What is ICANN?
ICANN - the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - is an international, non-profit organization that has assumed responsibility for Internet Protocol (IP) address space allocation, protocol identifier assignment, generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domain name system management and root server system management functions. ICANN states that: “it is dedicated to preserving the operational stability of the Internet; to promoting competition; to achieving broad representation of global Internet communities and to developing policy appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based processes.”
Domain Name System
The Internet is considered to be non-hierarchical. The World Wide Web Consortium aims are that no one should control the Web and that the consortium should help parties agree on how to work together while also resisting any attempt by an institution or company to take control. However, the Internet relies on a centralized hierarchy to manage the Domain Name System (DNS). A domain name, such as www.internet-story.com, has to be unique in order for e-mails to be correctly routed and web sites found. This basic requirement of individuality, to avoid two people using the same domain name, creates the need for some sort of body to monitor name allocation. However it is precisely this control which in effect awards a degree of power over the Internet. Whoever controls DNS also decides how names and routing numbers will be assigned to websites and other Internet resources.
As the Internet developed, the DNS was voluntarily controlled by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Government contractors. Therefore the DNS was in fact under the control of the U.S. Government. This progressively became a political and legal issue as the Internet expanded. Attractive domain names became increasingly rare, speculators registered trademarks as domain names in the hope of a quick profit and disputes escalated. Other governments became more and more concerned about U.S. control of an essential element of the Internet, the global importance of which was rapidly growing.
ICANN is born
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) and an agency of the department - the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) brought out a Green Paper proposing privatisation of the management of Internet names and addresses to ensure global participation in DNS management. This was followed by a meeting of an international group and the formation of ICANN as a private non-profit Californian corporation.
Its role was to hold responsibility for the coordination and management of the technical aspect of the Domain Name System and ensure so-called “universal resolvability” to allow all Internet users to find valid addresses.
ICANN has no function with regard to other Internet issues such as Internet content, rules governing financial transactions, unsolicited e-mail (spam) or data protection.
ICANN is governed by an international board of directors with members from Australia, Brazil Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The international staff ensure that ICANN meets its operational commitment to the Internet community.
ICANN states that “participation is open to all who have an interest in global Internet policy as it relates to ICANN's mission of technical coordination.” ICANN provides many online forums which can be accessed via ICANN's website and the supporting organizations and advisory committees have active mailing lists for participants. In addition, ICANN holds public meetings throughout the
But some degree of controversy still remains. ICANN lacks much of the accountability normally found in companies which are accountable to stakeholders and are in competition in the marketplace. ICANN is a non-profit organization and in essence a monopoly. It also has a unique relationship with the U.S. Department of Commerce. The question is asked - who exactly governs the Internet?