Internet governance

What are we talking about?

We are talking of a rather narrow, highly specialized and time-consuming engagement in the decision-making processes of ICANN, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers. However, by this compartmentalized participation, a pressure group or an individual may impact the way the digital universe works and is organized.

We are not talking of a “trouble-shooting” activity dealing with all the contentious issues arising from the use of Information and Communication Technologies.

The power game is played by the rules of ICANN’s “multi-stakeholder” model. Are considered as stakeholders (1) Individuals, (2) Industry, (3) Non-commercial interests and (4) Governments. But the definition of stakeholder is flexible: new communities of stakeholders may claim their right to participate provided that their interests upon a particular area of Internet development are recognised.

The Internet governance universe has an intricate structure, composed of several layers. Not all have the same capacity to influence decisions.

ICANN’s Board of Directors: voting members

The voice of stakeholders is expressed through the Board of Directors. The Board has 16 voting members, where half of them are appointed by the Nominating Committee (in other words, the Nominating Committee holds the reins of half the Board, but its power and influence extend well beyond, as shown below). The other members are appointed by several stakeholder organizations, namely the Address Supporting Organization (ASO) – two members; the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) – two members; the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) – two members. The “end users”, i.e. “the people” enter into the game through the At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), which appoints one board member. The remaining voting chair is occupied by ICANN’s appointed President.

ICANN Board of Directors: non-voting members

Additionally, there are five non-voting (nv) liaison representatives at ICANN’s Board of Directors, whose function is to provide technical advice. They are: the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) – one (nv) member; the Root Server System Advisory Committee (RRSAC) – one (nv) member; the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) – one (nv) member; ICANN’s Technical Liaison Group (TLG) – one (nv) member; the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), one (nv) member.

Constellations, planet systems, worlds, countries and peoples

The definition of stakeholders is implemented as a series of complex concentric circles. Take the voting members as an example.

The ASO constellation

The Address Supporting Organization (ASO) is comprised of five autonomous Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), directly involved on Internet Protocol (IP) address issues. These RIRs are: AfriNIC, or the African Network Information Centre, covering Africa; the APNIC, or Asia Pacific Network Information Centre; the ARIN or American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which covers North America and some Caribbean countries; LACNIC, is the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry; the RIPE NCC or Réseaux IP Européens, which covers Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Each Regional Internet Registry region holds separate nomination and election processes to form the ASO Council for a two-year term. The ASO Council appoints one chair and vice-chairs. IPv4 or IPv6 addresses holders are normally the ones that are active at RIRs, in other words, Internet Providers, hosting firms, educational institutions or governments[1]. For more information, visit

Example of a policy-making process within the ASO[2]

Any individual may submit a global proposal. Each RIR community must ratify an identical version of the proposed policy. The NRO Executive Council (NRO EC) then refers the coordinated proposal to the ASO Address Council (ASO AC), which reviews the process by which the proposal was developed and, under the terms of the ASO Memorandum of Understanding, passes it to the ICANN Board of Directors for ratification as a global policy.

The Country Codes Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) constellation

The country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) are two-letter domain names that correspond to a country, for instance, .fr for France or .mg for Madagascar. The ccNSO Council is formed by three elected representatives from each of the five geographic regions (defined as per the RIRs… Africa, Asia-Pacific, America, Latin America, Europe / Middle East; plus three members appointed by ICANN’s nominating committee (the influence of the nominating committee is also seen here). For more information visit

The Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) – a hot constellation

It is the policy-making body responsible for generic top-level domains, such as .com and .org, but also .coffee or .holiday. These recently approved, highly demanded top-level domains acquired by investment corporations sit on very lucrative terrain, because they become registrars selling declinations of the gTLD.

The GNSO recognises four stakeholder groups which are potentially interested in generic top-level domain policy development:

  • Commercial Stakeholder Group
  • Non-commercial Stakeholder Group
  • Registrar Stakeholder Group
  • gTLD Registries Stakeholder Group

The GNSO policy-development body is a 23 member Council with the power to appoint two members to ICANN’s Board of Directors (12.5% of the voting power). The GNSO Council government structure is bi-cameral (it has two houses): the Contracted Parties House, which holds two fundamental constituencies: the registries and the registrars. The Contracted Parties House elects 6 Council members: 3 for the registries and 3 for the registrars.

It is much easier to understand the notion of registrar than the notion of registries. A registrar is an organization or commercial entity that manages the reservation of Internet domain names. The registries are a sort of wholesalers which operate specific areas within the Domain Name System, for instance the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs): large, geopolitical regions, which were described above under the Address Supporting Organization (ASO). There are also the Local Internet Registries (LIRs), under the authority of the RIRs, which are normally the Internet Service Providers.

The registries are therefore present at several levels within ICANN’s governance structure: at the ASO level, at the GNSO Council and at the Nominating Committee level, as we will explain later. Very likely, they are also represented at the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) level or entertain close relationships with their members. These overlapping layers of participation and power provide more influence to certain stakeholders, which are arguably “critical” for the functioning of ICANN. It is not only that they can make their voice heard in various spaces within the government structure, but also that they are represented at the Nominating Committee which appoints 50% of the Board of Directors.

The second camera is the Non-Contracted Parties House, which holds the Commercial and Non-Commercial Stakeholders Groups. The non-Contracted Parties House elects 12 board members: 6 for the Commercial Constituencies (Business, Intellectual Property, Internet Service Providers, each one with two Council members), and 6 for the Non-Commercial Constituency.

The Nominating Committee appoints three Council members, two of which are voting members assigned to each House. The third appointee is an advisor to the Council as a whole. The Council also includes formally appointed but non-voting Liaisons and Observers from other groups, such as the At-Large Community (ALAC) and the Country Code Name Supporting Organization (ccNSO).

Non-commercial and Not-for-Profit (NCUC and NPOC): two distinct stakeholders?

  • The NCUC claims to be the “home for civil society organizations and individuals in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) bottom-up policy making organ”
  • The NPOC claims… “to represent the concerns of not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations who have an Internet domain registered”

They both claim to be the space for “civil society” participation within ICANN, but they are considered to be two distinct stakeholder groups, though there is a considerable difference: the NPOC does not have representation on the Nominating Committee, whilst the NCUC does. There are even some organizations that belong simultaneously to the NCUC and to the NPOC. In quantitative terms, the NCUC is larger than the NPOC at this very moment, though that may change any time, since the number of affiliated organizations is very small. Other difference is the fact that the NCUC does accept individual members.

In the evolving Internet governance arena, the composition of the non-commercial, not-for-profit, civil society representation is bound to change. There should be only one stakeholder claiming to represent civil society, if civil society is plainly recognized as a stakeholder by ICANN. As it is now, civil society is fragmented between the NCUC, the NPOC and the At Large Community (ALAC) (which represents the “individual internet user”).

GNSO – Working Groups and leadership

A great deal of the work that may impact policies takes place at the Working Group level. People who participate in working groups do it as volunteers, knowing that it implies a lot of work. No wonder that their presence in positions of leadership within the GNSO community is easily recognisable. The intricacies of Internet governance occur at this level. In principle, anyone is welcome to contribute to a working group: expressing interest and being accepted by peers is enough. At the moment this article is written (May 2020), there is a call for volunteers for a new cross-community Working Group (CWG) on the Use of Country and Territory Names as TLDs (UCTN).

The GNSO-chartered Working Groups focusing on policy development processes (PDP) right now are:

  • Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy-B Working Group
  • Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy-C Working Group
  • Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy-D Working Group
  • Working Group on gTLD Registration Data Services
  • Locking of a Domain Name Working Group
  • Protection of IGO and INGO Identifiers in All gTLDs
  • PDP Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues Working Group
  • ‘Thick’ Whois Policy Development Process
  • Translation and Transliteration of Contact Information Policy Development Process

There are also cross-constituency working groups, which we will not enumerate here.

Information on progress is kept systematically and available to the public at the following address: Working groups are run as per the Working Group (WG) charter, a set of demanding conditions oriented towards productivity.

For more information about the GNSO visit

Internet governance in action – what it entails from a NPOC perspective

People need to meet and discuss in order to reach “rough consensus” and make decisions. In real terms, this means:

  • 3 international public meetings every year, one of which is the ICANN general meeting
  • 1 regional yearly meeting
  • NPOC open monthly / open policy meeting: Adobe Connect or International Telephone Conference
  • NCSG Monthly call (ibid)
  • GNSO council meeting (ibid)
  • Participation at Working Groups
  • Frequent policy update & information Webinars
  • Follow-up of Webcasts
  • Reading policy documents and keeping abreast of colleagues’ contributions to the discussion
  • Invitations to comment on papers
  • Invitations to participate at “strategy panels”
  • A deluge of emails (incumbents belong to several email-lists)
  • Participation at the Internet Governance Forum
  • Liaising with multilateral bodies: ITU, WIPO, WTO
  • Being active at Public Comment opportunities


The OISTE Foundation within ICANN’s governance structure:

By-laws and charts determining the OISTE Foundation participation in ICANN’s government

Four different documents define rights and duties, establish procedures and provide a participation framework within ICANN’s governance structure for an organisation belonging to the Not-for-profit Operational Concern constituency (NPOC).

The At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) – the challenge of engaging “the people”

The interests of the “end user”, of whom there are 3 billion and counting, are given one member at ICANN’s board of directors. This is the challenge of ALAC: representing and organising the “lambda” Internet user. The At-Large Committee (ALAC) is a subset of the At-Large Community. At the grassroots there are nearly 150 At-Large Structures (ALSes) the world over. The ALSes are organized by region through five Regional At-Large Organizations or RALOS. The RALOS are the coordination point for each of these five regions. So you have:

  • AFRALO (Africa)
  • APRALO (Asia Pacific)
  • EURALO (Europe)
  • LACRALO (Latin America and Caribbean)
  • NARALO (North America)

Each region appoints 2 members to the Committee. The Nominating Committee appoints a third member per region (a citizen of a country of the region), which makes a 15 member council. This council appoints / elects one ICANN Board member.

End users and mechanisms of participation in ICANN’s governance structure

Numerically speaking, end users are ICANN’s largest stakeholder community. However, no matter how concerned an individual user is, convincing him / her to go through the institutionalized participation channels is a difficult task. Will new mechanisms emerge to enable the end user expressing his / her voice? This is perhaps the most pressing question in Internet governance these days.

Governmental Advisory Committee – GAC

The constituency is formed of government appointed representatives, distinct economies and global organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), UNESCO, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), INTERPOL and regional organizations such as the OECD, Asia-Pacific Forum and the Council of Europe.

The GAC provides advice on issues where there is an interaction between ICANN’s activities or policies and national laws or international agreements. No more. It usually meets three times a year in conjunction with ICANN meetings.

Governments or quoted organizations may appoint one representative, one alternate and one advisor, which must be officially recognized by ICANN. GAC members elect a chair who serves as a non-voting liaison to the ICANN Board.

Government participation in ICANN is the hottest issue in Internet governance. Some governments think that the multi-stakeholder model should be replaced by a multi-lateral model, where governments would take the largest role.

The Root Server System Advisory Committee – RSSAC

There are thirteen root name servers in the world working exclusively for ICANN which hold and manage the Domain Name System. In a way, this is the holy of the holies of Internet: the technical base of the authoritative root server system; the provider of stability to the system. These are the places that host Internet’s hardware; that make the Operating systems work; that hold the Name server software; that operates the IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

Visit the following address if you want to know the details of this truly global operation

The root name servers are designated with a letter, from A to M (13 server locations) and are run by a number of operators: Verisign Inc; Information Sciences Institute; Cogent Communications; University of Maryland; NASA Ames Research Center; Internet Systems Consortium Inc.; U.S. DOD Network Information Center; U.S. Army Research Lab;  Netnod (formerly Autonomica);  Verisign Inc.; RIPE NCC; ICANN; WIDE Project. It is an American operation. Will this evolve towards a more international participation? There are so many strategic and security related issues involved that one can hardly imagine the US loosening control of the RSSAC, which is the Internet’s critical infrastructure.

The Security and Stability Advisory Committee – SSAC

The SSAC is an advisory committee to the Board of Directors. It is comprised of technical experts from industry, academia, operators of Internet root servers, registrars and Top Level Domain (TLD) registries. Its members are appointed by ICANN’s Board of Directors. Its function is to ensure the stability and reliability of the root names and numbers system and assess threats and risks to its operation. More information about the SSAC at

A balancing force: the Nominating Committee

A force to reckon, the Nominating Committee, appoints half of ICANN’s Board of Directors and makes his presence felt in the GNSO and the ALAC councils, where it also appoints council members.

As shown below, the composition of the Nominating Committee reinforces the influence of key stakeholders. The NPOC is not represented in the Nominating Committee, whilst the NCUC is, which gives ground to complaints of unfairness by the NPOC community.

Some other orbiting groups

Internet Governance Forum – IGF

During the second World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunis in 2005, a declaration was issued asking the UN Secretary-General to convene a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue—called the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). 

In many respects, this is a duplication of ICANN, using the same language and focus, but it opens new field in facilitating dialogue between inter-governmental organizations and voicing the concerns of developing countries.

The Multistakeholder Advisory Group – MAG

This is the IGF council, whose function is to advise the UN Secretary-General on Internet governance matters.

The Dynamic Coalitions

These coalitions are informal, issue-specific groups comprising members of various stakeholder groups. To a certain extent, they are the equivalent of ICANN’s working groups.

The UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development – CSTD

Within its mission, it also deals with matters concerning the future of Internet governance, since it has to provide the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council with high-level advice on relevant scientific and technological issues through analysis and appropriate policy recommendations or options.

Other groups working for Internet governance

The Pan-European dialogue on Internet governance (EuroDIG) is an open platform for informal and inclusive discussion and exchange on public policy issues related to Internet Governance (IG) between stakeholders from all over Europe. It was created in 2008 by a number of key stakeholders representing various European stakeholder groups working in the field of IG. EuroDIG is a network which is open to all European stakeholders that are interested in contributing to an open and interactive discussion on IG issues.

 More information at

[1] ”Every device on the Internet is assigned an IP address for identification and location definition. For many years the standard used was the IPv4, but with the ever-increasing number of new devices being connected to the Internet, the need arose for more addresses than the IPv4 could handle. A new technical solution was implemented with the IPv6, that uses a 128-bit address, allowing 2128, or approximately 3.4×1038 addresses, or more than 7.9×1028 times as many as IPv4, which uses 32-bit addresses”. Expressed in words, this is roughly 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique IP addresses. The two protocols are not designed to be interoperable, complicating the transition to IPv6…” (from Wikipedia).