Lennard G. Kruger Specialist in Science and Technology Policy
the Internet requires using addresses and corresponding names that identify the location
of individual computers. The Domain Name System (DNS) is the distributed set of databases
residing in computers around the world that contain address numbers mapped to corresponding
domain names, making it possible to send and receive messages and to access information
from computers anywhere on the Internet. Many of the technical, operational,
and management decisions regarding the DNS can have significant impacts on
Internet-related policy issues such as intellectual property, privacy,
Internet freedom, e-commerce, and cybersecurity.
The DNS is managed and operated by a not-for-profit public benefit corporation
called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Because the Internet evolved from a network infrastructure created by the
Department of Defense, the U.S. government originally owned and operated
(primarily through private contractors) the key components of network
architecture that enable the domain name system to function. A 1998 Memorandum
of Understanding (MOU) between ICANN and the Department of Commerce (DOC)
initiated a process intended to transition technical DNS coordination and
management functions to a privatesector not-for-profit entity. While the
DOC played no role in the internal governance or day-today operations of
the DNS, ICANN remained accountable to the U.S. government through the MOU,
which was superseded in 2006 by a Joint Project Agreement (JPA). On September
30, 2009, the JPA between ICANN and DOC expired and was replaced by an
Affirmation of Commitments (AoC), which provides for review panels to
periodically assess ICANN processes and activities.
Additionally, a contract between DOC and ICANN authorizes the Internet Assigned
Numbers Authority (IANA) to perform various technical functions such as
allocating IP address blocks, editing the root zone file, and coordinating
the assignment of unique protocol numbers. With the current contract due
to expire on September 30, 2012, NTIA announced on July 2, 2012, the award
of the new IANA contract to ICANN for up to seven years.
With the expiration of the ICANN-DOC Joint Project Agreement on September 30,
2009, the announcement of the new AoC, the renewal of the IANA contract,
and the rollout of the new generic top level domain (gTLD) program, the
113th Congress and the Administration are
likely to continue assessing the appropriate federal role with respect to
ICANN and the DNS, and examine to what extent ICANN is positioned to
ensure Internet stability and security, competition, private and bottom-up
policymaking and coordination, and fair representation of the global Internet community.
Controversies over the new gTLDs and the addition of the .xxx domain have led some
governments to criticize the ICANN policymaking process and to suggest various
ways to increase governmental influence over that process. How these and
other issues are ultimately addressed and resolved could have profound
impacts on the continuing evolution of ICANN, the DNS, and the Internet.
Date of Report: January 3, 2013
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