Internet Governance: Background

The Internet has become a key resource for commercial, political and social interaction around the globe. Therefore, decisions about its basic architecture and management have serious consequences for many aspects of ordinary life. Currently, governance of the Internet is laregly the responsibility of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN was established in 1998 to coordinate the stable operation of the Internet in four key areas: the Domain Name System (DNS); the allocation of IP address space; the management of the root server system; and the coordination of protocol number assignment. Although intended to be primarily technical in focus, many of ICANN’s activities concern contentious policy issues. This is particularly true with respect to the operation of the Domain Name System (DNS) where policies regarding domain name dispute resolution and the addition of new top level domains are hotly debated. The growth and dominance of corporate interests threaten to drown out the voice of the non-commercial individual user in setting these policies, thereby limiting the promise of the Internet as medium for open and diverse communication. Concerns about transparency and accountability also embroil ICANN’s activities and raise questions about its commitment to principles of democracy and civil society on the Internet.