By Jim LeFevre, Senior Director of Marketing, Public Interest Registry
If you think of the internet as a vast network of highways, ICANN is the regulator that works to ensure that digital internet destinations along the network are safely designated and maintained. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, better known as ICANN, is the authority that keeps internet connections running without interference. As the final post in the Domain Insider’s Guide to the Industry series, it’s time to explore what ICANN is, why it’s important to the domain industry and how it helps keep the internet running smoothly.
Why is ICANN Important?
Before we define what ICANN is we must take a step back and explain how connections on the internet are made. To connect your computer or device to a destination on the internet, your device connects to that destination’s unique name or number (IP address) associated with it. An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique numeric internet location that allows a system to be recognized by other systems connected via the internet protocol. IP addresses are usually written and displayed in a dotted decimal notation, such as 172.16.254.1 and can be found on your computer or device. These unique IP addresses are routinely converted into the letters and words of your domain name. We can all agree that www.pir.org is a lot easier to remember than 188.8.131.52.
Here’s where ICANN comes in – ICANN is a non-profit organization formed to coordinate the internet’s unique identifiers on a global scale. ICANN works with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to coordinate the IANA functions (Root Zone management, number resources, and Internet protocols) that enable the domain name system (DNS) to function.
What is its purpose?
Founded on September 18, 1998, ICANN was originally created in response to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, issuing a proposal to oversee the technical management of internet names and addresses. Under contract with the NTIA from 1998 to 2016, ICANN served as the non-governmental organization to coordinate technical internet services, including 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. In October 2016 the relationship with the U.S. government ended and the NTIA transitioned these key internet domain name functions from management of the U.S. government to the global multistakeholder community, under ICANN’s leadership. The ICANN History Project is a great resource to learn more about the intricacies and timeline of this relationship.
ICANN’s role is to maintain the technical elements of the DNS so that all internet users can establish a connection with valid IP addresses. ICANN’s stewardship role enables central coordination and operational stability of the internet. It’s also important to clarify that ICANN has a very narrow technical mission and scope and does not police the internet or control content; provide security services against malware, spam or attacks; provide internet access.
The Multi-stakeholder Community Approach
Because ICANN manages a very vast technical network of the internet on a global scale, it takes a village to keep systems and process in order. ICANN is supported by a “multi-stakeholder model” made up of stakeholder groups including individuals, companies, governments, and organizations. The multi-stakeholder community discusses issues within ICANN’s mission and scope and works to find solutions.
Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees
The multi-stakeholder community is comprised of Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees. There are three Supporting Organizations, including Generic Names Supporting Organization, Country Code Names Supporting Organization and Address Supporting Organization, which develop and recommend policies that fall within their specific area of interest.
The primary role of the Advisory Committees is to provide recommendations around policy, security and the operation of the DNS root server system to the ICANN Board. The Advisory Committees include: Governmental Advisory Committee, Security and Stability Advisory Committee, Root Server System Advisory Committee and the At-Large Advisory Committee.
Board of Directors
ICANN has an internationally diverse, 16-member board of directors including both voting members and non-voting liaisons. The board includes eight members selected by a Nominating Committee, six representatives from Supporting Organizations, an At-Large seat filled by an At-Large organization, and the President of ICANN. The Board’s primary principle is to ensure ICANN’s mission to operate a secure and stable DNS is fulfilled. They do that by ensuring policies proposed have been developed in line with established procedures, are fiscally responsible to the organization, and are consistent with ICANN’s Bylaws. Unlike many corporate boards which direct form the top down, because of ICANN’s bottom-up multi-stakeholder approach to policy-making stakeholders develop policies and proposals and the ICANN Board works to implement the needs of the stakeholders in line with the above principles and goals.
To remain transparent, ICANN holds meetings three times a year in different locations around the world. These meetings are an opportunity for the domain industry to speak with the board and its committees in person to discuss current policies and identify solutions to issues facing the internet. Additional information on ICANN’s meetings can be found here. In addition to meetings, ICANN provides extensive remote participate capabilities, conducts open public comment periods on almost all policies and or proposals from the community to the Board, provides all notes and transcripts of Board meetings, and maintains a robust website. Further, the SOs and ACs within ICANN work to operate in similarly transparent ways.
Public Interest Registry attends ICANN meetings regularly and participates as a member of the GNSO’s Registries Stakeholder Group. Check out previous posts on our team’s experience at ICANN63 and Tips for an ICANN Meeting First-Timer.
How You Can Get Involved
If you are interested in getting involved with ICANN visit their website here and check out the “Get Started” dropdown at the top of the page. There you will find Beginner’s Guides, booklets that help newcomers quickly grasp the basics of the organization and Newcomers Programs for participation. We find these materials to be a helpful guide on engaging with ICANN nd an in-depth history of ICANN. New participants can also check out the Fellowship Program – a program designed to strengthen the diversity of the multistakeholder community by providing opportunities for individuals from underserved and underrepresented communities to become active ICANN participants.
That’s it! You are now a domain industry insider. We hope you’ve enjoyed our final post in the Domain Insider’s Guide to the Industry series. In case you missed the first two check out the first post, A Domain Insider’s Guide to the Industry: Registrar Edition and the second, A Domain Insider’s Guide to the Industry: Registry Edition.
Make sure you come back next month to build on your newfound knowledge in our next series, “Debunking Domain Industry Myths,” where we’ll explore common misconceptions related to the domain industry.