& the GII
page looks at the history of ICANN, characterised by struggles
between technicians, governments, business interests and
It covers -
The internet originated as a mechanism for the exchange
of information by US government agencies and research
bodies - a private network rather than one open to the
wider community and thus without extensive administrative
During the late 1970s it came to embrace a range of academic
institutions, with growth being driven by adoption of
standards such as the
TCP/IP protocols and adoption in 1984 of the domain name
system (DNS), discussed here.
At that time responsibility for the dot-au TLD was delegated
to Melbourne University's Robert Elz.
In 1991 the US government transferred responsibility for
the non-military component of ARPANET to the National
Science Foundation (NSF), a federal government agency.
The NSF lifted restrictions on commercial use of the network.
A year later growth took
off (with the number of machines doubling each quarter
rather than each year) following release of the MOSAIC
browser that drew on work
by Tim Berners-Lee and was commercialised by Netscape.
In dealing with that growth the NSF retained the Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) - effectively Jon Postel
- for management of the allocation of IP addresses. However,
in line with government emphases on privatisation it contracted
AT&T and Network Solutions (NSI) - subsequently absorbed
by Verisign - to provide
a single network information center (NIC). NSI became
responsible, as an agent of the NSF and thus US government,
for registration of names in the .com, .net, and .org
In Australia Elz had delegated some responsibility to
Geoff Huston of Sydney University in 1990 and in 1996
delegated responsibility for the local com 2LD to a commercial
unit of Melbourne University, subsequently privatised
as Melbourne IT.
Colonisation of the web by business, other organisations
and individuals - many from outside the US - was reflected
in concerns about the shape of rules for allocation of
names on the net, resolution of disputes and broader issues
about governance of
what was increasingly a major part of the global information
Such concerns were reflected in the 1996 establishment
of an International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) by the Internet
Society (ISOC), Internet Architecture Board (IAB), Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), International Telecommunications
Union (ITU), World Intellectual
Property Organization (WIPO) and International Trademark
Association (INTA). Detailed information about those bodies
is found elsewhere on this site.
The IAHC charter
concerned "specifying and implementing policies and
procedures" regarding gTLDs. In 1997 the Committee
report on a Generic Top Level Domain Memorandum
of Understanding (gTLD-MOU).
The report proposed establishment of a global registry
under the management of a consortium of international
registrars, the Internet Council of Registrars (CORE),
on a nonprofit basis. Dispute resolution would be provided
by WIPO; support would be provided by the ITU. CORE (like
WIPO and the ITU) would be based in Switzerland. It would
be incorporated under Swiss rather than US law and not
be chartered by the US Commerce Department.
That generated considerable concerns among the more chauvinistic
members of the US congress and was exploited by IAHC critics
such as eDNS, a coalition of enthusiasts for an "alternative
root namespace" (some of whose activities included high-profile
hacking of NSI).
Alternative root system advocates questioned the need
for any coordination - particularly by a body that they
did not control - and claimed that IAHC and IANA were
somehow betraying the United States by surrendering control
of the net to a Swiss conspiracy,
to WIPO or even to the Libyan government.
Other bodies such as the Association for Interactive Media
condemned the IAHC for a "narrow, pre-commercial
view" or for being overly commercial and serving
the interests of corporate trademark owners rather than
small business and US consumers.
Proponents claimed that it would depoliticise and internationalise
administration of the net while reducing costs.
the US White and Green Papers
US President Clinton had directed
the Secretary of Commerce to "privatize, increase competition
in, and promote international participation in the domain
name system" as part of his administration's 1997 A
Framework for Global Electronic Commerce (FGEC),
In response Clinton's senior policy adviser Ira Magaziner
coordinated a discussion paper (Green
Paper) on A Proposal to Improve Technical Management
of Names & Addresses that was released in January
Magaziner had worked in the Boston Consulting Group, was
an author of the Clinton administration's controversial
health administration policy and was instrumental in development
of the FGEC. He was co-author with Robert Reich of Minding
America's Business: The Decline and Rise of the American
Economy (New York: Vintage 1982) and with Mark Patinkin
of The Silent War: Inside the Global Business Battles
Shaping America's Future (New York: Random 1989).
Responses to the Green Paper were mixed. Critics argued
that the government was overly concerned to retain control
of the net under the guise of ensuring "a reasonable
and orderly transition" to a new nonprofit organization,
notionally labelled NewCo or the new IANA. Others noted
that the proposal fundamentally diminished the role of
ISOC and that of WIPO.
In June 1998 the US National Telecommunications &
Information Administration (NTIA) released a paper on
Management of Internet Names & Addresses (aka
Paper or Magaziner Report), a revision of the Green
Paper that reflected public comment since release of the
draft and represented an official statement of policy.
The new document emphasised consensus, something that
has been increasingly difficult to achieve because of
conflicting interests and grandstanding.
Various advocacy groups responded
to the White Paper, including the International Forum
for the White Paper (IFWP) - "an ad hoc coalition of professional,
trade and educational associations representing a diversity
of Internet stakeholder groups" - and the Global Incorporation
Alliance Workshop (GIAW). We have highlighted some of
the current advocacy groups here.
Postel responded with a revised charter for IANA, which
would be responsible for internet protocol addresses,
domain names, and protocol parameters to "preserve the
central coordinating functions of the global Internet
for the public good."
The US concurrently requested WIPO to conduct a consultative
study on domain name/trademark issues that would
1 develop recommendations for a uniform approach
to resolving trademark/domain name disputes involving
2 recommend a process for protecting famous trademarks
in the generic top level domains
3 evaluate the effects ... of adding new gTLDs
and related dispute resolution procedures on trademark
and intellectual property holders.
At the beginning of October 1998 the NTIA announced that
NewCo would be called the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names & Numbers (ICANN). It would operate on the basis
of agreements with the NTIA (those agreements expire in
2003), with oversight by the US congress.
The expectation was that the new body would ensure competition
in the delivery of domain registration services, introduce
new gTLDs and act in an "open, transparent and bottom-up"
ICANN was subsequently established
as a corporation under US law. Its interim board of directors
was appointed, rather than elected, given the emphasis
on continuity and stability.
The structure of the organisation - criticised as giving
particular stakeholders too much or too little influence
- is described on the following page. In summary, it was
intended to be broadly representative, embracing governments
(which have taken an increasing interest in 'their' part
of the net), the DNS industry (registrars and registry
operators), trademark and other business interests, network
administrators and internet users.
Milton Mueller's Ruling the Root (Cambridge: MIT
Press 2002) lamented that the net's "role as a site
of radical business and technology innovation, and its
status as a revolutionary force that disrupts existing
social and regulatory regimes, is coming to an end", with
one reviewer similarly complaining that governance of
the net has
from the enlightened despotism of a technological elite
into a tool of special interests intent on protecting
and expanding the control of intellectual property online.
initially concentrated on increasing competion, moving
to accredit new registrars and establish a global Shared
Registry Service. In April 1999 it announced the selection
of 34 competitors for NSI in registration of domain names.
Testing of those competitors - the first past the post
was Register.com - proceeded despite problems with NSI,
which complained in testimony to Congress that ICANN was
out to destroy its business. Introduction of competition
is attributed to a halving of dot-com registration prices.
ICANN's first annual general meeting was held in Los Angeles
during November 1999 and centred on ratification of a
proposed agreement between ICANN and Network Solutions.
The ICANN model of a nonprofit nongovernment and broadly
representative entity was adopted in many national regimes
with for example establishment of Nominet in the UK and
CIRA in Canada.
Moves during 1997 to establish an Australian Domain Name
Administration (ADNA) were unsuccessful and a dot-AU Working
Group under Commonwealth auspices made little progress.
The National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE)
- a counterpart of the NTIA - agreed in 1998 to facilitate
creation of an internet self-regulatory regime for the
dot-au gTLD, with transfer of authority from Robert Elz
to a new entity.
That facilitation resulted in establishment during 1999
of au Administration Ltd (auDA), described in detail in
a separate profile on this
ICANN did not establish WIPO as the sole source of domain
name dispute resolution services. However, in 1999 the
proposed a uniform dispute resolution policy (UDRP) for
all registrars in the .com, .net and .org TLDs. The UDRP
- and subsequent reports by WIPO - is considered later
in this profile.
That recommendation was adopted following recommendation
by the DNSO (described on the following page), with WIPO
itself and the US National Arbitration Forum (NAF) being
approved as the first dispute-resolution service providers
under the UDRP. In 2000 eResolution and CPR were approved
as UDRP arbitrators; eResolution later withdrew and was
replaced in 2002 by the Hong Kong-based Asian Domain Name
Dispute Resolution Centre.
In conjunction with establishment of the UDRP an Anticybersquatting
Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) came into effect in
the US in 1999 and, as we've suggested later in this profile,
had a significant effect in reducing speculation in gTLD
In 2000 ICANN sought to membership from the community
through an ICANN At-Large organisation, envisaged as equivalent
to the 'Supporting Organisations' that represent particular
interests and contribute directors to the Board.
The initiative was widely, although often unfairly, criticised
and as we have noted here
regional recruitment for At-Large was uneven, with significantly
greater per capita participation in Japan and Germany
than in the US. It resulted in the election of a number
of 'user' representatives.
A succession of working parties and studies, under ICANN
auspices or otherwise, grappled with principles and specific
mechanisms for 'democratic representation' in ICANN (direct
elections, indirect representation through At-Large, reliance
on government representatives?).
Should 'users' have a small presence on the Board or comprise
most of the Directors? Did ICANN's technical function
(and significant impact) militate against decisionmaking
by representatives who might be passionate but non-expert
or view the organisation as a tool for wider social changes
(deconstructing capitalism, reducing North-South inequities)?
Registrars complained that they provided 47% of ICANN's
budget in 2002 but had only one seat on the Board and
so should get extra votes if space was made additional
user representatives. Some governments suggested that
user representation was best handled by them.
So far there has been little resolution. As the following
pages comment, while it is common to see criticisms that
ICANN is "broken", few alternatives have gained
major support or addressed all criticisms of the current
Kleinwaechter's 2001 paper
Global Governance in the Information Age argues
emergence of new global governance mechanisms like the
"Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers"
(ICANN) ... can be seen as "pilot projects" to explore
the feasibility of new policy mechanisms which go beyond
the traditional governmental top-down system.
goes on to comment that ICANN has
introduced new principles in global policy-making like
bottom-up coordination, rough consensus, openness and
transparency ... with the ongoing globalization and
informatisation of law and policy-making, new governance
structures will appear which go beyond a system based
on the territorial and personal sovereignty of the nation
issues are explored in Multi-Stakeholder Governance
and the Internet Governance Forum (Wembley: Terminus
2008) by Jeremy Malcolm.
the new gTLDs
In November 2000 the ICANN board of directors approved
the introduction of seven new TLDs:
.aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro. Four
years later the organisation was moving toward introduction
of further TLDs.
In practice the effectiveness of those space is unclear.
The viability of the commercial spaces has been uncertain
and uptake of the non-commercial TLDs appears to have
been disappointing. Arguably development of the new spaces
reflected pressure from commercial registrars and an attempt
by ICANN to demonstrate that it was responsive to calls
for diversity in domain spaces, albeit by responding to
lobbying by sectoral interests.
Australian domain administrator auDA has taken a more
cautious approach in spawning new 2LDs within the dot-au
space, for example considering and rejecting - through
a public consultation process - proposals for 'proprietorial'
2LDs, despite intensive lobbying by the Roman Catholic
church and other interests.