Panos London 01 Who Rules the Internet

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  • 8/14/2019 Panos London 01 Who Rules the Internet


    P A N O S M E D I A T O O L K I T O N I C T s No. 1

    Who rules the internet?

    Understanding ICANN

    Why ICANN is important now:internet governance and WSIS

    Internet governance was a subject of heateddebate at the World Summit on the InformationSociety (WSIS) in Geneva in 2003. Some groupsfear that the internet is controlled by commercialinterests instead of being a global resource thatis equally available to all; on the other hand, othersfear that calls for reform of internet governancemask a desire on the part of some governmentsto control content and limit freedom of expressionon the internet. ICANN is one of the most impor tantactors in the present internet governance system,and was at the hear t of much of the debate.

    The 2003 Summit agreed that governance isimportant but did not agree on a new governancesystem, and so the UN Secretary General establisheda Working Group on Internet Governance. ThisWorking Group is due to make recommendationsto the second stage of WSIS in Tunis in November2005. These will include recommendations onthe future role of ICANN.

    Why does the internet need Governance?

    The internet is a global resource that anyone canuse, but its growth would not be helped by leavingit as a complete free-for-all. Currently the internethas no single governance system because itis so new and has been developed largely by theprivate sector. Different aspects are managedby a number of different organisations.

    There are different ideas of what internetgovernance should consist of. (The first taskof the Working Group was to develop a definitionof internet governance.) Among the areas inwhich the internet needs, or might benefi t from,management, are:

    allocating addresses, and organising them intogroups like .com, .org, and countr y groups suchas .ug, .uk

    technical and engineering issues, to ensuresmooth functioning of the system and compatibilityof different elements

    managing spam, viruses and fraud in order to

    maintain users confidence and meet expectations.

    The basic question being debated is whethergovernments should have a larger role in governanceof the internet in which case internet governancewould need to be brought under an intergovernmentalbody, probably within the UN system. Opponentsof this view believe that the present system, in whichthe private sector and civil society have a greater role,can work well and does not need such radical change.They fear that if governments were given more powerover the internet, they would use this to constrainits dynamic growth and limit users freedom.

    Opinions also differ strongly on whether theinternet governance system should addressthe question of controlling undesirable content pornography, hate- content, crime or whetherthis is covered adequately by existing legislationin each country.

    ICANN (the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers)is the organisation that oversees the system of internetaddresses. It is a non-profit membership organisation establishedin 1998 and based in the United States.

    Media toolkit on Information andCommunication Technologies (ICTs)This is the first in a series of shor t briefing documents for

    journalists on different aspects of ICTs and the informationsociety. It is offered as a service to non-special ists,and in particular to journalists wishing to cover informationsociety issues around the second stage of the WorldSummit on the Information Society (November 2005).Future briefs will cover other ICT governance institu tionsand issues, and emerging technologies. If you would liketo receive future issues (by e-mail or hard copy), pleasecontact or find themon the Panos website

  • 8/14/2019 Panos London 01 Who Rules the Internet


    The functions of ICANN

    When you type an address and open a web page, youdont have to pause to think about what makes thispossible. The easy-to-use two- or three-par t address(eg is par t of a system overseenby ICANN and developed by ICANNs precursors.

    ICANN is responsible for oversight of:

    the Domain Name System

    Internet Protocol addresses

    the Root Server system

    Easy addresses the Domain Name System

    The most visible of ICANNs responsibili ties isto oversee the internet address system. Webaddresses contain an abbreviation such as .org,.com, .co or gov. This section in a web address iscalled the generic Top Level Domain name (gTLD).Another section of many addresses is a countrycode Top Level Domain name (ccTLD). All countries

    in the world have a two- letter ccTLD, such as .ug(Uganda), .za (South Africa).

    The original internet address system used InternetProtocol (IP) numbers: every website has a uniqueidentifying number by which the system recognisesit and routes information to it. But by 1984 there wereso many addresses the system was becoming difficultto use, so the Domain Names System was introduced,replacing numbers with words and organising theminto the generic Domains. Countr y domains wereintroduced in 1985. Every name has to be registeredin a central system so that it corresponds with anInternet Protocol (IP) number which is what the systemactually uses for sending packets of information.

    At first domain names were managed by NetworkSolutions, a monopoly company authorised todo this by the US government. Network Solutionsregistered the popular web domains .com, .net In 1989 the US Department of Commerceagreed a contract with the Department of Post andTelecommunications Information Science Institute(ISI) at the University of Southern California,establishing the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority(IANA). Then ICANN was established in 1998, to takeover the functions of both Network Solutions andthe IANA, under contract with the US Depar tment of Commerce. The aim was to privatise, internationaliseand introduce competition into the Domain NamesSystem. Now a number of different private companiesare involved in allocating names and running par tsof the root server system, operating under theumbrella of ICANN.

    ICANN controls, governs and resolves disputesrelating to the Domain Name System (DNS), but newTop Level Domain names have to be approved by the

    US Depar tment of Commerce, according to the termsof ICANNs contract. Seven new generic Top LevelDomain names (gTLD) have been approved, .biz, .name, .pro, .aero, .coop, and .museum.

    generic Top Level Domain name (gTLD)

    country code Top Level Domain name (ccTLD)

    Name Company operating it Target group

    .biz NeuLevel, Inc. Restricted to business

    .com VeriSign Global Registry Services Business

    .info Afilias Limited An unrestricted domain for websites containing

    information about you, your organisation, yourproducts or any other information youd like tomake available to a global audience.

    .name Global Name Registry Reserved for individuals

    .net VeriSign Global Registry Services Intended for and still commonly used by Internetservice providers, but also used by many typesof organisations and individuals globally

    .org Public Interest Registry This name was divested from VeriSign in2002, as par t of ICANNs mission to introducecompetition. Unrestricted, but intendedto serve the non-commercial community.

    .pro RegistryPro Restricted to certified professionals andrelated entities

    Who manages the domain names in your country?To find out, visit:

    Who manages which domains?

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    Like generic names, country code domain names areregistered and managed (that is, they are owned) bydifferent types of organisation, including some privatecompanies and individuals.

    Now that the internet is becoming such a dominantform of accessing information, some governments

    wish to have control over their country domain.They see the countr y code Top Level Domain (ccTLD)as something like a national flag, or in the sameway as most countries until recently maintainedtheir own airline something which carries statusand over which the country/government should havesovereign rights and control.

    The system of country domains was developedto deal with a technical matter the need toensure communication between different countries.The Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA)assigned the right to administer a country codeTop Level Domain name to the f irst technicallycompetent person from a country to come forward,and when ICANN was established it took over thesame system. Some country-level managers orregistrars are private companies, some are withingovernments, some are even individuals. ICANNdoes not control how the ccTLD managers work,or how much they charge.

    Who should own the .info domain?

    .info is one of the seven new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) that wererecently approved by ICANN. Many addresses are currentlyowned by private par ties, as are names. Market liberalsargue that all gTLDs should be available to commercial users. Somegovernments, on the other hand, argue that .info addresses should be left tothem, for use for tourism, cultural promotion and general awareness purposes.

    See the difference for yourself by visiting The first is owned by the South African government andoffers accessible information about the country. The latter is ownedby a honey products company called In Dia.

    Who owns the name

    The South African Sunday Times has launched a petition in supportof the South African governments attempt to recover the domain from the current registrant, Virtual Countries Inc.,a private company based in Seattle.

    South Africas Director General of Communications Andile Ngcaba said thatVir tual Countries, led by US lawyer Greg Paley, had registered the name anddemanded between $5 and 10 million for it.

    Vir tual Countries has been the subject of some controversy in recent timesas it controls more than 30 Internet domain names named after countries,including the .com domain names for Belgium, Russia, Scotland, Sweden,Turkey and Ukraine. At one time it also held the .com names for Korea,Switzerland and New Zealand. The latter domain was sold to the government

    of New Zealand for a reported $1million after that countr ys abor tive attemptto challenge the registration under the Uniform Domain Name DisputeResolution Policy. The debate continues.

    At first, when few governments took much interestin the development of the internet, this system wasaccepted. But now that some nationalist feeling hasdeveloped around domain names, many people feelthat a more formal and transparent system shouldbe introduced which would allow governments tomanage the domain themselves, or if for variousreasons they do not have the capacity to do this, toselect and manage appropriate organisations withinthe country to do it on their behalf. There is a systemunder ICANN rules for moving responsibility for theccTLD from one organisation to another within acountry but the process can be slow and frustrating.

    What happens if the private ccTLD managercollapses, as happened in Ukraine in 2001?Should the government intervene and take over theccTLD? Governments themselves may not be thebest organisations to manage the country domain

    name effectively. In Cambodia, for example, theservice became less efficient and more expensivewhen the government took over the task from an NGO.In Brazil, on the other hand, the government controlsthe operation of the ccTLD .br as a multistakeholderconsortium for the common good.

    Who owns your countrys domain name?To find out, visit:

    Should countries own their own country code names?

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    Who runs ICANN?

    ICANNs structure has been revised several timessince its establishment, and the present structureis still in the process of being introduced. ICANNaims to represent the Internet community throughthree Suppor ting Organisations made up of differentstakeholder organisations (who join voluntarily) the Address Supporting Organisation (formed fromthe Regional Internet Registries), the Generic Names

    Supporting Organisation, and the Country CodeName Supporting Organisation (created in March2004). Each of these selects two members tothe 15-member ICANN Board, and advises onpolicy in its area of interest. The remaining eightBoard members are nominated by a NominatingCommittee. There are also a number of userand technical committees, including an At-largeadvisory committee (established in 2003) torepresent the interests of individual internet users.These committees each select one non-votingliaison Board member. Each of five regions Europe,Asia and Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean,Africa and North America has to be representedin ICANNs decision-making bodies.

    ICANN is criticised for being dominated bybusiness interests (there is li ttle provision for civilsociety representation in the three Suppor tingOrganisations), for lack of legitimacy (for instance,because of the high proportion of nominatedBoard members), and for ad hoc decision-makingprocesses. However, some analysts feel thatthere are in fact significant opportunities forparticipation and influence by developing countriesand by different stakeholder groups includingcivil society groups. The problem is that theseopportunities are not well used, because thestructures and processes of ICANN includingthe nomination process for Board membersand advisory committee members are notwidely understood.

    Challenging the dominance of English

    Generic Domain Names are based on English words (.com, .org, etc) and only function using Englishcharacters, which limits their ease of use by non-English speakers. Technical standards are now inplace for the deployment of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) which would allow a user to typethe name in his/her own language script but it will be a huge challenge to mobilise the resourcesand collaboration by different organisations needed to turn the possibility into reality.

    VeriSign one of the Domain Name Registrars says that around 350 languages can nowbe registered in their scripts. However, thisneeds a lot of structural changes. It involvesacceptance of common language platforms(hardware), common keyboards, and involvesnot only countries where populations speakthe same language but making internationalsoftware and hardware producers acceptthese standards in their business products.For example, countries with Tamil speakingpopulations have joined together and accepteda common keyboard practice, but MicrosoftWindows has not yet accepted it and usesa different Tamil keyboard.

    Challenging the dominance of English

    Every year 5,000 people gather at the worlds largestcomputer convention in Hamar, Norway.

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    Distributing internet addresses:Internet Protocol (IP) numbers

    As well as domain na...


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