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ICANN at 20: Looking Back Forward

This essay is part of a series of posts CircleID will be hosting from the ICANN community to commemorate ICANN’s 20th anniversary. CircleID collaborated with ICANN to spread the word and to encourage participation. We invite you to submit your essays to us in consideration for posting.

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This year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), marks its 20th anniversary since inception.

ICANN was birthed as a result of the infamous DNS Wars—in 1994, the U.S National Science Foundation, the then overseer of the Internet infrastructure decided to sub-contract the management of the Domain Name System (DNS) to a private U.S company called Network Solutions INC (NSI). This move was not well received by the Internet community, culminating in the so-called “DNS Wars”.[1]

The controversial Relationship

With ICANN mandated the key role to manage the core Internet infrastructure i.e IP addresses, domain names, and root servers, Internet actors seemed to breathe a sigh of relief for this development.

However, a new issue rapidly emerged once again—that of the U.S government’s influence into ICANN’s affairs.

This would become the focus in most United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) debates.

While ICANN was largely perceived as a multi-stakeholder institution involving a variety of players in their respective roles, a section of Internet players felt that the global accountability of ICANN could be in jeopardy if the mandate was rested on one country, namely the U.S.

Considering that the Internet started off as a U.S government project sponsored by Defense Advanced Research Project Agency Network (DARPANet), there was a misconceived perception that the U.S government could use this as a veto to dictate on the form and pace of the globalization of the Internet Governance.

The other point of concern was the issue of practical and legal consideration; the fact that ICANN was based in California, some Internet Governance players felt that it would be “legally feasible and technically possible for the U.S to order ICANN to delete country domain names of states perceived to be nemesis of the U.S, for instance, Cuba, Iran, North Korea.”[2] This viewpoint led to immense calls to push for the handing over of the Internet management to a neutral body free from U.S government interference.

IANA Transition

Following the anticipated expiration of the Internet Assigned Numbers and Names Authority (IANA) functions contract, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), announced its intent to transition key Internet Domain Name functions in its efforts to support, and enhance the multi-stakeholder model of Internet policymaking and governance.

In its March 2014 press release, NTIA asked ICANN to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the role that was then being played by NTIA in the coordination of the Internet Domain Name System (DNS).[3]

In light of this directive from NTIA, the new phase of the status of ICANN, otherwise known as the IANA stewardship transition, took effect resulting in ICANN forming the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG), which comprised of 30 members from 13 constituencies.

Each constituency was responsible in forming their own working groups to develop their respective proposal.

On its part, the Numbering Resources Community comprised of the Resource Organisation (NRO), the Address Supporting Organisation (ASO).

The five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) formed the Consolidated RIR IANA Stewardship Proposal Team (CRISP Team) to develop their proposal.

On the other hand, the Protocol Parameters community comprised of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) created the IANAPLAN Working Group.

Correspondingly, the Domain Names Community formed two working groups: the Cross Working Group (CWG) Stewardship and the Community Cross Working Group (CCWG) Accountability.

All’s well, ends well

Some Internet pundits had expressed pessimism over the IANA process, casting doubt that the U.S Congress would eventually reject the proposal, and acquire the mandate to oversight ICANN. An imminent regime change in the U.S would further fuel these speculations.

The NTIA, however, approved the proposal before ICANN’s IANA functions contract expired in September 2016, thus paving the way for the globalization of an ICANN, free from U.S government’s influence.


In 1998, U.S Department of Commerce (DoC) issued a Statement of Policy pointing out that the U.S government was “committed to a transition that would allow the private sector to take leadership for DNS management”.

The move to globalize ICANN can thus be in part seen as a deliberate commitment by the U.S government, and other stakeholders in their respective roles, in efforts to enhance and enforce ICANN’s Global accountability to the Internet actors.

[1] An Introduction to Internet Governance, Jovan Kurbalija
[2] Ibid
[3] NTIA Press Release, March 14, 2014

By Bonface Witaba, Trainer, Researcher, Consultant in Internet Governance and Policy

Views expressed here are solely those of the author and should not necessarily be construed to be those of ICANN, any of its organs or agencies nor of any other organisation(s) mentioned or discussed.

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