Internet Governance (Archived Report)

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Internet Governance

by Geoff Keston

Copyright 2013, Faulkner Information Services. All Rights

Docid: 00011522
Publication Date: 1312
Report Type: TUTORIAL


The responsibility for keeping the Internet open and accessible to
all participants, big or small – regardless of money, prestige, or place
of origin – rests on the shoulders of just a few organizations. While
these organizations aim to be impartial, their actions are not always
without controversy, and their polices greatly effect communication and
commerce online.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Technical governance of
Internet has long been overseen by the engineering
arm of the Internet Society (ISOC), an entirely independent,
organization founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet-related
standards, education, and policy.

Faulkner Reports
The New gTLD Rules: Impact and Implications Tutorial
Internationalized Domain Names Tutorial

By contrast, operational governance of the Internet
is separately provided by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
(ICANN). ICANN creates and enforces administrative policy and has
responsibility for managing the Domain Name Services that make Internet
and resources visible and accessible to one another.

In 2010, ICANN became a
fully private entity and has since used its authority to enter into some
controversial initiatives. Plagued by continuing turnover of executive
leadership and charges of ethical lapses owing to its $350
million sale of new generic top level domain (gTLD) names, the body is struggling
with credibility issues.


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The stability,
and orderliness of the Internet are astonishing in light of the
following statistics:1

  • The estimated worldwide number of
    Internet users is 2.4 billion.
  • Asia has 44.8-percent of the global
    Internet population.
  • Internet penetration has reached, as
    January 2013, 78.6-percent in North America, 67.6-percent in
    Oceania/Australia, and 63.2-percent in Europe.

the Internet is
equivalent to running a reasonably large country, albeit a virtual one,
and so
far, it mostly has been governed
fairly, efficiently, and to
great good of citizens. This is due to a
small army
of bright people, many of them volunteers, who provide technical and
administrative governance to the Internet.

There are basically two
kinds of
required to keep the Internet growing, functioning, and evolving:
technical governance and operational

Governance: The
Society and the Internet
Engineering Task Force

The technical structure and
evolution of the Internet have long
been overseen
by the Internet Society (ISOC), a not-for-profit organization founded
in 1992
to provide leadership in Internet related standards, education, and
policy. In
particular, the ISOC is the parent body of the Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF),
a group which defines communication protocols upon which the Internet
is based. The IETF is a broad-based international
community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers,
working toward the evolution and smooth day-to-day functioning of
Internet infrastructure. The IETF is an open membership organization
with more than 26,000 participants worldwide. Its stakeholder-based
has given rise to an open process for creating,
and implementing networking technology standards. The breadth of the
IETF community
has created stunning wealth, enabling markets to coalesce around
global standards; technology to mature and scale; and users to
aggressively adopt
capabilities and services which add value and opportunity to their

Operational Governance: Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) creates
enforces administrative policy and has hands-on responsibility for
managing the Domain Name Services that make Internet users and
resources visible and accessible to one another. Until 2009, ICANN was
operated and funded under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the
Department of Commerce. That MOU defined ICANN’s responsibility
as follows: “ICANN is dedicated to preserving the operational stability
of the Internet; to promoting competition; to achieving broad
representation of global Internet communities; and to developing policy
appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based
processes.” (ICANN FAQ) In
2009, capitulating to growing pressure from international stakeholders,
the US Department of Commerce and ICANN signed an Agreement of
Commitments document that chartered ICANN as a self-governing,
self-determined private sector entity.
ICANN is run by a board that includes both voting and
members and is free from US government control.

Administrative Governance
Day-To-Day Internet Functions

To understand why administrative
and operational control of the Internet’s Domain Name Service
a high stakes
game, it helps to understand what happens when a user types a URL into
browser’s address bar:

  • Typing
    an address and hitting the “Go to” icon sends a
    request to
    the global Domain
    Name Server (DNS) address database, asking it to look up and connect to
    server that can render the page a user wants to see. There are billions
    addresses in the database, and the DNS database gets more requests per
    than any other database on earth.
  • The
    DNS system’s sheer size and performance demands require that
    be distributed — or
    cached — across multitudes of servers and networks worldwide. When the
    DNS database changes, a very
    frequent occurrence, distributed DNS databases update one another with
    information. The update process is
    neither symmetrical nor instantaneous, so some fraction of the DNS
    servers’ address
    translation information can be incomplete or stale for up to a couple
    of days.
  • If
    a browser queries a stale server that fails to provide good address
    the request is passed on to a server more likely to know the correct
  • DNS
    servers are arranged in a hierarchy, based on their relative update
    priority. The
    topmost level of this hierarchy is designated as
    “authoritative”. Authoritative servers keep
    worldwide DNS
    databases synchronized.

There are thirteen
authoritative Domain
Name Servers, which
are also known as the root
servers hold the official, up-to-date copy of the highest level of the
database. Entities
chosen and empowered by the Internet
Numbers Authority
control and operate the DNS Root Zone servers. The DNS Root Zone
Operators are:3

  • VeriSign
    (two servers)
  • University
    of Southern California (ISI)
  • Cogent
  • University of Maryland
  • NASA Ames
    Research Center
  • Internet
    Systems Consortium
  • U.S. Department of Defense (NIC)
  • U.S. Army (Research Lab)
  • Netnod 
  • RIPE
  • WIDE

The key thing to notice
about this list
of root server
operators is that they include a diverse group of players. Some are
private sector, for-profit
operations. Some
are academic institutions. Some are governmental (including military
). This diversity was intentionally built into the earliest
architecture of the
Internet, both to ensure that no single interest group could easily
control and to create robustness and recoverability.

A complete enumeration of
the groups, committees,
task forces, forums, and community processes that have (and will
continue to
have) governing influences on Internet technology and operation is
beyond the
scope of this report. However, there are
two crucial, solidly demonstrable generalizations that can be made
about the Internet
governance structure as it exists today:

  • Even
    the smallest Internet engineering technical
    decisions (think protocols, hardware, and software specifications,
    methodology, and the like) take a very significant period of time to be
    implemented. Adoption and implementation
    happen if, and only if, technical issues receive extensive,
    review and assent. These
    processes have a long history of being well documented and open, with
    published milestone schedules and long comment periods.
  • By
    contrast, Internet operations
    can be
    impacted dramatically and suddenly by decisions taken by ICANN, a less
    accountable, transparent body. Since gaining effective independence
    from US Department of

    oversight, ICANN has
    rapidly pushed
    forward with dramatic expansions of the domain name space. It
    internationalized domain names and commercialized generic top level
    names (gTLDs). ICANN, a non-profit entity, has been harshly criticized
    for its
    pricing of new gTLDs applications. ICANN
    defends these prices, saying they merely reflect realistic cost

Current View

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ICANN became
a truly independent commercial
entity in 2010 and immediately undertook a high profile initiative to
commercialize gTLD names. (Existing gTLDs include suffixes
like “.com” and
“.org.”) Since then, gTLD expansion has been constantly in the news
and remains
highly controversial. For one thing, the
non-refundable application fee, payable to ICANN, was set at $185,000
Successful applicants were also required to commit to a $60,000 annual
maintenance fee for ten years. In the first application period, ICANN
1930 applications, which raised $350 million for the non-profit.

The person
primarily responsible for
pushing through the gTLD auction, Peter
Dengate Thrush, resigned his post as ICANN CEO within
of the completion of the sale and was appointed executive chairman of
GTLD Holdings, a company that scored 92
successful bids in the auction. Dengate Thrush subsequently left
GTLD Holdings after months of bitter criticism
about appearances of conflict of interest.
GTLD Holdings, however, managed to hold onto its crown jewel, the
.London gTLD, for which Dengate Thrust
reportedly aggressively negotiated. Rod Beckstrom, Dengate
Thrush’s embattled successor as ICANN CEO, stepped
down in July 2012, but not without a parting shot. At ICANN’s
March meeting in
Costa Rica
lambasted the ICANN board for apparent ethical
lapses and a “tangle of conflicting agendas.”

threats of change will emerge. One example, which appears to largely
have been based on unwarranted fears,4
was when in 2012 some people
thought that the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) wanted
snatch key
Internet governance powers from ICANN and
place them under its own
control. This rumored move raised fears of government
sponsored surveillance and censorship. In this case, as in similar ones
that may emerge, it is most likely the case that ICANN will retain its
familiar role and responsibilities.


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Before the
gTLD expansion
took place, and in fact before ICANN was actually independent enough to
undertake the initiative, there was vociferous criticism about the
true intent,
and the reasoning behind, such a move. Department of Commerce and
Department of Justice representatives expressed
grave doubts about whether the expansion was likely to deliver
innovation and
progress or just dilute existing value in the .com domain and provoke
defensive domain registrations by holders of existing brands.
Technology journalist Esther
Dyson succinctly summed up the doubts
of ICANN’s critics:

Most of the people
active in setting
policies are involved somehow in the domain-name business, and they
would be in
control of the new TLDs as well. It’s worth it to
them to spend their time at ICANN meetings (or to send staffers),
domain names are just a small part of customers’ and
lives. And that
means that the new TLDs are likely to create money
for ICANN’s primary constituents, but only add costs and
confusion for
companies and the public at large.5

Dyson went
on to say that if enterprises are forced to defend their brands by
registering trademarked
names over and over across a burgeoning population of gTLDs (for
example,,,, gottalove.faulkner, etc.), it will not
add value or create
innovation. It will simply dilute the
value of any
domain name because frustrated
users will adapt and learn to locate content through social
media and
search engines.


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on Social Media and Search Optimization

In the face
of much
about new top level domains, US
enterprises should maintain a presence in the .com gTLD namespace
concentrate on bolstering their
brands on social media sites and in search engine results. The rapid
expansion of the gTLD namespace and the growing use of
internationalized domain
names may drive users toward more convenient and predictable solutions
finding brand engagement experiences (think Facebook,
Twitter, Pinterest, and the like).


This is
particularly important for
content-driven businesses in music, sports, entertainment, or news.
Brands and market
share can best be protected by developing a solid picture of who the
most valuable users are and
where they reside.

Follow Developments Closely

Politics of
operational and administrative governance are evolving so rapidly that
it is
difficult to predict what alliances will emerge and what direction
might take. Expect to be surprised by ongoing developments, but that is
reason to be blindsided.


Internet 2012 in numbers. Royal Pingdom. Jan 13.
2 ICANN (FAQ). Available
online from:

3 IANA. Root
servers. Available online
from: (cited December 19, 2013).
4 Lardinois, F. Is the U.N. really trying to take over the Internet? Nope.
TechCrunch. Jun 12.
5 Dyson, E. What’s in a domain name? Project Syndicate. Aug 11.

Web Links

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Assigned Numbers Authority:
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers:
Internet Engineering Task Force:
Internet Society:
United Nations International Telecommunications Union:

About the Author

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Geoff Keston is the author of more
than 250 articles that
help organizations find opportunities in business trends and
technology. He also works directly with clients to develop
communications strategies that improve processes and customer
relationships. Mr. Keston has worked as a project manager for a major
technology consulting and services company and is a Microsoft Certified
Systems Engineer and a Certified Novell Administrator.

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