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Who is ICANN and where does it fit with Internet governance?

You’d be surprised how many people are asking that question at the moment, but you won’t be surprised to know that the only thing they agree on is that they either don’t know, or that they disagree with the people that believe they do.

I am not going to attempt to provide my own answer, but I will point to a paper just released by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).

POST, among other things, produces regular, concise briefings for the UK Parliament on whatever are the important topics of the time. And they have now done one on Internet Governance, which you can download from them here, and which we are also hosting here (at the same time, they have also produced briefings on “Electricity in the UK” and “Alzheimer’s and Dementia”).

This POST summary finds itself in the pigeon holes of every UK Member of Parliament and often represents the foundation level of information and understanding for UK politicians on a wide range of technical subjects.

As you would expect therefore, the paper is pretty good. Concise, accurate, fair, informative — in fact an ideal primer. It inevitably deals with ICANN a few times, noting that “ICANN’s role generates much debate”.

It gives a brief history of ICANN, goes through the gTLDs introduced over time and is mildly critical of ICANN over IDNs (“some have criticised ICANN for being too slow in implementing IDNs”) – to which it is of course my duty to point to the new IDN roadmap and the dedicated ICANN webpage dealing with internationalised domain names.

It then tries to peek into ICANN’s future, stating: “There are two options for ICANN’s future. The first is to place some of its functions under the authority of an intergovernmental body like the UN or the ITU, an idea originally proposed at the WSIS.

“The second is to give it independent private sector status, with internationalmultistakeholder input. The DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] favours an industry-led solution, arguing that the Internet’s success largely is due to private sector involvement, and that intergovernmentalcontrol may stifle innovation and investment.”

There is much more besides so for anyone interested in Internet Governance, we recommend giving it a read. It is written in clear, approachable English.

It is certainly up there with the primer that Panos did solely on ICANN in time for the World Summit on the Information Society back in November 2005. Some elements of that publication (which you can download here from this site, or here from Panos directly) are now out of date but even so it is an extremely useful first step for people hoping to understand ICANN and its role.

Those links again:
POST publication on Internet governance
Panos primer on ICANN


    Domain Name System
    Internationalized Domain Name ,IDN,"IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that are not written with the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet ""a-z"". An IDN can contain Latin letters with diacritical marks, as required by many European languages, or may consist of characters from non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese. Many languages also use other types of digits than the European ""0-9"". The basic Latin alphabet together with the European-Arabic digits are, for the purpose of domain names, termed ""ASCII characters"" (ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These are also included in the broader range of ""Unicode characters"" that provides the basis for IDNs. The ""hostname rule"" requires that all domain names of the type under consideration here are stored in the DNS using only the ASCII characters listed above, with the one further addition of the hyphen ""-"". The Unicode form of an IDN therefore requires special encoding before it is entered into the DNS. The following terminology is used when distinguishing between these forms: A domain name consists of a series of ""labels"" (separated by ""dots""). The ASCII form of an IDN label is termed an ""A-label"". All operations defined in the DNS protocol use A-labels exclusively. The Unicode form, which a user expects to be displayed, is termed a ""U-label"". The difference may be illustrated with the Hindi word for ""test"" — परीका — appearing here as a U-label would (in the Devanagari script). A special form of ""ASCII compatible encoding"" (abbreviated ACE) is applied to this to produce the corresponding A-label: xn--11b5bs1di. A domain name that only includes ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens is termed an ""LDH label"". Although the definitions of A-labels and LDH-labels overlap, a name consisting exclusively of LDH labels, such as"""" is not an IDN."