While preparing for a seminar on the future of China’s Internet hosted by IFTF colleague, Lyn Jeffery leader of IFTF’s Virtual China project, I took a closer look at the details of China’s decision to set up new Chinese character domain names. Although the new domains cannot be acurately described as a separate Internet, that in fact is what is developing. One engineer after looking closely said, “If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.”
This was not a sudden move. Chinese internet authorities have been planning this for years, and had a market plan in place the day the new domains were announced. The new domains will be offered by the Chinese Government through an exclusive arrangement with a company called I-DNS, operated by the National University of Singpore, with funding from Verisign, the US monopoly operator of the .com domains. One observer at the Virtual China workshop observed that the new China domains are not a sinister attempt to assert independence or control, rather a carefully calculated commercial move to ignite a marketplace for chinese character domain names.
Meanwhile some Internet engineers have articulated some serious concerns about the new Chinese domains in new report called the ICANN SSAC report on Alternative Roots [pdf] submitted to ICANN on 4/28/06. In a recent interview in Australian IT news Report co-author and Melbourne IT chief technology officer Bruce Tonkin said China’s attempts to use the domain name system to restrict access to content was a serious threat.
“In China they are manipulating some of the traffic,” Mr Tonkin said. “It’s to do with controlling access, to restricting people to going where they can control.”
Repressive governments could use the domain systems to completely redirect users. For example, a user typing in www.yahoo.com could be redirected to a government-approved search engine.
“In China the government can control most of the ISPs, so they could set up an alternate root,” Dr Tonkin said. “Within that they could allow only certain websites.”
The Chinese Internet may ultimately become the first separate Internetwork, that while sharing some genes with one parent, the first Internet, also has a separate and different genetic code designed by its national administrators.