Participate in ICANN< back to list
Why Participate in ICANN?
ICANN is a unique organization, dedicated to
administering a key set of Internet resources in the public interest and on
behalf of the global Internet communities. Unlike some other worldwide
organizations, ICANN’s policy development process depends heavily on the
voluntary participation of individuals and organizations from the communities
it serves. ICANN participants include Internet stakeholders, engineers,
businesspeople, activists, researchers, users, and others, from all around the
The ICANN structure is one in which an
active, interested participant can make a real difference. ICANN has a
volunteer Board of Directors with only a small professional staff — fewer than
20 employees in total. Accordingly, most of the discussion, debate, and
dialogue to forge consensus policies is led by individuals who participate in
ICANN’s Supporting Organizations. The goal of the ICANN policy-making process
is to develop a consensus among the diverse stakeholders of the global Internet
community, meaning that everyone gets a fair shot to be heard and the
opportunity to persuade others of the merits of her views.
Perhaps the best argument for getting
involved in the ICANN process is that it matters to the future of the Internet.
The domain name and IP address systems on which most Internet traffic now
depends have been remarkable technological success stories: the standards are
open and non-proprietary, and they have proven capable of supporting the
massive exponential growth of the Internet since the mid-1980s. Many challenges
now confront these systems, including fears about the potential exhaustion of
the IP address space and conflicts between domain names and legally-defined
By getting involved in the ICANN process, you
can help determine the future of the Internet’s systems of unique identifiers.
At first glance, ICANN’s organizational chart can seem
confusing and complicated. However, it’s actually pretty logical — and even
simple — if you understand what ICANN’s responsibilities are. ICANN is
responsible for coordinating the Internet’s three key systems of unique
identifiers. Given that hundreds of millions of Internet users every day depend
on the Domain Name and IP Address systems to route their communications, ICANN
works to ensure that those systems operate and evolve to serve the global
Internet community in a stable and reliable manner.
There are three distinct systems of
identifiers for which ICANN is responsible: the Domain Name System; the IP
Address system; and the numbering of port and protocol parameters. For the
development of coordination policies, ICANN has three open Supporting
Organizations, one for each system of Internet identifiers:
Domain Name Supporting Organization – for
the Domain Name System (DNS).
Address Supporting Organization – for the IP
Protocol Supporting Organization – for the
numbering of port and protocol parameters.
Because each of these identifiers is
different — with different purposes, different levels of technical and
administrative complexity, different issues, and different communities of
interest and expertise — each of the three Supporting Organizations has a
different structure. All three, however, provide open avenues by which an
interested individual can get involved. Just follow the links below.
The best way to get involved is to join one
or more of the groups (constituencies, working groups, policy forums,
committees, etc.) that interest you and contribute to their online discussions.
A number of these groups are discussed below; you’ll find some other, more
specialized groups linked from their webpages. After you’ve identified an area
of interest and a relevant group, check out its website: you can often join an
e-mail discussion list just by submitting a request to subscribe. You might
want to introduce yourself to the leaders or organizers of the group, and ask
about the status of current discussions, and the best ways to start
You can also attend a face-to-face
ICANN meeting. It’s a great introduction to the ICANN
process and other participants, but it will usually involve some travel and
expense. Taking place 3 to 4 times each year, in different locations around the
world, ICANN meetings are free and open to the public. ICANN also webcasts the
plenary sessions, and uses Internet technology to allow remote participation by
those who cannot attend in person. If you are able to attend, check the meeting
schedule to see which groups are meeting, and which ones are of interest to
you. You’ll find agendas start to be posted roughly a month in advance. The
next ICANN meetings will in Accra, Ghana, in March 2002.
If you are interested in issues relating to
the Domain Name System, you should participate in the Domain Name Supporting Organization, or DNSO. The
DNSO consists of seven different constituency groups, each focusing on a
particular set of Internet stakeholders. Each constituency group has its own
structure and organization, so you should take a look at the website for each
one that interests you. There you’ll find information on current issues, e-mail
lists, meeting schedules, constituency leaders, and so forth.
The DNSO seeks to develop consensus-based
policies for the Domain Name System. The consensus-development process involves
all seven constituencies, and is guided by a Names Council, consisting of three members
appointed by each constituency. Much of the work of the DNSO is done in working
groups and task forces. The DNSO’s webpage gives details about currently
active working groups and task forces. In addition,
the DNSO hosts an open forum, called the General Assembly, which consists of an open
e-mail discussion list and an open forum at ICANN meetings.
Besides the DNSO and constituency web pages,
a good way to start learning about the DNSO is to subscribe to its e-mail announcement list.
If you are interested in issues relating to
the allocation of Internet Protocol (IP) Addresses, you should participate in
the Address Supporting Organization, or ASO. The ASO
consists of the three Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) — the organizations
that allocate IP addresses in their respective regions:
Each of these organizations develops
addressing policy through an open policy forum, where any interested person can
join and participate. The open policy forums maintain open e-mail discussion
lists, and hold face-to-face meetings two or three times a year. Under the ASO
structure, global addressing policies are developed by the participants in
these open policy forums. The ASO has an Address Council, which is responsible for
managing the formation of global address policies. Address Council members are
appointed by the RIRs. On the ASO’s RIR links page, you can find out which RIR covers
your geographic location — once you do, you can visit your RIR’s webpage and
join its open policy forum. If you want to get deeper into the substance of
addressing policy, a good place to start is ASO’s documents and archives page, where you will find
pointers to key addressing policy documents.
The ASO maintains several e-mail lists, including an announcement list and
an open policy discussion list.
If you are interested in Internet protocol
issues, you should participate in the Protocol Supporting Organization, or PSO. The PSO
consists of four standards-development organizations – that is, organizations that publish
technical standards related to the Internet:
Similar to the DNSO and ASO, the PSO is managed by a Protocol Council, which consists of two members
appointed by each standards development organization. Unlike the other SOs,
however, the PSO engages in little activity on its own. That means that
individuals who are interested in Internet protocols (and, more specifically,
the assignment of parameters for Internet protocols) should participate
directly in one or more of the PSO’s standards development organizations. For
example, the IETF has dozens of working groups open to
any interested participants. The PSO acts primarily as a link between ICANN and
the standards development organizations. As one Protocol Council member put it:
“The PSO’s main job is making sure that decisions by ICANN are technically
sound with respect to protocols on the Internet.”
The PSO maintains an e-mail discussion list, the archives of which are posted online. In
addition, the PSO hosts one open meeting (a “General Assembly”)
annually, in conjunction with one of the four standards development
organizations. See, for example, the archives of the 2001 PSO General Assembly.
To learn more about the PSO, take a look
at “About the PSO”.
ICANN At Large Membership
In 2000, ICANN conducted an unprecedented
experiment by which tens of thousands of Internet users worldwide were able to
cast online votes for 5 members of the ICANN Board of Directors. Following that
process, the ICANN Board created an At Large Study Committee to undertake a
complete examination of the process. Chaired by former Prime Minister Carl
Bildt of Sweden, the Study Committee was charged with forging a consensus on
the best method for representing the world’s Internet users as individuals
(“At-Large Members”) within ICANN, and is strongly interested in the
hearing the opinions and feedback of individual Internet users and
To become a participant in the work of the At
Large Study Committee, visit its website. You will find a number of documents
posted for review and comment, along with a discussion forum and a calendar of
upcoming outreach events.
ICANN is an effort at private-sector,
non-governmental management in the public interest. However, governments play
an important advisory role in ICANN through the Governmental Advisory Committee, which is a forum
for the discussion of government interests and concerns, including consumer
interests. If you work for a government and would like to get involved with the
ICANN process, please get in contact with the GAC directly.
General Internet Policy Issues
ICANN’s mission is specific: ensuring the
stable operation, growth and evolution of the Internet’s systems of unique
identifiers. If you are interested in broader Internet policy issues, you
should get involved in one or more of the various other organizations or fora
dedicated to working in those arenas.
A good place to start is the Internet Society‘s What Is The Internet? site, which contains
an excellent set of links to user-friendly documents explaining the nature and
history of the Internet. In particular, the Internet Issues page has a many useful links
to organizations dealing with other aspects of Internet policy.