The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a private, nonprofit group set up by members of the Internet community in response to a 1998 U.S. Department of Commerce white paper that stated the need for an agency to handle global Net governance. ICANN has worked in cooperation with the Department of Commerce since November 1998, but its contract with Commerce ends this month. ICANN manages the Internet's domain name system -- including creating new domain names -- and allocates IP addresses. Its work is invisible to most end users. When a company registers a domain name, it deals with one of 156 registrars with which ICANN contracts.
The group is currently embroiled in a debate with Commerce and Netheads around the world over how much say it should have over technical policies for Internet privacy, security and ownership of Web addresses. ICANN wants more control; critics, including the Bush administration, say it should stick to managing bits and bytes.
If Commerce renews ICANN's contract it will dictate the group's agenda. No word on what happens if the department gives ICANN the boot, but rest assured, the Internet won't go dark.
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