Research ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit making corporation that was founded on September 1998 with the objective of being the overseer a variety of tasks related to the internet for the benefit of all users of the utility (ICANN, 2010). Before the creation of ICANN, the tasks it performs were undertaken by a number of organizations appointed by the Government of the United States like the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, IANA. On the 30th of September 1998, ICANN was officially incorporated and it started its activities operating from its headquarters in Marina Del Rey, California in the U.S (ICANN, 2010). In this research paper, my objective is to provide an overview of ICANN and to describe its origins and purpose.
A brief history of the internet: the necessity for ICANN
Computer networking became a reality in the 1950s. However, most networks only allowed communication between computers in the same network without any gateways to external networks (ICANN, 2010). Where bridges existed, they were only for very specific purposes. The emergence of the 802.1 internetworking protocols eventually led to the internet. During the 1950s and 1960s, universities and other research institutions and organizations were working separately on viable technologies for use in internetworking. This led to the emergence of different networking protocols which were not always compatible to each other. The packet-switched ARPANET and X.25 emerged as the dominant protocols, and the idea of a globalized internetwork began being touted by the early 1980s and there was a need to develop standardized protocols which would enable this (ICANN, 2007).
After a global network became a reality, the debate became centered on whether to use it commercially. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) sprung up in the early 1990s to provide networking and electronic mail to private consumers, and as the technology spread, there arose a need to control and manage it. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was formed to address the issues concerning internet protocols and implementation of the internet and was primarily comprised of U.S. government-funded researchers. With the internet usage expanding rapidly to the commercial sector, there was the need of a central authority to coordinate its operation. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) had been given the responsibility of handling these issues in 1972. At the time, most of the progress in terms of internet implementation was emanating from non-military research.
Internet hosts were identified in the net through their real names and this was becoming insufficient as the internet expanded. The Domain Name System (DNS) was invented as a solution to this problem (ICANN, 2010). The Defense Data Network administered the registration of domain names (DNS addresses) but when the U.S. Military discontinued the funding of registration exercise for domains outside the military context, the InterNIC was created in 1993 by the United States National Science Foundation to manage allocation of DNS addresses and to maintain their database after the National Science Foundation won the contract after a competitive bidding process. To better control the registration of domain names and manage other internet related tasks, both IANA and InterNIC were merged to form the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN. The motivation was to privatize the operation of the DNS system so as to open it to competition.
Overview of ICANN
ICANN holds the responsibility of managing all domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (ICANN, 2010). Its mission is to ensure that all the systems of unique identifiers applied in the operation of the internet are stable and secure on a global level. To achieve its mission, ICANN brings on board various stakeholders from all over the world to deliberate on and discuss policies and any other matters related to the internet that fall within its granted mandate. The stakeholders or interested parties including Internet Service Providers and retailers of internet services are the genesis of all policies that are reached by ICANN (ICANN, 2010).
The stakeholders forward their recommendations to it so that they can be discussed and settled by matter of the establishment of a mutual consensus between all the parties concerned. It is therefore the responsibility of ICANN as the global monitor of the internet’s set of unique identifiers (the names and numbers which form a host’s domain name, DNS and its Internet Protocol, IP address respectively) to encourage stakeholders from all over the world so that they can participate in making the internet more accessible and reliable and in setting up dispute resolution mechanisms (ICAN, 2007).
ICANN is officially recognized as a non-profit organization in the ranks of charitable organizations that serve in the interest of the public. At the helm of its structure is a Board of Directors comprised of six representatives from the organizations that support it, representatives of sub-groups which handle specific sections of the ICANN mandate eight independent members who represent the interest of the general public on the internet, a president of the Board and a Chief Executive Office (ICANN, 2010). The last two are appointed by the entire board. Supporting organizations deal with specific areas of Domain Name and Internet Protocol policies at different level. For example, the current Supporting Organizations are the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) which handles policy issues related to generic top-level domains, the Address Supporting Organization (ASO) which handles policy issues related to Internet Protocol Addresses and Country Codes Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) which deals with country-code top level domains.
Upon its incorporation, ICANN established a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of the United States requiring it to operate democratically in establishing a bottom-up approach to consensus building in order to create an open, safe, secure and reliable global internet service (ICANN, 2010). To this effect, ICANN holds public meetings at regular intervals at different continents with the aim of encouraging the global community to participate in its processes.
Incorporation of ICANN
As said earlier, ICANN was incorporated on the 30th of September, 1998 as a non-profit making corporation under the California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law as a corporation whose objective is to serve as a charitable corporation for the benefit of the public (ICANN, 1998). It is managed by a Board of Directors headed by a CEO and a President. Its Articles of Incorporation were revised on the 21st of November, 1998 and are available online at http://www.icann.org/en/general/articles.htm.
Operating Framework and Principles in ICANN
ICANN operates on the foundations of transparency and accountability towards achieving its mission of aggregating the coordination of the Internet’s system of unique identifiers so that the internet can be secure and stable (ICANN, 1998). Its structure lies outside the context of the traditional corporation since it works on an international scale to serve the interest of the public. To operate effectively, ICANN establishes working partnerships with governments, treaty organizations, businesses, organizations and all individuals who are involved in the building and sustaining of the World Wide Web. Each of these stakeholders bring their experience and desired outcomes to the table so that they can be analyzed, debated upon and a consensus built so that the establishment of a secure and stable internet can be achieved.
ICANN is accountable to the public (the internet users’ community) and must put in place an elaborate system of mechanisms to keep the internet community in the know of the activities it conducts to build trust (ICANN, 2007). Through its by-laws and the legal system that established it, ICANN is also accountable legally and in the corporate sense and strives to ensure that any executive decisions reached reflect the wishes and expectation of all stakeholders in global internet.
To attain the highest standards of accountability, ICANN has an established three-stage financial accountability framework involving planning, monitoring and reporting (ICANN, 2007). Planning at ICANN involves forming three-year strategies which are continually updated in between to reflect the changes occurring in the environment in which the corporation operates in. every year, after updating its strategic plan, ICANN formulates an operating plan reflecting changes in priorities. ICANN budgets are structured every new year based on the operating plan formulated after priorities have changed (ICANN, 2007). The final accountability strategy is monitoring and kicks off immediately the ICANN budget is approved by the Board of Directors.
Criticism to ICANN
After the incorporation of ICANN by the laws of the State of California, there was a feeling in the global internet community that the institution holding the mandate of assigning and registering and managing Domain Names and Internet Protocol Addresses should be founded within the frameworks of the international community (ICANN 2009). It was speculated that the United Nations would take over the corporation but there was a fear about possible division of the internet. This was solved later in 2005 when the World Summit on the Information Society established the Internet Governance Forum to serve as a platform for consultation regarding how the internet would be governed in the future.
Critics of ICANN have argued that the corporation holds its meetings in countries having low internet usage to avoid the opinions of the people who use internet services the most. ICANN’s practice of charging a semi-refundable U.S. dollars 185,000 to incorporate interested parties has also been criticized amid allegations that its mandate was not meant to decide policy on the management of the internet but to be a caretaker of the technical issues that may arise from a global network (ICANN 2009). Questions have been raised demanding an investigation on whether ICANN violates the policy and laws governing free trade in the European Community by virtue of its establishment of restrictions on which organizations are permitted to operate top-level domains and sell domain names.
The future of ICANN
With the internet increasingly penetrating the global community and becoming the preferred method of access to information and learning, ICANN hopes to be the institution that meets the aspiration of the over 2 billion users of the internet scattered all over the world (ICANN, 2010). However, it has a very big challenge. Internet users are increasing at extremely high rates and there are speculations that the technology will be used by every single person in the world a time not too far away. With over 100 billion pages accessed every single day, over one trillion Domain Name System look-ups are executed every single day. ICANN therefore must strive very hard to ensure consistency, safety and reliability of the internet while promoting the access to this revolutionary technology in areas where it is still inaccessible to many people due to the digital divide (ICANN, 2010)..
ICANN aims to continually evolve its mechanisms so that it can build trust and attain the rational interests of all internet users in the world (ICANN, 2010).. Continuing with its policy of transparency and accountability, ICANN aims to promote competition in the global internet market by building trust and availing choices to all internet users.
With domains being registered every day as the internet spreads in reach and context, there have been fears that the capacity of the domain name system could become exhausted. ICANN therefore aims to be in the frontline of pioneering new Internet Protocols that have the capacity of meeting the demand of internet addresses.
ICANN is a global organization bringing together many stakeholders in the coordination of the DNS system and Internet Protocol Addresses so that the world can have one integrated network for the purpose of sharing information and communicating. Through its policy of being community-driven, the organization has allocated almost 5 billion network addresses and governs over 200 million domain names in over 240 countries in the world (ICANN, 2010). It administers and regulates registry parameters and internet network protocols making sure that the internet remains organized and evolves in a manner that retains the compatibility necessary for a global network.
ICANN. (1998). Articles of Incorporation of Internet Corporation for Assigned names and Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.icann.org/en/general/articles.htm
ICANN. (2007). ICANN Accountability & Transparency Frameworks and Principles. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.icann.org/en/transparency/acct-trans-frameworks-principles-17oct07.pdf
ICANN. (2009). Accountability and Transparency Frameworks and Principles: Contents and Overview. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.icann.org/en/accountability/frameworks-principles/contents-overview.htm#overview
ICANN. (2010). ICANN Strategic Plan: July 2010-June 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.icann.org/en/strategic-plan/strategic-plan-2010-2013-19feb10-en.pdf
ICCAN. (2010). Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.icann.org/