP (or anything
else) that didn't run over ITU protocols.  Unsurprisingly, those
bans were fairly effective in countries that were serious about
them -- and that list of countries was not limited to
out-of-the-way developing nations.

Whether that would be realistic today is another question.  The
Internet is fairly entrenched, things have not gone well for
countries who have tried to cut it off once it is well
established, and some experts have even suggested that excessive
restrictions on the Internet might constitute a non-tariff trade
barrier.  Relative to the latter and in these fragile economic
times, one can only speculate on whether countries are more
afraid of trade limitations and sanctions than of the ITU.
More important, as Phillip (with whom I generally disagree on
these sorts of matters) has pointed out, there is a long and
rather effective history of what countries do when a UN body's
behavior operates significantly against their national
interests: they refuse to sign the treaties and, in severe
cases, withdraw and stop paying dues and assessments.
Remembering that there is no such thing as a Sector Member from
a non-Member country, someone who was very cynical about these
things might even suggest that the most effective way to get the
ITU out of the Internet would be to have them pass these
measures in their most extreme form with the medium-term result
of wrecking their budget and, with it, their ability to
function.   Or one might speculate that is the reason why ITU's
senior leadership appears to have largely backed away from the
most extreme of those proposals.

> Worse yet, having treaties that obligates countries
> to ban non-ITU protocols does virtually guarantee a
> balkanization of the Internet into open and free networking
> and controlled and censored networking.

A form of that risk exists whether such treaties are created or
not.  If a country considers it sufficiently necessary to its
national interest to withdraw from the Internet and adopt a
different and non-interoperable set of protocols, it will almost
certainly do so with or without approval from Geneva.  I believe
we should make that process as easy as possible for them,
designing things so that they can't hurt others when they do so.
Countries who isolate themselves from contemporary
communications technologies have not been treated well by
history, economics, or their own populations.

We also should not discount some possible advantages: for
example, the withdrawal of a few selected countries from the
Internet and enforced requirements there to use only
non-interoperable protocols could do wonders to reduce the
amount of malicious spam introduced into the network.  :-(

> Just as it is not fair to say that if the ITU-T gets its way
> the world will end, it is also not fair to say there is no
> risk to allowing the ITU-T to get a privileged, NON-VOLUNTARY,
> position in the communications world.

Certainly there are risks.  And certainly we should be aware of
those risks and think through the various strategies we and
others might adopt.  But let's not confuse ourselves with
specious arguments about disaster scenarios.

Again, it seems to me that none of the above has much to do with
whether this statement should be issued.