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Looking Back at 20 Years of ICANN

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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I became interested in the global management of the Domain Name System (DNS) in 1991, soon after helping to create commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Sweden. We moved the Internet Exchange Point (IX) from Academia to the private sector and similarly the management of the SE country code top-level domain. The exercise was fascinating and it really tweaked my interest in the DNS and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

At the time, I was active in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF ). We were then involved in global negotiations to develop a multi-stakeholder process where anyone could participate. It was an exercise that captivated me.

Our decisions were made via email, there was no travel. Although, on those rare occasions when we did meet in person—sharing a whiteboard, coffee and other lubricants did help advance the discussions.

I had written to Jon Postel and was already in contact with IANA.

From: Jon Postel <[email protected]>
Date: onsdag 3 dec 1997 06.00.21 GMT+01:00
To: [email protected]
Cc: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Transfer of .SE domain?


Your messages have been received and put in the correct mailboxes.

You should be hearing from Josh Elliott (using the IANA mailbox) about
this in a day or two.


I was well aware of the IANA functions and saw the launching of the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) process. A group of people, many of whom I knew, began looking into what I felt I had already been working on, but on a global scale. Curiosity made me follow their work in quite some detail. I weighed in with my opinions on numerous occasions.
I was eventually appointed to the Interim Policy Oversight Committee (IPOC). Our discussions were complex. But we collectively concluded that there was a need to open up the market for domain names, though there were some complicated technical and administrative issues that had to be resolved.

The generic Top-Level Domain-Memo of Understanding (gTLD-MOU) was created and signed by several entities. The Internet Council of Registrars (CORE) was created in 1997.

The following year, in 1998, gave rise to what was called “the root zone incident on January 28.” This was quickly followed by the green paper in February, and the white paper in June. Jon Postel proposed the creation of ICANN to the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on October 2.

From: Jon Postel <[email protected]>
To: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Cc: [email protected]
Subject: suggestions for a new organizational structure
Date: Fri, 26 Jun 1998 22:06:43 -0700 (PDT)


We have prepared a memo making some suggestions towards a structure for the new organization to manage names and addresses (and such) for the Internet community.

The purpose of this memo is to provide a basis for discussion.

Your ideas and contributions are welcome, both at any of the various meetings being planned, and via email. Public comments should be sent to “[email protected]”.

The memo is “Suggestions for a new Organizational Structure” and is available as:



As we all know, Jon unexpectedly passed away on October 16, but the train was already moving forward at full speed. On November 25, ICANN was recognized and on Christmas Eve 1998 ICANN took over from USC.

It is an understatement to say that 1998 was a very intense year, and I bet we all have our own stories from that period of ICANN’s history. It is not an overstatement to say it was one of the most important years in the history of the Internet.

U.S. President Bill Clinton’s Senior Advisor, Ira Magaziner, explained in detail what was involved, during a video interview for ICANN’s History Project.

The technical portion of enabling the domain name market was also moving at full speed. In 1995 the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) allowed Network Solutions to charge for domain names, and suddenly more entities wanted to be able to sell domain names in the .COM top-level domain.

NTIA, in the form of Becky Burr and Karen Rose contacted me and others. They asked whether we could work with Network Solutions on coming up with a model where multiple entities could sell domain names, while at the same time only one entity was responsible for a TLD. This distributed solution to a centralized model was a reasonable approach.

After many trips to Washington DC, the Shared Registry System (SRS) was invented, and we could allow registrars to compete and sell domain names in the .COM TLD space.

Work was initiated in IETF on standardizing the SRS and that turned into the Extensible Provisioning Protocol (EPP) and yes, maybe I was as Area Director in IETF too nice when people wanted the “E” in Extensible. Some people, including myself, believe the “E” did lead to too much non-interoperability.

1998 was not only the year ICANN was created, it was also the year that changed the shape of the domain name market.

I am very happy to have been part of this. I must say I am particularly gratified by making such good friends, even though we may have had different views, and proposed different solutions.

In the end, I am proud to say we developed a model that seems to have survived 20 years. In effect, we forever changed the online world and I am grateful to have been part of the effort.

Patrik Fältström
Technical Director and Head of Security

By Patrik Fältström, Technical Director and Head of Security at Netnod

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