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What is ICANN and What Does it Do?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for overseeing the Internet's Top Level Domains (TLDs). ICANN is a not for profit orga­niza­ti­on, and its main responsibi­liti­es surround IP address space allocation, domain name system management, root server system management functions and other related ad­mi­nis­tra­tive functions that were performed by the U.S. government and other or­ga­niza­ti­ons via contract prior to the es­tab­lis­hme­nt of ICANN. Formed in 1998 after a call from the US government to establish a not for profit organization to oversee the Internet's fun­cti­ona­lity (the Internet began as a research used by the US government), the company operates on a budget of approximately six to eight million dollars (USD) per year.

Every company that provides genuine TLD registration services (that is, the official registry-level registration of .com, .net and.org domains) is required to be reviewed and approved by ICANN. Each company that applies to become an ICANN-approved registrar is subjected to a fairly rigorous application process; companies and sites that do not explicitly state they have are an ICANN-approved registrar are simply reselling the services of a company that has received approval.

ICANN also has an important role in the Internet community, as virtually anything it legislates or regulates effect most Web sites in one way or another. Some of the organiza­ti­on's other objectives include preserving the Internet's operational stability; promoting competition (ICANN introduced a multi-registrar system in 1999), and achieving broad global rep­re­sen­ta­ti­on and to developing policy through private-sector, consensus-based means. According to the ICANN Web site, the organization "is perhaps the foremost example of col­la­bora­ti­on by the various constituents of the Internet community - individuals and or­ga­niza­ti­ons, entrepreneurs and educators, corporate enterprises and non-profit advocacy groups."

ICANN is also key to the resolution of domain name registration disputes, as it is the organization responsible for designing and implementing the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (popularly known as the "UDRP"). This policy governs the procedures followed by all domain name registrars in the event of a dispute between two parties over a registered domain name. And contrary to popular belief, ICANN is not the same organization as Network Solutions (NSI), which was the sole company responsible for top level domain name re­gis­tra­ti­ons between 1993 and 1999 per a U.S. government contract. NSI is now one of about 160 ICANN-approved domain name registrars.

The company is organized in to several parts and is overseen by a larger board. However, ICANN's current structure is under review as it tries to re-invent itself as a more flexible or­ga­niza­ti­on; the firm has been a target of criticism from some within the Internet community that claim ICANN does not properly perform the job it was created to do.

For more information about ICANN, visit the or­ga­niza­ti­on's Web site at icann.org.