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News Updated 11/21/2000 11:43 AM EST
AFTERNIC EXCLUSIVE

.Tel Wants to Set Telephone Number Policy
by Judith Oppenheimer
10/30/2000

Buried among and receiving little notice within the 47 new TLD applications under public review is .tel, "A Top-Level Domain For The Emerging Internet-Telephony Industry" sponsored by Pulver.com and iTAB (Internet Telephony Addressing Board.) Its premise is ENUM with a twist.

ENUM is E.164 telephone numbers (your local telephone numbers), currently accountable to the ITU, to ride the .ARPA top level domain space, which is accountable to ICANN/Department of Commerce, resulting in one global VoIP network, accountable to--whom?

While ENUM portends to trickle down authority through the FCCs of the world, .tel can read the dot on the wall and specifies, "iTAB seeks authority from ICANN ... over the core policies that define the utilization of .tel as a shared resource for bridging the addressing gap between legacy telephone numbers and emerging standards of the Internet-Telephony industry."

Furthermore, "Following the current practice with all Internet top-level domains, the registration of E.164 numbers in the DLS will be managed by a single trusted Registry. It is assumed that this exclusive Registry function will fall under the regulatory control of ICANN."

Two levels below ICANN in the .tel food chain is the "E.164 Registrant: E.164 Subscriber or designated representative that registers numbers and an associated ADS in the top-level DLS."

Bodacious doesn't come close—and yet, architecturally speaking, .tel is on the mark. The process starts with an end-user picking up a phone and dialing a telephone number. The IP-PBX looks at the number and tries to make a least-cost routing decision. The least-cost option is to connect the call over the Internet. The higher-cost back up is to send the call out over the existing telephone network (PSTN). In order to send a call out over the Internet, the IP-PBX needs to check a global directory to determine if the telephone number can be translated into an Internet address for an IP-PBX or IP-phone at the distant end.

The .tel TLD is the top-tier of a globally distributed directory solution that enables end-users to register their phone numbers on the Internet and associate those phone numbers with any number of IP-enabled communications devices (phone, fax, e-mail, PDA, etc.) As the top-tier of the global system, the .tel TLD simply provides a pointer to the appropriate location where authoritative Internet address information is stored for a given number.

The IETF-ENUM working group is engaged in defining an implementation standard for representing a legacy telephone number as a domain name on the Internet. The .tel TLD will utilize the ENUM naming approach.

But that's where they part ways.

"One of the core tenets of our registration policies is to reinforce the property rights of ‘subscribers’ in the E.164 name space," David Peek, Directory of Technology Strategy, tells ICB. Whereas "the e164.arpa (ENUM) structure delegates control of all registration functions to the 240+ government entities that regulate the PSTN today," Peek says.

Gordon Cook (http://cookreport.com) confirms this, reporting, "... since ENUM becomes a single point of control and also a single point of failure, the way in which services are provisioned will be absolutely critical...Under the ENUM business model there will be only a single ENUM provisioning authority for each nation state."

Cook reports that ENUM chair Richard Shockey says the IETF and ITU have agreed not to break the e164 mold, which means that each national telephone numbering authority will be asked to decide who will provision ENUM services within its borders.

Shockey had advised ICB similarly of the IETF's intent to come to accord with the ITU, and politically, ITU cooperation is necessary to move ENUM forward. But architecturally, ENUM is e164.arpa—that's ‘dot’ arpa. Dots are ICANN dominion, and like it or not, the IETF ranks below ICANN in the dot food chain, though Cook says the ultimate source of authority is unclear. Is it DOC's Karen Rose? Is it ICANN's Louis Touton? The Internet Engineering Committee? Perhaps we should be looking at the World Intellectual Property Organization—WIPO.

Peek tells ICB, "By comparison [with ENUM], our .tel structure gives registration control to subscribers on a global basis."

How?

By indulging ICANN's WIPO-steroidic demands for trademark protection, promising that "E.164 numbers are being viewed as intellectual property and/or trademarks of the subscriber who maintains ‘day-to-day’ control over the services for an E.164 number."

Try as we might, ICB hasn't been able to find one trademark attorney among the myriad trademark attorneys roaming the net, that finds this statement credible, or even viable. Per one particularly colorful Esq, "E.164 numbers—telephone numbers—are not trademarks. They are excluded from protection as being functional. The attorney concludes, "I don't give a rat's pitootie if they say, ‘the registrants' body odors are being viewed as IP and/or trademarks.’ That does not make it so—and can't."

But Peek and his .tel may be onto something. In its Sponsoring Organization's Proposal, .tel "seeks authority from ICANN" to establish trademark status for .tel names because its a core policy "that define[s] the utilization of .tel as a shared resource for bridging the addressing gap between legacy telephone numbers and emerging standards of the Internet-Telephony industry."

A quick look at WIPO/ICANN activity including the excesses of the UDRP, reminds one that this isn't your father's food chain any more. ICANN assign trademark status? Stranger things have happened.

Cook also writes of ENUM's proposed policy that the consumer must be given absolute and total control over his ENUM services which may become the single tool set to controls his business and personal communications. But ENUM doesn't tell us how this will be done. And a closer look at ENUM standards reflects that "service provider" and "consumer" as discussed in this context, can be used somewhat interchangeably.

Both ENUM and .tel are pandering, we believe, to corporate interests. Neither quite gets there—but there's a storm brewing in ICB's crystal ball.

In past articles, ICB has raised the issue of a fundamental paradigm shift from telephone governance to Internet governance with regard to ENUM. .tel conveniently helps to bring the point home.

Let's suppose for a moment that our trademark attorney friend is mistaken, and the TM fairy WIPO leaves .tel trademark status under .tel's pillow.

Taken one level up from the subscriber to simple trademark characteristic assigned to the .tel "property," it’s not much of a stretch to envision trademark owners of translating alpha marks challenging the subscriber of E.164 digit strings and matching .tel assignments.

The .tel application reads, "Advocates of the ‘e164.arpa’ [ENUM] PSTN-centric model support the vision that telephone numbers are ‘owned’ by (and should be exclusively controlled by) the regulatory entities that created the numbers in the first place. This is certainly a valid statement from the PSTN perspective."

By comparison, .tel imbues the end user subscriber with trademark-characterized property rights. We agree with .tel that assignment of "property rights" to the E.164 digit string and matching .tel assignment would be a welcome relief from the traditional PSTN "public resource" ownership. But layering on WIPO-infested "IP" and "trademark" law could be a disaster.

It’s unfortunate that ICANN requires the TLD applicants, .tel included, to play on WIPO's turf, but that is part of the problem, and it’s certainly not the solution to true concerns about outdated PSTN control—especially when you factor in the ICANN domain revocation policies that remove ownership of all domain names, including those belonging to trademark owners, from the domain holder, up the food chain to ICANN.

Peek, like Richard Shockey, is an IETF ENUM working group participant, and tells ICB, "We support the vision that ICANN and the IETF must have a close working relationship to provide proper governance to the Internet community. Within this vision we support ICANN's authority to create an appropriate TLD, like .tel, for the Internet Telephony industry. In addition, we support the IETF's authority to define technical standards that utilize a TLD, like .tel, created by ICANN."

But Peek rejects Shockey's vision of nation-state authority over ENUM/.tel. And Shockey, with all due respect, gets apoplectic at the mere mention of an ICANN-controlled ENUM.

Yet the actuality is the same whether it’s .arpa or .tel: No matter which, ICANN regulates domains and folding phone numbers into the dot environment, placing phone governance subservient to Internet governance. And until Internet governance rids itself of ICANN self-interest and WIPO domination, it is not a user-friendly alternative to nation-state regulatory authority.

Peek and his .tel partners are (mistakenly, or intentionally) only replacing PSTN with ICANN, and adding in a layer of WIPO at that. Whether it’s above ICANN or between ICANN and end users depends on your politics.

In the U.S. portable toll free arena, while the FCC claims the numbers are a public resource, it nonetheless grants end users "control" over their subscribed numbers and service—something starkly missing from ICANN regulation of domain names. In fact, in lieu of granting domain owners control, ICANN imposes blanket revocation policies which do not exempt trademark owners nor their domain names.

Shockey's ENUM may fall short of escaping ICANN's grip, but for the moment he's got the better idea, even as the promise of .tel's "property interest for end-user subscribers" makes us wish it were so.

POSTSCRIPT

ENUM's .arpa has been assigned for use by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). There's no love lost between these standards groups and ICANN, but ultimately we believe that ICANN sits at the top of the food chain. ENUM states that it does not want ICANN's policy rule, but rather "nation-state" authority. As noted above, this may be contractually feasible, but is architecturally questionable. And the nation-state authority over ENUM in the U.S. could be ICANN-daddy Department of Commerce.

On the other hand, .tel put its $50,000 on the TLD application table. It not only accepts, but covets ICANN's rule, or at least ICANN's authority to make its own rules. And its board of directors is none too shabby.

A birdy whispers that .tel is dead in the water, with the protocol supporting organizations telling ICANN's Louis Touton to trash the application or forget about their support. It's ICANN's decision; it's Commerce's decision; it's WIPO's decision. We shall see…

Judith Oppenheimer is an 800/.com consultant and publisher of ICBTollFreeNews.com.
Copyright © 2000 ICB, Inc. All rights reserved.