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Chapter7 Framework for global domain name management led by ICANN


With the increased commercial use of the Internet, issues such as competition policies and trademarks (as described in Chapter1) arose in domain name management. As a result of global discussions, the organization ICANN was founded to resolve these issues and take responsibility for overall global Internet resource management.

Finding a domain name management framework for a new era

Around the middle of the 1990s, corresponding with the dissemination of Windows 95, there was a rapid increase in the number of general Internet users, and many companies began to take an interest in the World Wide Web as a new advertising medium to take the place of TV or magazines. It was the beginning of the commercial use of not only connectivity services but also of the Internet as a whole. In line with this, domain names attracted people’s attention as keywords for leading potential customers to Web sites. The following challenges related to commercial use began to surface:

  • NSI (Network Solutions Inc.), the gTLD registry, received an avalanche of applications to register domain names, and because it was not possible to divide the ledger management function among multiple organizations, NSI monopolized the high revenue.
  • Domain names, though acting as identifiers on the globally expanding Internet, were not supported by a sufficient framework to protect trademark rights internationally.

In order to address these challenges, the International Ad-Hoc Committee (IAHC)[149] [150] was set up by experts from various fields under the leadership of the Internet Society (ISOC) Board and the draft memorandum of understanding entitled “gTLD-MoU”[151] [152] was published. It included a plan for a new policy decision mechanism for gTLDs.

It was planned that the gTLD-MoU be signed jointly by a number of Internet related organizations all over the world, and with this as the basis for legitimacy, the policies regarding TLDs were to be determined.

The U.S. government – which had made a great investment in the development of Internet technologies – showed immediate interest in this movement. After sorting out the issues related to domain names and trademark rights in “The Framework for Global Electronic Commerce (March 1997)”[153] (which indicated policy guidelines for increasingly popular electronic commerce), the U.S. government released the so-called “Green Paper (January 1998).”[154] [155] The Green Paper emphasized that the U.S. government had consistently invested in the development of the Internet, and that the management and coordination of Internet logical resources including domain names and DNS had been carried out through delegation by the U.S. government. Further, it stated that the resource management function should be transferred to a private organization and called for a new company to be established for this purpose. What gTLD-MoU tried to deal with was limited to the issues related to gTLDs. However, the Green Paper ended up expanding the scope of the discussion to overall Internet resource management and overall IANA functions. So the debate came to be treated as a matter of IANA function and the policy development framework.

Upon posting the Green Paper, the U.S. government called for public input on the document. Considerable debate was generated, focusing on the fact that the paper emphasized that Internet resource management and DNS coordination operated pursuant to the contracts with the U.S. government, and many opinions were expressed. In response to this, the policy statement was revised and became the “White Paper (January 1998).”[156] [157] The White Paper was compiled in such a manner that a summary of opinions was provided for each provision of the Green Paper, and the rationales were presented for the clauses into which public opinion was not incorporated, in order to set out the government’s idea about individual issues.

The White Paper set a transition period during which the private-sector-driven Internet resource management by a new company would reach maturity, and stated that the U.S. government should be involved in the management during this period, through a contractual relationship with that new company. In addition, the White Paper suggested that the decision-making method of the new company should be open, bottom-up and transparent, which has been the tradition of the Internet since the start of the IETF.

The new framework suggested in the White Paper required an agreement of the parties associated with the Internet. Therefore, a forum called “The International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP)” was formed, and meetings were held in various places throughout the world to discuss the framework. Consequently, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)[158], the new company that would perform the IANA functions and develop policies to manage the functions, was established in October 1998[159].

The person who had previously taken responsibility and supported this series of processes was Jon Postel, who had engaged in IANA operations consistently since the start of the Internet. However, Postel passed away immediately after ICANN’s incorporation, with much grief expressed by all who knew him[160].

Column: Green Paper and White Paper

The formal name of the Green Paper is “Improvement of the Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses; Proposed Rule,” and that of the White Paper is “Statement of Policy on the Management of Internet Names and Addresses.” They were published in January and June 1998 respectively.

In general, the terms Green Paper and White Paper are used for policy documents published by the government. A Green Paper is revised through public hearings held after its publication and is relabeled White Paper.

Both the Green Paper and the White Paper on the Internet names and addresses conformed to the customary practice and were issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the United States Department of Commerce. Those documents were formally published through the Federal Register of the U.S. government (the system for the government’s official announcements)[161].

Decision-making process and organizational structure adopted in ICANN

In this way, ICANN was established, and the contractual relationship with the United States Department of Commerce became the basis for ICANN’s operation for the time being. ICANN – as the authority[162] for all Internet resources managed by IANA, including not only gTLDs but also ccTLDs and IP addresses – started to attract attention.

The White Paper supported open, bottom-up and transparent management that had been the tradition of the Internet since the start of IETF. In addition, in ICANN’s decision-making process, it called for a consensus formation on a “multistakeholder model.” Furthermore, the process was to be led by the private sector, not by the government, and balanced, both in terms of geographical interests and in terms of various stakeholder groups involved in the Internet. These are the principles incorporated by ICANN.

Even before the founding of ICANN, the IETF (for technical standards) and RIRs (for number resource management, such as IP addresses), were already in place as consensus-building frameworks for the global Internet issues. However, these organizations were strongly colored by their technical background, and that made it relatively easy to form consensus in their processes even with international scope. On the other hand, with regard to domain name policies, not only technical but also commercial factors - including trademark rights and competition policies - needed significant consideration. Ultimately, we can see ICANN as the first organization in the world to have engaged in the development of the policies that were needed to address a wide spectrum of issues with global scope.

The effort made to establish new processes in this environment was challenging. A number of serious issues, including lack of participation by important stakeholders, operations overly focused on process, and shortage of funds, were pointed out with regard to ICANN’s business management through the organizational structure defined at its foundation. Against this backdrop, a series of improvement processes called “ICANN Reform” were carried out from 2001 to 2002[163]. Subsequently, it was determined that Supporting Organizations (SOs) and Advisory Committees (ACs) within ICANN would be reviewed every four years, allowing the structure to be improved as necessary.

Involvement from Japan

During this period, JPNIC proactively sought to provide the local community with information regarding the ICANN structure and gTLD policies, through such measures as study meetings. Further, JPNIC provided financial assistance to ICANN, which was experiencing financial difficulties immediately after its foundation[164], and supported the management of the global resource management structure. Jun Murai, the then president of JPNIC, took up a post as a initial member of the ICANN Board, and later at the first At-Large election held in 2000, Masanobu Kato was elected as a board member. In addition, Hirofumi Hotta accepted a position on the Domain Names Supporting Organization (DNSO), subsequently moving to a position on the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO), and Takashi Arano, who was then chair of the JPNIC IP Address Working Group, served on the Address Supporting Organization (ASO). Thus, the Japanese community has actively participated in ICANN from its beginning.

ICANN's gTLD policy reforms

ICANN has promoted measures to work on issues related to gTLDs, which was the very reason for its foundation.

In October 1999, in order to resolve disputes regarding trademark rights for gTLDs by Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), the Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy (UDRP) was laid down[165]. With this, regulated measures were implemented for protecting trademark rights throughout the name space of the globally expanding Internet.

Moreover, ICANN introduced the registry-registrar model in November 1999. A registry is a business that operates a TLD and manages a ledger of domain names under its control in an integrated fashion; a registrar is a business that acts as an intermediary between a registrant and a registry by supporting domain name applications and registrations. This new model brought in a mechanism of competition among the providers of registration services, which until then had been provided solely by NSI.

Column: Registry-registrar model and JP Registrar model – “thick” registry and “thin” registry

The registry-registrar model was introduced in the gTLD space in November 1999 and has been adopted for all gTLDs. A similar system has been adopted in the JP domain name space, called the “JP Registrar system”, in which customer service for registrants is delegated to businesses other than JPRS. However, it does differ somewhat from the registry-registrar model of gTLDs. Some explanation is necessary for this.

With regard to the JP Registrar system, the circumstances mentioned in Chapter3 apply. Originally JPNIC was formed with ISPs, academic networks and university networks as members, and it started to manage the database of domain names and IP addresses. After that, the structure was reformed, and the division of labor was in place as of 1995. In that framework, JPNIC members carried out applications on users' behalf.

On the other hand, ICANN introduced the concept of registries and registrars for gTLDs (.com, .net, .org) in 1999 in order to reduce the monopoly of NSI in the gTLD registration service. Therefore, the trend shifted toward having registrars take charge of as wide a service or responsibility as possible. Only the minimum necessary tasks to pursue registry service, such as registering information in the name server, were assigned to the registries. The remaining tasks were managed by registrars. In other words, the majority of the information about gTLD registrants remains at registrars.

JP Registrars and the registrars for gTLD may appear to have the same role within the structure, but the reasons and circumstances for the division of labor with registries are distinct and their roles are very different[166].

The first registry-registrar model ICANN constructed was called the “thin registry model.” In the thin registry model (applicable to only .com and .net as of April 2015), the registry WHOIS publishes only a limited range of data, such as name server information, as a response to a query for a gTLD registrant in the WHOIS system, and the other information should be obtained from the registrar WHOIS.

In the case of the JP domain, a JP Registrar acts as an intermediary to perform a procedure on behalf of a registrant. So all registrant information is consolidated at the registry. This model is called the “thick registry model.” From the viewpoint of registration and management of domain names, the thick registry, a scheme to centralize registrant information at a registry, is considered to be more stable. All the gTLDs established after 2000 apply the thick registry model. Moreover, as a result of the review of the policy development process of ICANN GNSO, the ICANN Board resolved in February 2014 that .com and .net would shift to the thick registry model[167].

New gTLDs

After the earlier gTLD policy reforms, ICANN started work on creating new gTLDs to increase TLD choice and introduce competition among them. As a result of the first application round carried out in 2000, seven “proof of concept” TLDs, .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .museum, .aero and .coop, were introduced as a pilot. Then in the second application round, carried out in 2003, ICANN requested proposals for gTLDs that were supported by an organization representing a specific community (sponsoring organization). These gTLDs were called sponsored TLDs (sTLDs). This second round produced .job, .travel, .mobi, .cat, .tel, .asia, .xxx and .post.

A limited number of gTLDs were added through these two application rounds, and further to the six TLDs that were added in 2003, the ICANN Board decided in June 2008 to start a new program that enabled the addition of gTLDs following clear rules[168]. As of writing this document (April 2015), this initiative is called “New gTLD Program.”[169].

Since June 2008, several versions of the “Draft Applicant Guidebook,” containing detailed rules, have been issued, and each time they have been debated by the ICANN community. As a result, in June 2011, the ICANN Board decided to execute the New gTLD Program and specified January 12, 2012 as the date to start accepting the TLD applications[170].

As many as 1,930 applications were submitted during the first phase of the new gTLD program, and about 570 new TLDs have already been established as of writing this document (April 2015). It is forecast that more than 1,000 TLDs will be introduced. However, some applications are objected to by many stakeholders due to the controversial meaning of some requested strings. Therefore, we should keep a close watch on how these TLDs will actually be launched[171].

Relationship between IP address and ICANN

As explained at the start of this chapter, the trigger of the debate for establishing ICANN was the controversy surrounding domain name management, which surfaced through commercialization of the Internet. From the foundation of ICANN until the present day, the majority of issues it has addressed are related to domain names. However, the logical resources managed by IANA, including IP addresses and protocol parameters, are also dealt with by ICANN.

Most matters related to IP addresses, such as distribution to LIRs and the policies for the distribution, are processed by each RIR. But the management of the overall IP address space and allocation of large blocks to RIRs are the tasks for ICANN, in its role performing the IANA function. So the policies related to this part need to be developed within the framework of ICANN. This framework is explained in Chapter6.

To build the framework, the RIRs established the Number Resource Organization (NRO)[172] as their interface with ICANN[173]. When the ICANN Address Supporting Organization Memorandum of Understanding (ICANN ASO MoU)[174] was executed between ICANN and NRO, and it was then decided that the NRO would play the role of ICANN ASO.

In this way, the present framework was established where the ASO forms part of the structure of ICANN, while leaving the initiative for IP address policy development, including the part related to the IANA function, to the RIR communities.

Epicenter of Internet governance

Internet resources are extremely important elements of Internet infrastructure. So ICANN’s organizational framework and policies, for which ICANN is fully responsible, often become the subject of arguments over “Internet governance,” including the relationship between ICANN and the U.S. government. Please refer to the JPNIC Web page “What is Internet governance?”[175] in which the points of controversy regarding Internet governance changing over time are described in chronological order.

In addition, at the time of writing, a big movement is occurring around ICANN.

In the White Paper, the U.S. government regarded the time during which ICANN's Internet resource management reached maturity as a transition period. Besides that, it requested that the U.S. government be engaged in the management during the period and demanded that a contractual relationship be put in place between ICANN and the government. The contractual relationship between the U.S. government and ICANN has indeed been maintained up to now, and the U.S. government has kept its oversight authority over IANA function.

However, on March 14, 2014, the NTIA announced that it “intended to transition its stewardship of IANA function to the global Internet community.”[176] In this statement, the U.S. government explains that it considers that the privatization of the domain name system, which has continued consistently since the foundation of ICANN, is nearing its final stage.

At the time of writing (April 2015), the framework for managing the IANA function after the transition has been discussed based on the NTIA statement, with ICANN playing a central role.

<< Chapter6 Ver.1.0-April 2015 Chapter8 >>

[149] International Ad-Hoc Committee https://web.archive.org/web/19971210061330/http://www.iahc.org/
(Currently iahc.org is registered to an organization that has no relationship with the IAHC described here. Web site of IAHC at that time is stored in archive.org.)

[150] IAHC final report: Recommendations for Administration and Management of gTLDs
(Japanese translation of IAHC’s “Final Report of the International Ad Hoc Committee: Recommendations for Administration and Management of gTLDs”)

[151] Establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding on the General Top Level Domain Name Space of the Internet Domain Name System (gTLD-MoU)
(Japanese translation of IAHC’s “Establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding on the General Top Level Domain Name Space of the Internet Domain Name System (gTLD-MoU)”)

[152] The Generic Top Level Domain Memorandum of Understanding
(gtld-mou.org is not registered at present. The content of the Web site at the time is stored in archive.org.)

[153] The Framework for Global Electronic Commerce

[154] Improvement of Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses; Proposed Rule

[155] Translation of “Green Paper”
(Japanese translation of [154])

[156] Statement of Policy on the Management of Internet Names and Addresses

[157] Translation of “White Paper”
(Japanese translation of [156])

[158] Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

[159] Information related to ICANN including the process up to its foundation is outlined in “History of ICANN” of JPNIC Web site.

[160]“Internet Pioneer Postel Dies”,

[161] Federal Register,

[162] Those who have participated in the Internet since its early days call the ledger management mechanism of Internet numbers “IANA” and accept the term with no sense of discomfort. However, the last “A” of “IANA” means “Authority,” a word generally considered to convey strong meaning. So the term may give an exceptionally strong impression to those other than the early participants.

[163] Information regarding this issue is summarized in “ICANN Reform” of JPNIC Web site.

[164] Financial contribution to ICANN (report)

[165] Refer to JPNIC Web “What is UDRP?” for the outline of UDRP.

[166] Registration of domain names

[167] PDP 'Thick' Whois Policy Development Process

[168] 2008-06-26 - GNSO Recommendations on New gTLDs

[169] Addition of these new gTLDs is explained in “New gTLD” of JPNIC Web site.

[170] Approved Board Resolutions | Singapore 20 Jun 2011

[171] Information on the ICANN new gTLD program is collected in the following Web site. New Generic Top-Level Domains:

[172] Number Resource Organization

[173] NRO was established according to NRO Memorandum of Understanding cosigned by the four RIRs at that time.

[174] ICANN Address Supporting Organization (ASO) MoU

[175] “What is Internet governance?”

[176] “National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the United States Department of Commerce set forth their intention to transition the management authority of Internet DNS function”