Table of contents
Part 1
What are ICT and internet policies?
Part 2
The internet, markets and access
Part 3
National ICT and internet policy and regulation
Part 4
Specific issues in internet policy and regulation
Part 5
Organisations active in ICT

 14. Guiding and governing the Internet

Emerging as it did from the US defence establishment – and depending for its development on highly technical skills – it is not surprising that the internet was governed for years by a small group of relatively invisible men. Today decisions taken on internet standards have political, economic and social ramifications as well as technical ones. Governments, business and civil society organisations alike recognise that internet decisions carry high stakes. Opening up decision-making processes is imperative.

Four organisations have particular roles to play:

• The Internet Society (ISOC) is an open, inclusive global internet movement

• The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the most controversial, because its responsibility for managing domain names globally touches national sovereignty and calls for broader participation in decision-making

• The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) looks after standards for internet connectivity

• The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) looks after standards for accessing web-based content.

The Internet Society (ISOC) is a professional membership society with 14,000 individual members and 150 organisational members in over 180 countries. It provides leadership in addressing issues related to the future of the internet. It fosters an environment of international collaboration within which to support the development of standards, create educational and training opportunities and promote professional development and leadership.

Members are the companies, government agencies, and foundations that have created the Internet and its technologies as well as innovative and entrepreneurial organizations contributing to the maintenance of that dynamic.1

Membership is free to individuals; organisations pay between US$2,500 and US$100,000 annually. Fees for non-governmental organisations are discounted by 50%. Members can work through local chapters – or create them when none exist.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a global, non-profit, private sector initiative that was formed when the USA realised that management of the domain name system from a narrow, technocratic base was no longer feasible. ICANN’s main function is to coordinate the assignment of domain names, Internet Protocol addresses, protocol parameters, and port numbers that must be unique in order to achieve a functioning, secure and stable internet.

ICANN has no statutory or other governmental power – its authority derives entirely from voluntary contract and compliance with its consensus policies by the global internet community.2 Its survival depends on reinventing itself in a more truly global mode.

As a result of lobbying by a number of civil society bodies the ICANN Board opened up its membership to on-line election by individual members ‘at large’, who registered on-line; they were entitled to vote in the last Board election. Five members were elected under this new arrangement. The elections have proved controversial within the ICANN Board and within the broader internet constituency; rules have been changed so that the ‘at large’ community of individual users can no longer vote in ICANN Board elections. 3 Some alternative ways of expanding participation in ICANN are discussed in chapter 18.


The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)is a network of individuals hosted by ISOC and engaged in the development of new internet standard specifications. It is the ultimate consultative mechanism of the internet age. It has no corporate identity, board of directors, members or dues.4It deals nevertheless with the pressing operational and technical problems by specifying standards or protocols; it moves technology innovations from its research group to the broader internet community; and it acts as a forum for the exchange of information between vendors, users, researchers, contractors and network managers.



The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was created to realise the full potential of the web by promoting interoperability and encouraging an open forum for discussion.5It groups 74 people working from locations around the world and is hosted in the USA, France and Japan. W3C has a truly global vision of a web that accommodates differences and limitations across continents, is user-friendly and trustworthy. It aims to match the web to the ever-changing expectations of users and the ever-expanding power of computers. In a recent battle over patenting web standards, the Consortium demonstrated a willingness to listen to free software voices within civil society and came down firmly in support of a Web maintained clearly within the public domain, and gave an example of how to respond to civil society pressure that other such bodies could follow.6


Shravanti Reddy, Can ICANN meet the needs of less developed countries? May 20, 2003

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