The internet is decentralised and so is its management by design. All organisations involved in its management work according to the multi-stakeholder approach. Those who feel they represent an interest are accordingly given a voice in the organisations, e.g. Internet Service Providers, governments, technical experts and the users of the internet. Their interests are all taken into account in the organisation's decision-making and activities.
ICANN determines the policy
Several non-profit organisations manage the internet infrastructure jointly. One of the most important ones is the ICANN . The ICANN helps manage the Domain Name System (DNS).
Tasks of the ICANN
- The ICANN ensures that the internet's unique identification system is stable and secure.
- It coordinates the allocation and assignment of names in the root zone of the Domain Name System.
- The ICANN develops the rules for registering second-level domain names with generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) such as .com, .biz, .org and ensures that those rules are applied.
- The ICANN helps coordinate how the DNS root name server system works and grows. This is the foundation of the entire DNS system and contains a list of the names and IP addresses of all top-level domains, such as .com, .org, etc.
- The ICANN coordinates the allocation and assignment at the highest level of IP (Internet Protocol) and AS (Autonomous Systems) numbers. It ensures that each number is unique and well-organised so that the internet functions properly and smoothly.
- The ICANN works with other organisations to ensure that registries needed for the internet to function properly, as determined by organisations that develop internet protocol standards, are available. The ICANN provides registration services for these identifiers and names and ensures that the registries are publicly available to anyone who wants to work with them. This means that organisations working on the development of internet protocols have access to the identification numbers and names needed for their protocols to function properly.
Several advisory committees help ICANN to determine policy:
- The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which consists of representatives of national governments from around the world (for Belgium, this is the BIPT & the FPS Economy, SMEs, Self-employed and Energy);
- The At-Large Advisory Committee, which consists of individual internet users delegated by the Regional At-Large Organisations, various regional organisations from around the world. They advise, for example, on whether new domain extensions such as .app, .blog and .shop should be allowed on the internet, thereby giving individual Internet users a voice also.
- The Root Server System Advisory Committee, which gives advice on the operation of the DNS root server system;
- The Security and Stability Advisory Committee, which consists of internet experts who study security issues;
- The Technical Liaison Group, which consists of delegates from other international technical organisations. Some of the members are: Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); World Wide Web Consortium (W3C); Regional Internet Registries (RIRs); Internet Society (ISOC); and International Telecommunication Union (ITU). All these organisations have their own expertise. Together, they ensure that ICANN stays abreast of the latest technical developments. The TLG can therefore advise ICANN on these matters.
There are also three subgroups (Supporting Organisations) within the ICANN that help develop policy for the top-level domains:
The Generic Names Supporting Organisation (GNSO), for generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .org, .net but also for the NewTLDs, the new domain extensions that have been around since 2012 such as .tech, .guru, .app, etc.
The Country Code Names Supporting Organisation (ccNSO) for country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) such as .be, .fr, .nl
The Address Supporting Organisation (ASO) for setting IP address policies.
The PTI/IANA implements the rules
For its part, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority ( IANA ) assigns IP addresses and manages the root zone (the database of all top-level domains). The IANA is the operational arm of the ICANN.
The tasks of the PTI/IANA
1 Assigning IP addresses and numbers
In addition to IP addresses, there are also Autonomous System Numbers (AS numbers) which are used to exchange routing information. The IANA assigns IP addresses and numbers as address blocks to five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). These in turn make smaller address blocks available to Local Internet Registries (LIR) and National Internet Registries (NIR) which distribute these addresses to Internet Service Providers.
The 5 RIRs are responsible for the following areas:
- AFRINIC: Africa
- APNIC: Asia, Australia and Oceania
- ARIN: Canada, USA and several Caribbean islands
- LACNIC: Latin America and some other Caribbean islands
- RIPE NCC: Europe, Middle East and parts of Central Asia
2 Managing the Root Zone
The IANA coordinates and manages the central root zone of the Domain Name System. The IANA manages the database that contains all top-level domains (TLDs and the root zone and adds and removes TLDs. In addition, the IANA also manages .int and .arpa.
3 Managing a database of authorised internationalised domain names
Not only letters of the Latin alphabet are allowed in domain names, but also special characters such as umlauts, accents, Cyrillic script, etc. With the globalisation of the internet, these special characters were allowed in the Internationalizing Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) standard.
4 Defining the parameters for protocols
The various internet protocols (mail, http, ftp...) contain parameters that indicate where packets on the internet should go or what type of content is sent. Some examples of such parameters:
- http (websites): the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol parameters such as GET, POST, PUT or DELETE determine which action to perform. Other parameters specify, for example, the content of a website, the language in which the website is to be displayed.
- FTP: the File Transfer Protocol parameters indicate the name of the file, the folder in which the file is located and the type of transfer to be used (ASCII or binary).
- SMTP: Simple Mail Transfer Protocol parameters are used to indicate the subject, sender and recipient of an e-mail and to add attachments to the message.
- DNS: the Domain Name System parameters indicate the name of the desired domain and the type of record required, such as A record (IP address), MX record (mail server), CNAME record (alias) or NS record (name server).
- TCP/IP (Internet traffic): the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol parameters specify the source and destination IP addresses and ports, the protocols used and the length of the data stream.
These parameters are essential for the operation of internet protocols and ensure that the right information is transferred correctly over the internet. The IANA determines which parameters are used and what they stand for.
5 Managing the time zone database
The tz database contains information on time zones from all over the world. Computer systems and software applications use this file to display the correct time irrespective of where they are in the world.
That database therefore contains information about the different time zones and summer time arrangements worldwide. It also contains the data on historical changes in those time zones.
The database is also regularly updated, for instance when a particular country introduces or abolishes daylight saving time, when there are changes in GMT offsets (the difference in hours and minutes between Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) and local time at a particular location, and when the international date border shifts.
ISOC, IETF, W3C en IGF
Apart from the ICANN, the PTI/IANA and the RIRs, a host of other organisations are involved in "managing" the internet. Here are some of the key players:
- Originally founded in 1992 in the US, the Internet Society (ISOC) this organisation has chapters, as they are known, around the world. The ISOC's main goal is to make and keep the internet democratic. It advocates open development and use of the internet that benefits all people around the world.
- Conversely, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is purely concerned with engineering activities. It defines the technical standards that make up the internet Protocol, such as FTP, TCP/IP. The organisation is still mostly made up of volunteers, who make sure the internet "is working."
- For its part, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an organisation that designs the web standards for the worldwide web, such as HTML, XHTML, XML, CSS and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a platform that aims to promote an open and inclusive debate on the future of the internet by gathering input and ideas from various stakeholders. Stakeholders from different sectors meet at the IGF Annual Meeting to discuss issues relating to internet governance. Together, they explore solutions to challenges in this area.
Some of the topics covered include:
- Access to broadband internet in developing countries, digital inclusion, and the elimination of the digital divide.
- New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) and the impact they have on our society and economy.
- Regulating the digital economy – e.g. checks on the power of tech giants such as GAFA.