Fifteen individuals from around the world help determine the way the Internet works. They don't write code or build websites, but they do serve as voting members for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN performs one of the most important duties in the world; overseeing the distribution of Internet Protocol Addresses. That's a critical task, because without IPs, the Web would not exist.
Browsers, Domain Names and IP Addresses
Each site on the Internet has a unique IP address that makes it possible for computers to exchange information. When you type an URL, such as whitehouse.gov, into your browser, special Domain Name Servers convert that name into the site's IP address. Your browser can then communicate with that site's Web server and retrieve data from it. For this to happen, all IP addresses must be unique. If you ever create a website, that site will have an IP address in addition to the regular domain name that you assign.
ICANN is a non-profit corporation that performs all activities under a contract that it has with the U.S. government. The corporation doesn't police the Internet and it has no power to shut down websites. It cannot stop malware threats or prevent people from sending spam to others. Instead, ICANN manages the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority tasks that make it possible for the Domain Name System to work. ICANN also certifies registrars, companies that sell domain names to the public. Review a list of ICANN-accredited registrars by visiting the InterNIC Registrar Listing Web page (link in Resources).
ICANN Listens to You
Although ICANN functions like a corporation, it defines policies by listening to real people discuss real issues. The ICANN community of advisers consists of technical experts, Internet Service Providers, businesses, governments and regular Internet users who have ideas. As the corporation notes, "ICANN’s fundamental belief is that all users of the Internet deserve a say in how it is run." ICANN also reports that the world accepts the corporation as the place to "work out Internet governance policies."
Help ICANN Help the World
ICANN is more than the world's IP distribution center. The corporation has a Web page that contains podcasts, fact sheets, glossaries and other tools that provide valuable information.(link in Resources). Click "Resources," for instance, and visit a Resources page that can help you learn more about how the Web really works. Click "Careers" if you'd like to find a job there or click "Participate" to learn how you can help ICANN make the Internet a better place. You can also sign up for ICANN Labs when you want to gain additional knowledge and submit your own ideas to the corporation (link in Resources).
Powers, Processes and Limitations
Like many corporations, ICANN has bylaws that you can review on its Bylaws page (link in Resources). Interesting topics you'll find include "Transparency," "Accountability and Review" and "Powers." Although you may know how ICANN works at a high level, you'll learn more details by exploring some of those topics. For example, if you click "Powers," you'll discover that ICANN cannot act as a Domain Name System Registry. These bylaws are extensive and take time to read, but a quick review can give you additional insight into how the Internet works.
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