Introduction to ICANN & Internet Space – Xie Loong Goh

Over the past 3 months of Netmission Academy over 7 pieces of training on the topics of internet governance, sovereignty, and rights, it was filled with a lot of inspirations and food-for-thought moments which urge me to write this article to reflect what I see Internet as, from past to present, and to inspire you, the readers, to hopefully figure out more about the internet by giving you an entry-level introduction on ICANN. Then, I shall link you to several different blog posts for you to continue your knowledge-dive.

Let’s begin.

Drift back to February 1996—John Perry Barlow, an Internet activist, published a “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”. 

“We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”

It was a well-crafted stunt that encapsulates the spirit of the time when great hopes were pinned on the internet to be the next emerging medium as a force that would encourage freedom and democracy. However, the Internet was everywhere, yet nowhere, as free-floating as a cloud—but still subject itself to geography, and after all, national border and law. 

In the present, it becomes clearer over the last few years that the Internet is no longer what it was dreamt of in the 1970s or 1980s when it was thought to be a parallel universe of pure data, an exciting new frontier where borderless, lawless freedom prevails. It has instead become a rather contested space with considerable digital divides, which can be notably seen from countries’ emerging censorships. While ICANN does not regulate content, nor stop censorships, it still plays a prominent and unique role in the whole infrastructure of the Internet.

ICANN is a not-for-profit partnership of people from all over the globe to keep the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. Breaking the buzzwords down, its main job is basically on the coordination of the Internet’s naming system, which essentially refers to the Domain Name System (DNS), constituting what you see on a web address before and after “the dot”. This coordination is very important in the functioning of the internet because computers and the people who use them will not be able to reach each other on the internet without Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Through its contracts with registries (such as the familiar suffixes – .com, .org) and registrars (companies that sell domain names to individuals and organizations, such as GoDaddy), ICANN crucially defines the expansion and evolution of the vast interconnectivity of internet.

The most interesting part for me is nonetheless the structure of such a big governing body and how it encompasses the spirit of openness and inclusivity of the internet in this time and space of so many political forces. ICANN is indeed one of the most prominent examples of a multi-stakeholder governance model, as opposed to an intergovernmental governance model. On a structural level, ICANN is made up of a number of different advisory groups of stakeholders from all around the world, each of which represents a different interest on the internet and all of which contribute to what ICANN practices as a bottom-up approach- consensus-based policy development. The stakeholders include governments and international treaty organizations, root server operators, those concerned with the Internet’s security, and the “at large” community, meaning average Internet users.

About the writer

Xie Loong Goh (NetMission Ambassador of class 2019-20, Singapore)
Bachelor’s Degree in Business Analytics, National University of Singapore