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On June 10, 1998, the Department of Commerce published a policy statement, also known as the White Paper.[1] In this policy statement, the Department said it was prepared to enter into agreement with a new not-for-profit corporation formed by private sector Internet stakeholders to administer policy for the Internet name and address system. The policy statement said the nonprofit organization's plan should offer stability; competition; private, bottom-up coordination; and representation. The corporation would be able to set policy for and direct the allocation of number blocks to regional number registries for the assignment of Internet addresses. The corporation would also be able to oversee the operation of an authoritative root server system, oversee policy for determining the circumstances under which new top-level domains are added to the root system, and coordinate the assignment of the Internet technical parameters as needed to maintain universal connectivity on the Internet.

Internet constituencies from around the world held a series of meetings during the summer of 1998 to discuss how the New Corporation might be constituted and structured. Meanwhile, IANA, in collaboration with NSI, released a proposed set of bylaws and articles of incorporation. The proposed new corporation was called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Creation of ICANN[]

In September 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was incorporated as a non-profit, public benefit corporation in California. In mid-September representatives of this group indicated to the Department that they would seek to become the new corporation to manage the Domain Name System (DNS) as contemplated in the White Paper.

Nine members of ICANN's interim board were chosen (four Americans, three Europeans, one from Japan, and one from Australia). ICANN's bylaws state that it is to be aided by three supporting organizations, one of which is the Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO), the entity responsible for making policy recommendations to ICANN regarding the DNS, including, among other things, new TLDs.

NTIA announced ICANN's intentions in a press release and noted it expected to receive submissions from other groups as well. NTIA indicated that all submissions would be posted on its website and that public comments would be accepted for a 10-day period. After five iterations, the final version of ICANN's bylaws and articles of incorporation were submitted to the Department of Commerce on October 2, 1998. The Department also received four other proposals.[2] The Department did not negotiate an agreement with any other submitting entity. However, the Department notes that its personnel did participate in several conference calls with these other groups to develop a better understanding of their submissions, as well as their concerns with the ICANN submission.

On October 20, 1998, NTIA sent a letter to IANA, saying the ICANN submission was a significant step forward, but noting that some of those who commented had expressed concerns about ICANN’s substantive and operational aspects. NTIA requested that ICANN work with the Internet community to resolve these concerns, but said that if the concerns can be resolved "we would then like to begin work on a transition agreement between the United States and ICANN."

Dr. Postel died before the process was complete and ICANN officially constituted its interim board on October 25, 1998. On November 6, 1998, the board's interim chairman wrote to the Department to say ICANN was "pleased to have been recognized by the Department" and to specify how ICANN intended to respond to the concerns. These revisions included amending the bylaws to make clear that ICANN would create a membership structure that would elect the At Large directors and ensuring more fiscal accountability.

ICANN is headquartered in Marina del Rey, CA, and incorporated under the laws of the state of California. ICANN is organized under the California Nonprofit Public Benefit Law for charitable and public purposes, and as such, is subject to legal oversight by the California attorney general. ICANN has been granted tax-exempt status by the federal government and the state of California.

On November 14, 1998, ICANN held its first open meeting and in a November 23, 1998, letter it requested U.S. government recognition. The letter highlighted additional changes to ICANN's organizational documents.

Memorandum of Understanding[]

On November 25, 1998, ICANN and the Department of Commerce entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, pursuant to which they agreed jointly to develop and test the mechanisms and procedures that should be in place in the new, privatized DNS. Specifically, ICANN and the Commerce Department agreed to collaborate on "written technical procedures for operation of the primary root server including procedures that permit modifications, additions or deletions to the root zone file."[3]

On September 17, 2003, ICANN and the Department of Commerce agreed to extend their MOU until September 30, 2006. The MOU specified transition tasks which ICANN agreed to address. On June 30, 2005, Michael Gallagher, then-Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator of NTIA, stated the U.S. government's principles on the Internet's domain name system. Specifically, NTIA stated that the U.S. government intends to preserve the security and stability of the DNS, that the United States would continue to authorize changes or modifications to the root zone, that governments have legitimate interests in the management of their country code top level domains, that ICANN is the appropriate technical manager of the DNS, and that dialogue related to Internet governance should continue in relevant multiple fora.[4]

ICANN's structure[]

ICANN’s organizational structure consists of a Board of Directors (BOD) advised by a network of supporting organizations and advisory committees that represent various Internet constituencies and interests. Policies are developed and issues are researched by these subgroups, who in turn advise the Board of Directors, which is responsible for making all final policy and operational decisions. The Board of Directors is composed of 21 representatives, including 15 voting members and 6 nonvoting liaisons — a president, eight members selected by a Nominating Committee, two selected by the Generic Names Supporting Organization, two selected by the Address Supporting Organization, and two selected by the Country-Code Names Supporting Organization. Additionally, there are six non-voting liaisons representing other advisory committees.

ICANN's responsibilities[]

ICANN’s mission is to ensure a stable, secure and unified global Internet. To reach another person on the Internet a user must type an address into its computer — a name or a number. That address has to be unique so computers know where to find each other. ICANN coordinates these unique identifiers across the world. Without that coordination there could not be one global Internet. ICANN promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers. ICANN doesn’t control content on the Internet. It cannot stop spam and it does not deal with access to the Internet.

ICANN "governs the assignment of Internet domain names, the allocation of Internet Protocol (IP) address space, and management of the Domain Name System (DNS) and Internet "root" server. . . ."[5] “ICANN accredits institutions and corporations to serve as domain nameregistrars.’ Registrars assign specific SLDs within a TLD to 'registrants,' ensure that each registered SLD is unique within the TLD, and maintain and distribute information correlating SLDs with the appropriate IP addresses. Network Solutions, Inc. is a principal registrar of the second-level domain names within the popular '.com' TLD."[6]

Congressional Committees (primarily the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce) maintain oversight on how the Department of Commerce manages and oversees ICANN's activities and policies.

Joint Project Agreement[]

On September 29, 2006, DOC announced a new "Joint Project Agreement" (JPA) with ICANN, which was intended to continue the transition to the private sector of the coordination of technical functions relating to management of the DNS. The JPA extended through September 30, 2009, and focused on institutionalizing transparency and accountability mechanisms within ICANN.

Affirmation of Commitments[]

On September 30, 2009, DOC and ICANN announced agreement on an Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) to "institutionalize and memorialize" the technical coordination of the DNS globally and by a private-sector-led organization. The AoC affirms commitments made by DOC and ICANN to ensure accountability and transparency; preserve the security, stability, and resiliency of the DNS; promote competition, consumer trust, and consumer choice; and promote international participation.

According to ICANN officials, it also performs the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions under contract to the Department of Commerce. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority's functions consist of several interdependent Internet management responsibilities, including coordination of the assignment of technical protocol parameters, performance of administrative functions associated with root zone management, and the allocation of Internet numbering resources.

ICANN's contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce is due to expire in 2015.


  1. Department of Commerce, Management of Internet Names and Addresses.
  2. Proposals were submitted by (1) Dr. Jon Postel on behalf of ICANN, (2) the Boston Working Group, (3) Einar Stefferud on behalf of the Open Root Server Confederation (Open–RSC), (4) Ronda Hauben, and (5) Jeffrey A. Williams on behalf of INEG. Inc. The Open Root Server Confederation proposal also included its incorporation documents and two of the other proposals included variations on the ICANN organizational documents.
  3. Name.Space, Inc. v. Network Solutions, Inc., 202 F.3d 573, 578-79 (2d Cir. 2000) (full-text) (citations omitted).
  4. See NTIA, "U.S. Principles on the Internet's Domain Name and Addressing System" (June 30, 2005) (full-text).
  5. Parisi v. Netlearning, Inc., 139 F.Supp.2d 745, 746 n.2, 59 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1051 n.2 (E.D. Va. 2001) (full-text).
  6. Id. at 746 n.3, 59 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1051.


External resource[]

  • GAO, Internet Management: Limited Progress on Privatization Project Makes Outcome Uncertain (GAO-02-805T) (June 12, 2002) (information on the Dept. of Commerce's relationship with ICANN) (full-text).