ICANN explained

ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Headquartered in Marina Del Rey, California, ICANN is a California non-profit corporation that was created on September 18, 1998 in order to oversee a number of Internet-related tasks previously performed directly on behalf of the U.S. Government by other organizations, notably IANA.

The tasks of ICANN include managing the assignment of domain names and IP addresses. To date, much of its work has concerned the introduction of new generic top-level domains. The technical work of ICANN is referred to as the IANA function; the rest of ICANN is mostly concerned with defining policy.

On September 29, 2006, ICANN signed a new agreement with the United States Department of Commerce (DOC) that is a step forward toward the full management of the Internet's system of centrally coordinated identifiers through the multi-stakeholder model of consultation that ICANN represents.

Paul Twomey is the President/CEO of ICANN, since March 27, 2003. Internet inventor Vint Cerf is currently Chairman of the ICANN Board of Directors.

Structure of ICANN
At present, ICANN is formally organized as a non-profit corporation "for charitable and public purposes" under the California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law. It is managed by a Board of Directors, which is composed by six representatives of the Supporting Organizations, sub-groups that deal with specific sections of the policies under ICANN's purview; eight independent representatives of the general public interest, selected through a Nominating Committee in which all the constituencies of ICANN are represented; and the President and CEO, appointed by the rest of the Board.

The Supporting Organizations are currently three: the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) deals with policy making on generic top-level domains (gTLDs); the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) deals with policy making on country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs); the Address Supporting Organization (ASO) deals with policy making on IP addresses.

ICANN also relies on some advisory committees to receive advice on the interests and needs of stakeholders that do not directly participate in the Supporting Organization. These include the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which is composed by representatives of a great number of national governments from all the world; the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), which is composed by representatives of organizations of individual Internet users from all the world; the Root Server System Advisory Committee, providing advice on the operation of the DNS root server system; the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), composed by Internet experts who study security issues pertaining to ICANN's mandate; and the Technical Liaison Group (TLG), composed by representatives of other international technical organizations of the Internet.

ICANN procedures
ICANN holds periodic public meetings rotated between continents for the expressed purpose of encouraging global participation in its processes. Critics argue that the locations of these meetings are often in countries with lower Internet usage and far away from locations that the majority of the Internet-using public can afford to reach, thus making public input or participation from traditional Internet users less likely. Supporters reply that ICANN has a worldwide remit and a key part of its mission is to build Internet use where it is weak.

ICANN was set up in California due to the presence of Jon Postel, who was a founder of ICANN and was set to be its first CTO prior to his unexpected death. ICANN remains in the same building where he worked, which is home to an office of the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California.

Resolutions of the ICANN Board, preliminary reports and minutes of the meetings are published for the public to view on the ICANN website. However there are criticisms from ICANN constituencies like Noncommercial Users Constituency (NCUC) and At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) that there is not enough public disclosure and that too many discussions take place out of sight of the public.

One task that ICANN was asked to do was to address the issue of domain name ownership resolution for generic top-level domains (gTLDs). ICANN's attempt at such a policy was drafted in close cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the result has now become known as the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

This policy essentially attempts to provide a mechanism for rapid, cheap and reasonable resolution of domain name conflicts, avoiding the traditional court system for disputes by allowing cases to be brought to one of a set of bodies that arbitrate domain name disputes. According to ICANN policy, a domain registrant MUST agree to be bound by the UDRP - they cannot get a domain name without agreeing to this.

A look at the UDRP decision patterns by Hannibal Travis has led to the conclusion that the policy is just a way for rich and powerful entities to steal domains from those that are not part of the WIPO organization.

Notable events in ICANN history
The original mandate for ICANN came from the United States Government, spanning the presidential administrations of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. On January 30, 1998, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the US Department of Commerce, issued for comment, "A Proposal to Improve the Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses". The proposed rule making, or "Green Paper", was published in the Federal Register on February 20, 1998, providing opportunity for public comment. NTIA received more than 650 comments, as of March 23, 1998, when the comment period closed.

The Green Paper proposed certain actions designed to privatize the management of Internet names and addresses in a manner that allows for the development of robust competition and facilitates global participation in Internet management. The Green Paper proposed for discussion a variety of issues relating to DNS management including private sector creation of a new not-for-profit corporation (the "new corporation") managed by a globally and functionally representative Board of Directors. ICANN was formed in response to this policy. The IANA function currently exists under a remit from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

On March 14, 2002, in a public meeting in Accra, in Ghana, ICANN decided to reduce direct public ("at large") participation.

One of a few publicly elected board members, Karl Auerbach, sued ICANN in Superior Court in California in order to see accounting records without being required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The records were ultimately released to the public in August 2002.

In September and October 2003 ICANN played a crucial role in the conflict over VeriSign's "wild card" DNS service Site Finder. After an open letter from ICANN issuing an ultimatum to VeriSign, the company voluntarily shut down the service on October 4, 2003. Following this step VeriSign filed a lawsuit against ICANN on February 27, 2004, claiming that ICANN had overstepped its authority, seeking through the suit to reduce ambiguity over ICANN's authority. The anti-trust component of VeriSign's claim was dismissed in August 2004. VeriSign's broader challenge that ICANN overstepped its contractual rights is currently outstanding, although a proposed settlement approved by ICANN's board would drop VeriSign's challenge to ICANN in exchange for the right to increase pricing on .COM domains.

At the meeting of ICANN in Rome taking place from March 2 to March 6, 2004, ICANN agreed to ask approval of the US Department of Commerce for the Waiting List Service of VeriSign.

On May 17, 2004, ICANN published a proposed budget for the year 2004-05. It included proposals to increase the openness and professionalism of its operations, and greatly increased its proposed spending, from US $8.27m to $15.83m. The increase was to be funded by the introduction of new top-level domains, charges to domain registries, and a fee for some domain name registrations, renewals and transfers (initially USD 0.20 for all domains within a country-code top-level domain, and USD 0.25 for all others). The Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries (CENTR), which represents the Internet registries of 39 countries, rejected the increase, accusing ICANN of a lack of financial prudence and criticising what it describes as ICANN's "unrealistic political and operational targets". Despite the criticism, the registry agreement for the top-level domains .JOBS and .TRAVEL includes a US $2 fee on every domain the licensed companies sell or renew.

Along with the successful negotiations of the .TRAVEL and .JOBS namespace, .MOBI, and .CAT are some of the new top-level domains introduced by ICANN. The additional introduction of the .EU Top Level Domain to the root, and the proposed .ASIA multiregional suffix are developments to watch.

After an extensive build-up that saw speculation that the United Nations might signal a takeover of ICANN, the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia in November 2005 agreed not to get involved in the day-to-day and technical operations of ICANN. However it also agreed to set up an international Internet Governance Forum, with a consultative role on the future governance of the Internet. ICANN's Government Advisory Committee or GAC, is currently set up to provide advice to ICANN regarding public policy issues and has participation by many of the world's governments.

On February 28, 2006, ICANN's board approved a settlement with VeriSign in the lawsuit resulting from SiteFinder that involved allowing VeriSign (the registry) to raise its registration fees by up to 7% a year. This was criticised by some people in the US House of Representatives' Small Business committee.[6]

On May 10, 2006 ICANN rejected a plan for a new ".xxx" suffix that would have been designated for websites with pornographic content (see best adult hosting). The rejection followed an initial acceptance of the ".xxx" suffix, following pressure applied by the United States government, including strong hints that the Commerce department would depart from its usual rubber-stamp approval of ICANN's gTLD decisions. ICANN's rejection of ".xxx" was taken by many as a sign of too much U.S. government interference into ICANN's workings.

ICANN rejected .XXX again on March 30, 2007 during its meeting at Lisbon, Portugal.

On July 26, 2006, the United States Government renewed the contract with ICANN for performance of the IANA function for an additional one to five years. The context of ICANN's relationship with the US Government was clarified on September 29, 2006 when ICANN signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Department of Commerce (DOC).

In February 2007, ICANN began the steps to remove accreditation of one of their registrars, RegisterFly, amid charges and lawsuits involving fraud, and criticism of ICANN's handling of the situation. ICANN has also been the subject of criticism, due to their handling of RegisterFly, and the harm caused to thousands of clients due to what was called their "laissez faire attitude toward customer allegations of fraud".

It has been suggested publicly that ICANN should internationalize, in that it should be seen as an international public organization and should remove historical contractual links to the U.S. Government and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

To counteract this argument, supporters note that of the 15 voting members of the ICANN Board of Directors, it currently has board members from six continents, and has only four US Directors:

- ICANN Chairman, Vint Cerf, a noted "Father of the Internet" who was appointed by ICANN's Nominating Committee;
- Rita Rodin, a New York attorney who was appointed by ICANN's Generic Name Supporting Organization or GNSO in 2006;
- Steven N. Goldstein retired from the National Science Foundation in 2003, was selected by the 2006 Nominating Committee to serve as a Board Member.
- Susan Crawford, Associate Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School in New York City, was appointed to the Board by the Nominating Committee in 2005.

The authority that the U.S. Government holds via contracts with ICANN and Commerce stems from the historical role of the United States in creating the Internet. Support from National Top Level Domain Internet registries has improved drastically in 2006, but for some, there has not been universal acceptance of ICANN's legitimacy.

To counteract this argument, opponents note that the ICANN link to the American Government no longer reflects the international nature of the Internet.

Governance issues
ICANN was charged with "Operating in a bottom up, consensus driven, democratic manner" by the US Department of Commerce in the Memorandum of Understanding that set up the relationship between ICANN and the US Government. However, the attempts that ICANN made to set up an organizational structure that would allow wide input from the global Internet community did not work well; the At-Large constituency and direct election of board members by the global Internet community were soon abandoned.

Proponents of an unrestricted namespace argue that ICANN was never given the right to decide policy (ie: choose new TLDs or shut out other who refuse to pay their USD 50,000 fee), but was to be a technical caretaker. They claim that ICANN should not be allowed to impose business rules on market participants - all TLDs should be added on a first-come-first-served basis and the market should be the arbiter of who succeeds and who doesn't.

In addition to that, a member of the European Parliament, William Newton-Dunn, has recently been addressing questions to the European Commission which asks whether ICANN is engaging in restraint of European free trade laws by imposing restrictions on who can operate a TLD and sell domain names. The restrictions are considered insurmountable by many small business owners and individuals, such as the non-refundable $50,000 application fee.

Alternatives to ICANN have been suggested for managing the DNS namespace and the address space, including:
- Letting the US Government perform ICANN's tasks directly
- Assigning ICANN's tasks to the International Telecommunication Union
- Turning ICANN into a new UN agency
- Letting the Regional Internet Registries manage the addresses
- Abandoning all control and letting the DNS namespace be a free-for-all
- Creating a new non-profit organisation without any links to the current interested parties

Note: Some best web hosting companies offers a full range of domain registration services, including hiding whois information, for free!

As of February 2006, no single proposal has enough political push behind it to succeed.

In addition, a number of private, for-profit firms are trying to "seize the opportunity" of namespace development by creating new TLDs in alternative DNS roots. Chief among them are Amsterdam-based UnifiedRoot and New.net, which started off as one of Bill Gross' Idealab projects. These initiatives assume (or hope) that the discussions around ICANN will result in a free-for-all, where they will be able to claim that their namespaces are "as good as anyone else's".

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