A B H I M A N Y U S I N G H
S E M E S T E R V I
N U S R L , R A N C H I
ICANN & ITS ROLE IN CONTROLLING
DOMAIN NAME IN TODAY’S WORLD
HISTORY OF ICANN
Before the establishment of ICANN, the Government of United States
controlled the domain name system of the Internet. In September 1969,
academics sent the first message over the ARPANET, a military
network that was the precursor of today's internet. A legacy of those
efforts is that the American government continues to control the
internet's underlying technology—notably the system of allocating
addresses. This is about to change, albeit slightly. For the past decade
America has delegated some of its authority over the internet to a non-
profit organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
and Numbers (ICANN)—an arrangement other countries have
complained about, both because they have little say in it and because
ICANN's management has occasionally proved erratic. ICANN's latest
mandate was due to expire on September 30th, 2009. But a new accord
is planned to come into effect, whereby America will pass some of its
authority over ICANN to the “internet community” of businesses,
individual users and other governments.
HISTORY OF ICANN
The US government took the initiative for the formation of ICANN and
the privatization of technical management functions of the Internet.
ICANN was founded as a non profit organization under the California
Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law in September 18, 1998. It
came into existence through a Memorandum of Understanding with the
U.S. Department of Commerce. One of ICANN’s core duties is to
manage the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA), which
allocates IP addresses to various regional assigning bodies. In some
sense, ICANN was and remains a revolutionary experiment in
governance. ICANN represents an innovative new form of governance
involving a mix of power between business, governments and civil
society. As a legal entity, ICANN is a California nonprofit corporation,
accountable only loosely to the California Attorney General, state
corporation regulations as well as federal rules regarding 501(c)(3)
Civil Society Participation in ICANN
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 as it is popularly called, 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.
LEGITIMACY OF ICANN
ICANN continues to operate under contract with the US
government, despite its initial pledge to completely transition IANA
functions to the private sector, although a limited transition has
occurred including the 2009 Affirmation of Commitments (AoC)
between ICANN and the US government. The AoC affirms key
commitments between the US Department of Commerce and
ICANN to ensure that ICANN make its decisions in an accountable
and transparent manner that promotes the global public interest.
The AoC further affirms the US government’s commitment to a
private sector led, multi-stakeholder driven bottom-up policy
development model for the Domain Name System (DNS)
coordination. ICANN occupies a unique role in that it manages a
global public resource (the internet’s domain name addressing
space), but it shares this responsibility between businesses,
governments, and civil society participants from many nations.
BEGINNING OF CONTROVERSY
Previous agreements had maintained close American
oversight over ICANN and imposed detailed reforms, but the
latest document, called an “affirmation of commitments”, is
only four pages long. It gives ICANN the autonomy to manage
its own affairs. Whereas prior agreements had to be renewed
every few years, the new one has no fixed term.
The changes at ICANN come at a time when the number of
addresses is set to expand dramatically. In 2010, ICANN
planned to allow the creation of many more domains. There
were then 21 generic ones in addition to the 280 country
suffixes (such as .uk for Britain). ICANN also intends to
authorize domain names in other scripts, which will allow
entire web addresses to be written in languages such as
Chinese and Arabic. All these are still in process.
BEGINNING OF CONTROVERSY
All this is controversial. Firms that have already spent a
fortune to protect their brands online fear that the expansion
will create a huge legal quagmire. Some American politicians
are backing calls from trademark holders to call it off. Yet the
firms that register new addresses support new domains. There
are nearly 200m internet addresses in use (see chart), which
are thought to generate more than $2.5 billion a year in
renewal fees. New domains will add to that.
The new set-up at ICANN will not placate countries such as
China, Russia and Iran that want America to relinquish
control entirely. However ICANN runs itself, it cannot alter
the basic piping of the internet without America's approval
under another agreement that lasts until 2011. Even then, that
is unlikely to change
INTERNET HEGEMONY AND THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
A squabble over who controls the internet had threatened to
overshadow the World Summit on the Information Society in
Tunisia. But a “compromise” deal was reached in Tunisia in
2005 just before the meeting opened, under which America
will retain its hegemony for the time being. Nothing has done
as much to hasten the spread around the world of fact, fiction
or rumor as the internet. The rapid dissemination of
information from a wide variety of sources, from reputable
news organizations to lone bloggers, has fostered an openness
unforeseen when the internet was created as part of an
American military-research project in the 1960s. And the web
is widely accepted as a key component of the technological
revolution that has boosted global productivity and wealth.
CONTROVERSY OVER ICANN
Many countries had wanted to relieve America of its unilateral role
in the governance of the internet and hand power to a new body
under the auspices of the UN's International Telecommunication
Union. Brazil, China and Saudi Arabia had called for a new
intergovernmental forum with real powers and a policy-making
mechanism for the internet. America had contended that this
should be little more than a talking shop, devoid of formal powers,
since existing mechanisms to co-ordinate the underlying
infrastructure of the internet's addressing system are sufficient. The
American point carried some weight. Although nominally under the
authority of America's Department Of Commerce, ICANN's
directors hail from all over the world, and it already has a
governmental advisory committee (though this is largely toothless).
Technical issues are thrashed out in the open and America's
government has refrained from direct intervention. The private-
sector solution may not be perfect, but it is at least workable.
CONTROVERSY OVER ICANN
The United States has long argued that handing control of the internet to
the UN or a separate intergovernmental agency would invite slow-witted
bureaucratic meddling, which could hinder the internet's development. In
September, the European Union surprisingly withdrew its support for the
current arrangements and proposed a governmental approach intended as
a compromise between those favoring UN oversight and the Americans.
But those countries hoping to reduce America's role in running the web will
doubtless be disappointed by the compromise that has been adopted. From
next year an international forum will convene to discuss internet issues, but
it will have no binding powers.
This is something of a relief. Many of the countries that have called loudest
for America to give up its role in the running of the internet are those that
are most keen to stop their citizens accessing “undesirable” material. China,
Iran, Saudi Arabia and a host of other nations are guilty of censoring the
content available to web users, their aim being less to protect the
population from depraved content than to deter nascent democratic
UNIFORM DOMAIN NAME DISPUTE RESOLUTION
ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP)
is one of the most important policies that ICANN has adopted
because it impacts the rights of all domain name registrants in the
event of a dispute over a domain name. Adopted by the ICANN
board in October 1999, the UDRP provides a uniform set of global
rules and procedures for the resolution of disputes involving
domain names and trademarks. After more than ten years in
practice, the UDRP has been widely criticized for policies that favor
trademark interests over registrants with other legitimate interests.
Numerous studies have shown the UDRP to favor trademark
interests because it allows the complainant to select the dispute
resolution provider. Other procedural rules that favor trademark
complainants are short response time, default rules, selection and
composition of panels, and insufficient time to get a case to a court.
The UDRP has faced further criticism for its inability to adequately
protect freedom of expression, noncommercial use and other
legitimate fair uses in the face of trademark claims.
Politics of gTLD’s
Recently, ICANN, the body that is responsible for managing
the domain name system of the internet, approved what it
refers to as "one of the biggest changes ever to the Internet's
Domain Name System", under which, for the first time ever,
ICANN is giving companies the opportunity to create and
control new top level domain names.
Internet domain names consist of multiple components,
including a top level domain name, then a second level
domain name, and, in some cases, lower level domain names.
Take, for example, an American law school's
website, www.wcl.american.edu. The top level domain
name is the suffix, ".edu". The second level domain name is
"american". The lower level domain is "wcl".
Politics of gTLD
Until now when a business wanted to establish a web address, it
would do so only by acquiring a second level domain name because
businesses did not have the opportunity to claim a unique gTLD.
The major impact of ICANN's recent action is that businesses and
other organisations will now have the ability to claim a customised
gTLD. Instead of using a second level domain name under a gTLD
such as ".com", a company can use its company name as the gTLD
itself, such as ".google". Or, it could acquire a gTLD in a generic
term, such as ".search".
Everyone seems to agree that this will be a historic expansion of
internet domain extensions. The move is the biggest change to the
internet's domain naming system since ".com" was introduced 26
years ago. This first development opened up the formerly academic
and military internet system to commercial use.
Economics of gTLD
CANN'S new gTLD programme will likely expand the
current name space from our current 21 gTLDs to
around 1,400 gTLDs. On June 13, 2012, it was
revealed that ICANN received 1,931 applications for
new gTLDs. ICANN had estimated that it would
receive 250-500 applications. The number of
applications is remarkable when one considers the
application fee of $185,000 and the annual fees of
$25,000 per gTLD.
Do the math: ICANN received $357,235,000 in
application fees alone.
Consequence of gTLD
There will likely be more reliance on search engines, and less direct
navigation - the method of arriving at a website by typing the
address directly into a browser's address bar - by internet users.
Another big change will be the addition of gTLDs in non-Latin script
for the first time. Of the 1,931 applications, 116 were for gTLDs in
A much more significant issue is whether any generic word should
be owned by a company for use as a closed registry. For example,
nine companies, including Amazon, applied for .book. Amazon
indicated in its application that it would operate .book as a closed
registry meaning that it would not permit a market in .book second-
level domains. Thus, no publisher, author, reviewer, or significantly,
other e-book merchant would have access to the .book domain.
Internet users seeking information about books in the .book domain
would be captive to Amazon, a single company.
Ever heard of a company called “Donuts”? It is now a
business to watch as it has the distinction of having filed
the most gTLD applications. It applied for 307 new
gTLDS, all of them generic terms, and all for open
registries whereby companies wishing to use one of
Donuts' gTLDs will have to pay Donut for its use. Some
of its applications include .app, .group, .delivery, .photos,
.pets, .band, .wedding, .city, .news, .tickets and .email.
This company was formed only to take advantage of the
new gTLD programme. It sourced over $100m in capital.
Again, do the math: Donuts spent $57m in application
fees, and would owe $7.6m in annual fees to ICANN if all
of its applied-for gTLDs are delegated. If successful, it
may become a major internet player.
INDIA’S STAND ON ICANN
Following outrage from India’s civil society and media, it
appears the country’s government has backed away from
its proposal to create a UN body to govern the internet.
The controversial plan, which was made without
consulting civil society, angered local stakeholders,
including academics, media, and industry associations.
Civil society expressed fear that a 50-member UN body,
many of whom would seek to control the internet for
their own political ends, would restrict the very free and
dynamic nature of the internet. The proposal envisaged
50 member States chosen on the basis of equitable
geographic representation” that would meet annually in
Geneva as the UN Committee for Internet-Related
INDIA’S STAND ON ICANN
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Indian parliamentarian and critic of
the proposal, said: “CIRP seems like a solution in search of a
At the 4-5 October, 2012 Conference on Cyberspace in
Budapest, the then Minister of State for Telecom, Sachin Pilot,
indicated that India was moving away from the “control of the
internet by government or inter-governmental bodies”, and
moving instead towards enhanced dialogue. Pilot has now
confirmed the change to Index, saying that the Indian
government has now decided to “nuance” its former position.
The sudden move can be explained by India’s decision to now
develop its own stance, claiming that it was initially just
supporting proposals made at the India, Brazil and South
Africa seminar (IBSA) on Global Internet Governance in
Brazil in September 2011.
INDIA’S STAND ON ICANN
The government representatives present at the IBSA
seminar drafted a set of recommendations focused on
institutional improvement, which pushed for the UN to
establish a body “in order to prevent fragmentation of the
internet, avoid disjointed policymaking, increase
participation and ensure stability and smooth
functioning of the internet”. The proposal was to be
tabled until the IBSA Summit on 18 October 2011, but
according to a Daily Mail report, Indian bureaucrats
publicly discussed the proposal at the 2011 Internet
Governance Forum (IGF) in Kenya, saying that the move
“was criticized across the board by all countries and
scared away both Brazil and South Africa.”
INDIA’S STAND ON ICANN
The report also alleges that the Indian government only
consulted one NGO — IT for Change — in drafting the
proposal presented in Brazil, despite repeated offers from
other participants to pay for members of the country’s third
sector to participate in the seminar. India’s proposed UN-
CIRP was slammed for moving away from multi-
stakeholderism and instead opting for government-led
Whatever the truth behind the Indian government’s motives
in proposing UN-CIRP, its new and more “nuanced” position
is a welcome move. It remains to be seen if India will maintain
its new stance at the upcoming IGF, which will be held from
6-9 November, 2013 in Baku, Azerbaijan, or will revert back
on its demand of UN-CIRP.