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Type: Private, Non-Profit
Industry: Internet Protocol Management
Founded: 1998
Headquarters: 4676 Admiralty Way # 330, Marina del Rey, CA
Country: International, USA
Employees: 140 employees
Revenue: 63.6 million (2010)
Website: ICANN.org
Key People
Peter Dengate Thrush Chair,

Steve Crocker Vice Chair,
Rod Beckstrom CEO and President

ICANN is an acronym for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a global multi-stakeholder organization that was created and empowered through actions by the U.S. government and its Department of Commerce.[1] It coordinates the Internet DNS, IP addresses and AS numbers; which involves a continued management of these evolving systems and the protocols that underly them.

While ICANN has its roots in the U.S. government, it is now, and continues to strive to be, an international, community driven organization. Their management of an interoperable Internet covers 180 million domain names, the allocation of more than 4 billion network addresses, and the support of approximately a trillion DNS look-ups everyday across 240 countries.[2]

ICANN collaborates with companies, individuals, and governments to ensure the continued success of the Internet. It holds meetings three times a year, switching the international location for each meeting; one of these serves as the annual general meeting when the new ICANN board members take their seats.[3]

The Beginning

On July 1st, 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton directed the Secretary of Commerce to privatize the management of the DNS, which had heretofore been managed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other U.S. research agencies.[4] The goal was to open the Internet to greater international participation, and to bolster it as a new medium of commercial competition and exchange.[5]

On July 2nd, the Department of Commerce requested public input regarding DNS administration and structure, policy input regarding new registrars and the creation of new TLDs, and concerns regarding trademarks. More than 1,500 pages of comments were received.[6]

In January, 1998, an agency of the Department of Commerce (NTIA) issued what has become known as the "Green Paper." The document was a proposal which made clear that the agency intended to empower a non-profit entity to take control of the Internet and its DNS system.[7] The proposal drew criticism from some American lawmakers and other concerned individuals who saw the American-fostered Internet about to be handed over to a Swiss entity.[8] The revised "White Paper" addressed some of those concerns but still posited the need for an Internet organization which could respect and foster stability, competition, bottom-up coordination, and international representation, while also establishing appropriate protocol and administrative mechanisms.[9] The "White Paper" did not clarify all of the divisive issues but instead called for the proposed entity to utilize its self-governance to decide on the issues at hand itself.[10]

The Memorandum of Understanding

On November 25th, 1998, The U.S. Department of Commerce and ICANN entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU),[11] which officially recognized ICANN as the entity that would:

a. Establish policy for and direct the allocation of IP number blocks;

b. Oversee the operation of the authoritative root server system;

c. Oversee the policy for determining the circumstances under which new TLDs would be added to the root system;

d. Coordinate the assignment of other Internet technical parameters as needed to maintain universal connectivity on the Internet; and

e. Oversee other activities necessary to coordinate the specified DNS management functions, as agreed by the Department of Commerce and ICANN.

Once again, these responsibilities would be undertaken and guided by the principles of stability, competition, private bottom-up coordination, and representation.[12] The agreement established ICANN as an entity that would encourage transparency in its dealings and would create ample room for appeals for any binding decisions it would make. The Department of Commerce later noted that it was comfortable ceding its control to ICANN, as it seemed like the best step towards true privatization while still binding the authority of the institution to the American policies found within the MoU.[13] The original agreement was set with an expiration of September 30th, 2000.[14] The MoU has been amended several times.

Initial Issues

ICANN was immediately faced with two pressing, opposing issues: the task of reigning in CyberSquatting by creating policies necessary to protect recognized trademarks, and conversely the need to expand the number of entities accredited to function as registrars. Following the release of the White Paper, WIPO began its own research into how to protect trademarks and intellectual property within the changing DNS. A congressional hearing some 7 months after the empowerment of ICANN recognized the steps that the new entity had already taken to protect intellectual property, recognized the headway WIPO had made in creating further proposals, and called on intellectual property owners to become involved in ICANN. [15]

WIPO's report, submitted to ICANN at their 1999 meeting in Berlin, supported the Whois system, but also recommended that, should the Whois system fail to provide adequate contact information for the trademark holder to contact the domain name holder, the registrar should be obliged to rectify the situation by canceling the domain name holder's rights to the name. ICANN immediately took steps to develop the nascent Whois system.

The report also made recommendations regarding the process of accrediting new registrars, called for the creation of a concrete dispute resolution process for intellectual property issues within the DNS, and also recommended that the creation of any new gTLDs should proceed slowly and with caution. These recommendations precipitated ICANN's Accreditation Guidelines, the creation of the UDRP, and the continued debate over how and when to increase the number of gTLDs.[16]

Registrar Accreditation

A month before the MoU officially recognized ICANN, the Department of Commerce and NSI amended their cooperative agreement. The agreement had previously maintained the NSI as the only registrar for the .com, .org, and .net domains.[17] The three amendments to the agreement removed the exclusive rights of NSI; amendment 11 called for the creation of a Shared Registry System, whereby an unlimited number of competitive registrars would have access to one system managed by NSI.[18] Amendment 12 gave more time to NSI to complete important milestones in the liberalization of registry services; the final phase, which called for equal access to the SRS by all accredited registrars, was now given a deadline of about one year, October 25th, 1999.[19] Amendment 13 attached a $9 fee for each second level domain name registered, payable as $18 for new registrations and $9 per year on the anniversary of the original registration.[20]

On February 8th, 1999, ICANN posted its Draft Guidelines for Registrar Accreditation for public commentary.[21] The guidelines were formed through consultation with the DOC and NSI, and further tailored after the session of public commentary.[22] Some issues raised during the period of public commentary include: concerns regarding the inherent bureaucracy, inadequate protections for intellectual property, and the reasoning behind accrediting registrars before the DNSO was constituted.[23] The ICANN board accepted the revised Statement of Registrar Accreditation Policy at their March, 1999 meeting in Singapore.[24]

The initial policy called for registrars to provide secure access to the registry, be operationally capable of handling significant registration volume, maintain electronic transaction records, handle and provide prompt service to SLD requests, provide security, handle seamless transfers of customers who desire to switch registrars, employ an adequately sized staff, and have measures in place to protect the interests of their customers should the registrar fail. The registrar would also have to demonstrate that it had a sufficient liability insurance policy and store of liquid assets. A concern over creating and maintaining a valid registry service is evidenced in the requirement that information regarding each registrant of a SLD would have to be submitted by the registrar to NSI for inclusion in its registry. Providing a searchable Whois service was also required. Application fees for those applying to be included in the Phase 1 testbed cost $2,500, the general application fee was $1,000. Annual accreditation fees, amounting to $5,000, would also be assessed.[25]

The Registration Accreditation Agreement was unanimously amended by the ICANN board in May, 2009.[26]

The Testbed Period

Numerous technical problems plagued the testbed period of the SRS.[27] The aforementioned Amendment 12 established the testbed period as Phase 1 of the deployment of the SRS, and set a start date of April 26th, 1999, and an end date of June 25th, 1999.[28] Register.com finally became the first of the 5 competitive testbed registrars to successfully implement its interface with the SRS, which happened 6 weeks into the 2 month testbed period. The technical difficulties also extended to the deployment of the required Whois system.[29] Throughout the testbed period general applications for the later phases were being accepted.[30] The Department of Commerce and the NSI extended the testbed period about 4 times,[31] the final extension finally expired on November 5th, 1999.[32]


On September 29th, 1999, ICANN posted the Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy for public comments. The process aimed to address problems arising from CyberSquatting and protect intellectual property rights. This process was not solely a concern or product of ICANN,given WIPO's earlier, and continued, effort on the UDRP. The policy asserts that it will transfer, delete, or asses other changes to any domain name held by a domainer which:

1. Is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and

2. The domainer no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and

3. The domain name in question has been registered and is being used in bad faith.[33]

The same day, ICANN also issued the Rules for the UDRP, which set forth the procedure for filing and responding to complaints. This was also open for a period of public commentary.[34] Some of the public comments can be found here.

ICANN adopted the UDRP at its November, 1999, meeting in Los Angeles.[35]

Organization & Structure