Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

by Snehashish Ghosh and Anirudh Sridhar — last modified Dec 03, 2013 05:44 AM
Snehashish Ghosh and Anirudh Sridhar introduces you to ICANN, its history, structure, and advisory mechanisms.

Introduction

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit public-benefit corporation which is responsible at the overall level, for the coordination of the, “global internet's systems of unique identifiers, and in particular to ensure the stable and secure operation of the internet's unique identifier systems.”[1]

In other words, in order to reach or connect to another computer on the internet, one has to provide the address of the computer. Such an address must be unique so that the computers are able to locate each other. ICANN is responsible for coordinating these unique identifiers across the globe. ICANN, thus, plays a major role in internet governance.

In technical terms ICANN coordinates the domain name system (DNS), internet protocol (IP) addresses, space allocation, protocol identifier assignment, generic (gTLD), country code (ccTLD) top level domain name system management and root server system management functions. These functions were previously performed by the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) under a US Government contract.

History

ICANN was established on September 18, 1998. Subsequently it was incorporated on September 30, 1988.

In June 1998 the US Department of Commerce came out with a white paper on the administration of internet name and numbers. The main purpose of the white paper was to move administration of internet domain names and IP addresses out of the control of US federal government and vest it in a non-profit, internationally representative organization.[2]

Governing Documents

Articles of Incorporation
ICANN Articles of Incorporation was finalized on November 21, 1988. According to the Article of Incorporation, the main function of the ICANN was laid down as the following:

"In furtherance of the foregoing purposes, and in recognition of the fact that the Internet is an international network of networks, owned by no single nation, individual or organization, the Corporation shall, except as limited by Article 5 hereof, pursue the charitable and public purposes of lessening the burdens of government and promoting the global public interest in the operational stability of the Internet by:

  1. Coordinating the assignment of internet technical parameters as needed to maintain universal connectivity on the Internet;
  2. Performing and overseeing functions related to the coordination of the internet protocol ("IP") address space;
  3. Performing and overseeing functions related to the coordination of the internet domain name system ("DNS"), including the development of policies for determining the circumstances under which new top-level domains are added to the DNS root system;
  4. Overseeing operation of the authoritative internet DNS root server system; and
  5. Engaging in any other related lawful activity in furtherance of items (i) through (iv).”[3]

ICANN By-Laws

The by-laws outline the powers and responsibilities of the ICANN by laying down its mission and core values. It also establishes the offices of the Ombudsman (Article V), Board of Directors (Article VI), Nominating Committee (Article VII), Address Supporting Organization (Article VIII), Country Code Name Supporting Organization (Article IX), Generic Name Supporting Organization (Article X) and Advisory Committees (Article XI). It also lays down guidelines related to fiscal matters, membership, offices and seal and the procedure for amendment of by-laws.[4]

Structure of the ICANN

icann structure
Above: Structure of the ICANN

As per the structure of the ICANN,[5] it has adopted a bottom-up, consensus driven, multi-stakeholder approach. The ICANN currently comprises of three supporting organizations and four advisory committees apart from the Board of Directors and other advisory committees.

Board of Directors
The Board of Directors comprises of 16 members ("Directors") who have voting rights. Additionally it has five non-voting liaisons. The five liaisons appointed by Governmental Advisory Committee, Root Server and Stability Advisory Committee, Technical Liaison Group and Internet Engineering Task Force. Each body appoints one liaison member. The Directors are expected to act in the best interest of ICANN rather than acting in the best interest of the entity they have been selected from. The main function of the Board of Directors is to put to vote various policy recommendation made by the Supporting Organizations and the Advisory Committees.

Supporting Organisations
The Supporting Organizations are Address Supporting Organization, Country Code Name Supporting Organization and Generic Name Supporting Organization. They are tasked with policy making on IP Addresses, country code top level domain and generic top level domain respectively.

Advisory Committee
ICANN also takes into consideration suggestions and recommendations from the Advisory Committees. This also assists the ICANN to make note of the demands and interests of the stakeholders, who do not participate in the Supporting organizations. The four Advisory Committees are:

  1. Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) – The GAC is composed of representatives from the national governments across the world.
  2. Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) – The SSAC comprises of cyber security experts tasked to study security issues related to ICANN’s mandate.
  3. Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC) – The RSSAC also comprises of technical experts who provides recommendation and advise on the operation of the DNS root server system.
  4. At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) – The ALAC consists of representatives from the organizations of individual internet users. The main function of the ALAC is to "consider and provide advice on the activities of ICANN, in so far as they relate to the interests of individual internet users."[6]
  5. Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
  6. NRO (Number Resource Organization) – It is a body that co-ordinates the 5 regional internet registries that manage the distribution of internet number resources. These include IP addresses and the autonomous system numbers. Nominating Committee (NomCom) – This committee invites statements of interest and candidate recommendations from the internet community to fill important leadership positions to carry out ICANN’s role in technical and policy coordination.

Other Advisory Mechanisms

The other advisory mechanisms are put in place in order to seek expert advice on ICANN’s policy development and setting of technical standards. The two other advisory mechanisms are: (i) External Expert Advice and (ii) Technical Liaison Group.

Amongst its many accomplishments ICANN in collaboration with Verisign and National Telecommunication and Information Administration (US) completed the deployment of the DNS security extensions for the root zone. The ICANN has also been successful in setting up of a cost-effective uniform domain name dispute resolution policy which has been efficient in solving domain name disputes.


[1]. Article I, Bylaws for ICANN (As amended on March 16, 2012) available at https://www.icann.org/en/about/governance/bylaws/bylaws-16mar12-en.htm

[2]. Milton L Mueller, ICANN and Internet Governance| Sorting through the debris of ‘self regulation’, Vol. 1, No. 6, Dec. 1999, Camford Publishing Ltd. available at http://www.icannwatch.org/archive/muell.pdf

[3]. Articles of Incorporation, ICANN as revised on November 21, 1988 available at https://www.icann.org/en/about/governance/articles

[4]. By-Laws for ICANN as amended on December 20, 2012 available at https://www.icann.org/en/about/governance/bylaws

[5]. Can be found at http://www.icann.org/en/groups/chart

[6]. Article XI, By-Law for ICANN available at www.icann.org/en/about/governance/bylaws#XI

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