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The acronym ICANN stands for “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.” It is a non-profit organization headquartered in Los Angeles, which controls the allocation of Internet addresses and IP addresses through the Domain Name System. ICANN also decides on the introduction of new generic TLDs.
ICANN was based on IANA, the “Internet Assigned Numbers Authority,” a department that was created for the precursor of the Internet, the ARPANET. It had and still has the task of coordinating IP addresses and domain names.
Because of the increasing popularity of the Internet, which evolved from a network for researchers and scientists to a communication and information network for the whole world, IANA had to be reorganized. Originally, the ARPANET was a development for the military and its sponsors include various agencies of the United States Department of Defense. With the transition from a science-based network to a commercially oriented Internet, control of IANA finally went to the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) an agency of the US Department of Commerce in the mid-1990s.
To direct the coordination of IP addresses and domain names as objectively as possible, ICANN was eventually established as a nonprofit organization in 1998 and recognized by the US government. Initially it was planned that ICANN would be run by a group of 19 directors. But these plans were not implemented. Instead, five directors, one for each continent, was directly elected online in 2000. However, this practice ended three years later, after there were problems with the elected members of the leadership.
Today there is a CEO and various committees, which conduct the business of ICANN.
The work of ICANN is regulated by its own statutes, which defines the functions of its various bodies. Central to this is the “Board of Directors,” which is composed of 21 members. 16 of those 21 are entitled to vote.
Eight voting members of the Board of Directors get elected by a nominating committee. Seven of the members with voting rights are determined by the bodies of ICANN. Thus, 15 members of the Board of Directors are able to elect the president and the CEO. The remaining 5 members without voting rights are proposed by advisory organizations.
ICANN is funded from fees for the registration of Internet addresses and partially from donations.
Bodies and Committees
ICANN can basically be divided into four main bodies, which in turn are divided into individual bodies.
- Address Supporting Organization:
The ASO is a kind of representation of interests of the Regional Internet Registries (RIR), which assigns IP address blocks. The tasks of the ASO are carried out by an external organization, the Number Resource Organization. The ASO develops guidelines for assigning IP addresses along with the RIR.
- Country Code Names Supporting Organization:
The ccNSO is the representation of operators of country-specific TLDs (ccTLDs) The operators of ccTLDs have the opportunity to establish rules for assigning domain names with ccTLDs. The ccNSO can act as a mediator between ccTLDs providers and ICANN in this process.
- Generic Name Supporting Organization:
This sub-organization of ICANN drafts proposals for handling and new developments of gTLDs. Examples of such domains are .com or .net. This organization is composed of lobby groups for registrars and users. The tasks of the GNSO includes checking the legal and organizational aspects concerning the introduction of new gTLDs. This happens for example with the assistance from the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH).
- Advisory Committees:
These bodies mainly have an advisory role. It includes the following committees:
- Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC): represents the interests of governments from over 100 countries
- At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC): is supposed to represent the interests of individual Internet users. Only advocacy groups can sign up for it.
- Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) and the Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC): these two bodies are responsible for all matters relating to security and technology
- Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF): this committee is working on the design of new Internet standards. A result of its work is the Whois database, for example.
Among the groups already mentioned there are further interest groups and bodies working in an advisory capacity for ICANN.
The following are noteworthy milestones from the 10 years plus history of ICANN:
- The introduction of seven new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) in 2000: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, .pro
- The introduction of seven new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) in 2004: .asia, .cat, .jobs, .mobi, .post, .tel, .travel
- Support of the security extension DNSSEC since 2010
- Allocation of the last remaining IPv4 address blocks in spring 2011
- Start of a paid application process in the summer of 2011 to introduce new gTLDs
What are ICANN tasks
One could compare the tasks of ICANN with those of a large virtual registry office. Because ICANN monitors Internet addresses and domain endings that are used worldwide without two identical addresses being assigned.
The assignments by ICANN are done in two ways: either individual addresses are assigned directly to organizations and individuals or ICANN assigns whole address blocks to sub-organizations, which then regulate the assignment of individual Internet addresses. Moreover, ICANN controls the smooth operation of the root name servers. One of these servers is also operated by ICANN itself.
ICANN’s IANA function is determined by:
- Allocation of IP address blocks: these are distributed to five “Regional Internet Registries” (RIR), which in turn allocate smaller portions thereof to the “Local Internet Registries” (for example, web hosts)
- Allocation of TLDs to Domain Name Registries (registrars) who can then manage the registration of domains
- Allocation of port numbers, or data from the time zone database in the form of numbers and titles
Criticism of ICANN
As an organization that has developed from being closely associated with U.S. authorities, ICANN is still often reputed of being too close to the US government. Moreover, critics complain that the allocation of new TLDs and other organizational areas of the Internet depend only on a single organization and therefore their power is too great.
ICANN’s work and SEO
The importance of domain endings for success in search engine ranking is controversial within the SEO scene. It was a widespread belief for a long time that .com domains had more trust than .info domains. With the introduction of new TLDs, ICANN has now refueled this discussion. Because it is possible that, for example, domain endings, such as .bavaria in a domain such as www.skiing.bavaria could be preferred by search engines such as Google over an identically configured domain such as www.skiing-bavaria.de due to the fixed regional relevance in the TLD, for searches such as “skiing in Bavaria.”