Keepers Of The Internet Face Their Greatest Challenges Ever: CNN

Dec 26th, 2011 Web/Tech

On Dec. 21st, 2011, Mark Milian reported for CNN on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  The article boldly asserts that "the Internet doesn't have a flag or a national anthem, but it does have a government", and that for the most part ICANN plays that role.  That statement is bold because many would say that the internet has no government, and ICANN itself maintains that it plays a limited role.  

For those who don't know, ICANN is an organization that coordinates the Domain Name System (DNS), which basically converts complicated IP addresses into easy to remember domain names.  Thus, ICANN's major role is to ensure that each domain name is unique, and that each domain name will bring you to the right IP address.  That service is extremely important.  However, ICANN does not control the internet: its website notes that "ICANN's role is very limited, and it is not responsible for many issues associated with the Internet, such as financial transactions, Internet content control, spam (unsolicited commercial email), Internet gambling, or data protection and privacy."  So while ICANN performs an important service, its powers fall far short of internet governance.

The rest of the article explores ICANN's role in the context of international politics.  ICANN was once affiliated with the US government, but now plays a more independent role where it is "rarely able to please everyone."  In exercising its power over domain names, ICANN receives proposals for new net initiatives from both governments and internet registry organizations.  ICANN then votes on these proposals.  The problem is, many view ICANN's decision process as too slow.  Again, ICANN is rarely able to please everyone, especially in an area as controversial as the internet.

In short, there is still no power governing the internet.  ICANN certainly plays an important role, but its powers fall far short of governance.  The question still remains whether there should be a power governing the internet.  As to that question, I'll refer you back to this earlier blog post.

The source article can be found here.

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