Overview 2 – What is actually within ICANN’s purview?

Definitions of Internet governance vary in scope, but there are typically two elements: the running of the technical infrastructure of the Internet (which is what we are primarily concerned with – things like the allocation of unique identifiers) and the impact of the Internet on society (sometimes described as the Internet’s public policy issues, things like content control, and combatting cybercrime). These definitions continue to be explored and debated by the stakeholders who participate in Internet governance processes.

ICANN is just one part of the Internet governance ecosystem. It carries out a narrow technical function which raises very important and interesting policy issues that are a part of the broader Internet governance debate. Our work focuses on the infrastructure and management of critical Internet resources, particularly domain names, and we are not a platform for broader public policy making.
We mention this to be honest with you from the beginning about where we – with your help! – can have an impact. Sometimes people join the NCUC, interested in very legitimate and interesting topics, but topics which are not dealt with at all at ICANN. Through the onboarding materials, we hope that you grasp some of the main issues that derive from the ICANN’s management of critical Internet resources.

What is ICANN’s Structure – the Big Picture – and the Multistakeholder Model?

The Internet is an ecosystem full of stakeholders – actors like businesses, governments, researchers, civil society organisations, the technical community, noncommercial and individual end-users, and others – who play a vital role in the Internet’s evolution. The ways in which the participation of these actors is allowed or encouraged influences the degree to which these stakeholders are seen to have a credible and effective voice in the governance of the Internet.

The Internet has historically been developed through policy development processes which are transparent, collaborative, and bottom-up. Some stakeholder groups consider this model to be a threat to their sphere of influence, and these actors have worked to maintain a more top-down approach to governance decisions. Nonetheless, multistakeholderism has largely prevailed and today ICANN’s governance framework is a multistakeholder one. It is the idea that there is no one decision-maker of the Internet – a multitude of stakeholders (and not only government agencies) pass rules for the Internet’s infrastructure and the Domain Name System. We write the rules together and we all have a voice in the process on an equal footing with everybody else – but only if we turn up in the first place and participate in the debates. The idea is that Internet governance should mimic the structure of the Internet itself – borderless and open to all.

ICANN has a Board of Directors which holds the ultimate authority to approve or reject policy recommendations. The Board is elected by Supporting Organizations on the basis of advice from a Nominating Committee and certain advisory groups.

ICANN has three Large “Supporting Organizations” (SOs) which are responsible for developing and making policy recommendations to the Board:

* Address Supporting Organizations – for the groups who run the Internet Protocol numbers (also called IP addresses) around the world, including their allocation, transfer, and record-keeping.
* Country Code Supporting Organization – for the entities and organizations who run each of the country code top-level domains (or ccTLDs) like .jp, and who choose to participate in the ICANN process.
* Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) – the group that sets out the policies for generic top-level domain names, both the 30-year old ones including .com, .net and .org, and the much newer ones, some just being delegated now, including .xyz, .ninja, and .radio.

Once policy recommendations have been made, they are also reviewed and advice is provided by a series of advisory committees that represent special interests in the ICANN community. It is important to note that these committees do not get involved with policy development. They include:

– Government Advisory Committee (GAC)
– At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC)
– Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC)
– Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC).

ICANN staff are responsible for executing and implementing policies developed by the ICANN community and adopted by the ICANN Board.

The ICANN Ombudsman is an independent, impartial, and neutral person contracted to ICANN, with jurisdiction over problems and complaints made about decisions, actions, or inactions by ICANN, the Board of Directors, or unfair treatment of a community member by ICANN staff, Board, or a constituency body.

The Nominating Committee (NomCom)is a team of community volunteers responsible for the selection of eight ICANN Board members, and portions of the At-Large Advisory Committee, the Country Code Names Supporting Organisation, and the Generic Names Supporting Organisation.

To get a taste for why people like ICANN’s multistakeholder model and the fun of this new type of policy-making process, please see the video created by NCUC co-founder Kathy Kleiman and Google: What is the Multistakeholder Model: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR5csH7tIyc (running time: 3:59).

Additional Reading:

– ICANNWiki – not to be confused with wiki.ICANN.org – is a great resource for finding basic explanations of different concepts, and community member biographies. https://www.icannwiki.org

– The Internet Society has developed a graphic which provides a useful overview of the different actors who contribute to and broadly participate in how the Internet is governed, including those outside of ICANN’s remit. “https://www.internetsociety.org/sites/default/files/bp_Internet%20Ecosystem_032614_en.pdf”