Last modified on 20 June 2007, at 19:37

Internet Governance/Appendix 2: Additional Background

Roles and functions of ICANN and IANA

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was created in 1998 to institutionalize the oversight of the Internet’s system of unique numbers and identifiers. The task had been the responsibility of Dr Jonathan Postel, a researcher who was deeply involved in the development of the Internet and who served as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for over a quarter of a century. ICANN is a multi-stakeholder organization responsible for the “bottom-up” development of technical policy for the management of the unique names, numbers and identifiers associated with the Internet and the accreditation of the operators of certain key Internet functions. The IANA function is incorporated into the ICANN operation.

Due to its role in the initial development of the Internet, the US Government has played a key role in the oversight of the IANA function and more generally, ICANN. There is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that guides ICANN’s progress towards independent operation. The present MoU expires in September 2006 and it is expected that ICANN will operate as an independent entity assuming it is able to fulfill all of the obligations set forth in the MoU. In the interim, the US Government, by way of the Department of Commerce (DOC), National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), has the responsibility and authority to approve changes to the Domain Name Root Zone file. In all the years of IANA operation, the US Government has not rejected any recommendations for such a change.

Every device on the Internet has an Internet address (either a 32-bit or 128-bit number). The addresses are assigned on the basis of network topology so as to minimize the amount of information that has to be exchanged throughout the Internet to effect the routing of Internet packets from one place to another. IANA allocates blocks of Internet address space to the five RIRs who in turn allocate address space to ISPs or assign address space to qualified end users. There are five RIRs: APNIC (Asia/Pacific Rim), LACNIC (Latin and Central America), AFRINIC (Africa), RIPE-NCC (Europe), and ARIN (North America). The five RIRs, for purposes of developing global allocation policies, work together as the Number Resource Organization (NRO). Their recommendations come to ICANN for approval and adoption. The Executive Council of the NRO serves as ICANN’s Address Supporting Organization and is responsible for appointing two of the members of ICANN’s board of directors.

The Internet’s DNS is used to translate domain names into Internet addresses. In rough terms, there are two major classes of domain names in the Internet system. The now-familiar ‘www.icann.org’ style of domain name is an example of a generic domain name and .org is a TLD. The other class is the country code domain name such as ‘www.denic.de’, where “de” stands for “Deutschland” or Germany. There are scores of generic top level domains (.com, .net, .org, .int, .edu, .mil, .gov, .arpa, .info, .biz, .museum, .jobs, .mobi, .travel, .cat, .coop, .aero, .post with others still pending). There are on the order of 200 country code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .fr, .uk, and so on. The set of top level domains and the computers that translate domain names into Internet addresses form the distributed DNS. There is a central list of all top level domain name servers and this is called the Root Zone File. This list is replicated in Root Servers that are located throughout the Internet. IANA maintains the Root Zone File and provides updates to the Root Server operators as needed. There are 12 Root System Operators who are responsible for 13 Root Servers. By means of a special Internet routing system called “anycast” there are actually as many as 100 replicas of the Root Servers in operation throughout the Internet.

ICANN has extensive contractual relationships with most of the generic TLDs (exceptions being .mil and .gov which are operated by the US Government, .arpa and .int which are largely operated by IANA). ICANN has responsibility for delegating operation of the ccTLDs although with some exceptions, it does not have contractually documented oversight. Redelegation of the operation of a ccTLD is a responsibility of the IANA and very carefully structured processes and procedures are employed when such a redelegation is needed.

ICANN has a Country Code Name Supporting Organization (CCNSO) with membership drawn from the operators of ccTLD registries. ICANN also has a Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO) whose membership includes domain name registry operators, domain name registrars, ISPs, business community members and non-profit organizations. The CCNSO and GNSO each help to develop policy for adoption by the ICANN board and each appoints two directors to the Board of ICANN. The CEO of ICANN is an ex officio member of the Board. The remaining eight directors of ICANN are appointed by a nominating committee whose membership is drawn broadly from the global Internet community.

In addition to its supporting organizations, ICANN has a number of advisory committees including the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), charged with helping to organize policy input from civil society; the Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC); the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC); and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). The latter has membership from about 100 countries and is responsible for providing public policy input to the ICANN board.

Internet standards

In the early period of Internet development, an Internet Activities Board (IAB) was created by DARPA to oversee the standardization of Internet protocols. Later, the details of protocol development fell to IETF that spun out of the IAB. An Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) was also created to pursue advanced concepts not yet ready for standardization. In 1992, ISOC was formed to provide an institutional home for IETF, IRTF and IAB (renamed at that time the Internet Architecture Board). In addition, with the advent of the World Wide Web in 1989, W3C was formed to pursue further development of the standards and technologies of the World Wide Web. Other standards organizations also contribute technology that supports the Internet, notably IEEE andITU among others, such as regional and national standards bodies.

The Internet Society, in addition to supporting the IAB, IRTF and IETF also supports the Request For Comment (RFC) editor. The Request for Comment series of documents, founded in 1969 during the development of a predecessor to the Internet, the ARPANET, comprises the standards documentation for the Internet. The IANA maintains tables of Internet parameters that are referenced by the RFCs. The Internet Society has other outreach activities, including scores of chapters around the world and education and training programmes that promote technical competence in Internet implementation and operation.