The Internet Domain Name System and the
Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN

(October 2001)

The Internet Domain Name System and the
Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

What is the Internet Domain Name System?

The Domain Name System (DNS) helps users easily send e-mail and find their way around the Internet. Similar to telephone numbers, every computer on the Internet has a unique address, called an Internet Protocol or IP number. Because these numbers are hard to remember, the DNS was created to allow easy to remember names, called domain names, to be used instead of numbers. For example, with the DNS, Internet users can find a web site simply by typing a name such as "www.internic.net" into their browsers instead of the number

The DNS allows for the registration of domain names within a number of registries known as "top level domains" or TLDs. Each TLD, in turn, may have several sub-domains. Today, TLDs fall into two broad categories: 1) generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .net, .org, and, .info, which are open for registration by Internet users worldwide, and 2) country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), such as .uk for the United Kingdom, or .ng for Nigeria, which correspond to a country, territory, or other geographic location. While both categories of top-level domains work in much the same way technically, the rules and policies for registering domain names in the gTLDs and ccTLDs can vary significantly. For more information on the structure of the DNS see http://www.internic.net/faqs/domain-names.html.

Who Manages the Domain Name System?

For many years, the operation and management of the DNS was performed on a mostly informal, ad hoc basis. Generally, these functions were performed by a global network of academic researchers, technical organisations, Internet engineers, volunteers, and contractors to the United States government. The emergence of the Internet in the 1990ís as an important global tool for commerce, communication, and education, however, necessitated the development of a more robust, formal, and representative system to manage these functions.

Based on global input, the United States Government began the process of privatising and "internationalising" the management of the DNS and related Internet co-ordinating functions. In 1998, the U.S. Government began to transfer responsibility for DNS management to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an organisation formed by the global community of Internet stakeholders. ICANN is an independent, not-for-profit, private sector corporation based in California tasked with managing the technical co-ordination functions for the Internet. If any single organisation can be said to have overall responsibility for Internet technical functions, it is ICANN.

ICANN has an international board of 19 directors that is supported by professional staff. It works by trying to develop a consensus approach to issues and DNS policy through discussion in its three supporting policy organisations. These "supporting organisations" represent a wide range of interest groups including businesses, consumers, and Internet service providers (ISPs), among others.

Since its formation, ICANN has undertaken several important initiatives and activities including:

  • introducing global competition in the registration of domain names by accrediting over 100 retail domain name registrars from around the world;
  • developing and adopting a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to resolve disputes related to "cybersquatting" -- the bad-faith registration of
    domain names in violation of trademarks -- based on recommendations made by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO);
  • undertaking a process to select seven new Internet top-level domains (TLDs), .biz, .info, .pro, .name, .museum, .aero, and .coop -- the first expansion of gTLDs since the development of the DNS; and
  • establishing working groups to undertake studies on matters such as the introduction of multilingual domain names, coordination of the domain name registration "WHOIS" database, and IP numbering issues, among others.

More information about ICANN, its supporting organisations and advisory committees can be found at www.icann.org.

Relationships with National Governments, Distinct Economies and other Organisations

It some ways, ICANN is unique. Many of the technical co-ordination functions it performs have public policy implications. In other fields, technical co-ordination functions that have public policy implications are performed by inter-governmental treaty organisations, such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for telecommunications or the International Civil Aviation Organisation for air travel. It was considered that such a treaty-based approach was not appropriate for Internet management and instead it should be performed through a private sector approach.

This does not mean that governments do not have a role to play. ICANN receives input from governments through the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). The GACís key role is to provide advice to ICANN on issues of public policy. In particular, the GAC considers ICANN's activities and policies as they relate to the concerns of governments, particularly in matters where there may be an interaction between ICANN's policies and national laws or international agreements. The GACís meetings are usually held three or four times a year in conjunction with ICANN meetings. Currently, the GAC is regularly attended by over 30 national governments, distinct economies, and multinational governmental organization such as the ITU and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Membership of the GAC is open to all national governments, distinct economies as recognized in international fora, and multinational governmental organisations and treaty organisations. For more information about the GAC see gac.icann.org

Why is it important for governments to be represented on the GAC?

The Internet is a global phenomenon and opens huge opportunities for all countriesí economies and citizens. However the world is not uniform. Each country and distinct economy has different laws, different attitudes, and different policies and the GAC seeks incorporate the diversity of these views in its advice to ICANN. Participation in the GAC allows countries and distinct economies to influence policies concerning the management of the DNS and related functions, which are important to the overall operation of the Internet. Because the GAC brings together a diverse collection of knowledge and expertise, GAC members have also realized significant benefits from participating in the Committee.

What has the GAC done recently? The GAC has considered and provided advice on a variety of issues, including:

  • what issues and public policy considerations ICANN should take into account when selecting new generic top level domains;
  • guidance on matters related to the development of multilingual domain names (domain names in scripts other than the Latin alphabet such as Chinese, Cyrillic, and Arabic for example) including intellectual property protection, consumer protection, and cultural issues;
  • principles for guidelines aimed at coordinating future domain name testbed environments, consistent with the need to foster innovation and creative experimentation; and
  • principles for the sound management and administration of ccTLDs, including the development of the GAC document Principles for the Delegation and Management of Country Code Top Level Domains, which gives guidance on the roles of ICANN, governments, and registries in the operation of ccTLDs.

The GAC is actively seeking new members in order to increase global awareness and participation in important Internet management issues and to ensure that the GACís advice to ICANN reflects the diversity of the international community. In particular, the GAC is keen to increase participation from countries and distinct economies where the Internet is still developing.

How to Participate in the GAC

The GAC currently has 70 members, about 30 of which are active participants. It is open to participation by representatives of national governments each of which may appoint a representative and an adviser to the Committee. Membership is also open to distinct economies as recognized in international fora, and multinational governmental organisations and treaty organisations on the invitation of the GAC Chair.

The Internet is playing an increasingly important role in nations' economies and it is important that Governments are involved in the decisions that decide how the Internet is managed and operated. The Domain Name System is the infrastructure that underpins how the Internet works and has many public policy implications.

To ensure all relevant voices are heard, it is important to increase participation of ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee so that ICANN - and the Internet - becomes truly internationalised.

The GAC encourages all prospective members to inquire about participation. Please contact the GAC Secretariat for further information about the role and activities of the GAC:

Ms. Donna Austin
Co-ordinator, GAC Secretariat
National Office for the Information Economy
GPO Box 390

Phone: +61 2 6271 1025
Fax: +61 2 6271 1098

E-Mail: donna.austin@noie.gov.au

Web Pages for Further Information

Information regarding ICANN, including meeting materials, policy documents, supporting organisation details, information regarding upcoming meetings, and other information is located at http://www.icann.org.

Information regarding the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), including past communiquťs and other documents, is located at http://www.icann.org/committees/gac/.

The document Principles for the Delegation and Management of Country Code Top Level Domains is available in English and French on the GAC home page at http://www.noie.gov.au/projects/international/DNS/gac/index.htm.

A list of current GAC members and their representatives is available at: http://www.noie.gov.au/projects/international/DNS/gac/GAC_reps.htm


ICANNís objective is to operate as an open, transparent, and consensus-based body that is broadly representative of the diverse stakeholder communities of the global Internet. From a technical perspective, its functions include: Internet Protocol (IP) address space allocation, Internet protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management, and coordination of the Internet root server system.

ICANNís organizational structure reflects its responsibility for these functions. It maintains three "supporting organizations" that develop policy and procedures though related to their respective specialised areas of focus. These are the:

  • Domain Name Supporting Organisation (DNSO),
  • Address Supporting Organisation (ASO), and the
  • Protocol Supporting Organisation (PSO).

Four special advisory committees also provide expert advice to ICANN. These are the:

  • Membership Advisory Committee
  • Governmental Advisory Committee,
  • Advisory Committee on Independent Review, and the
  • Root Server System Advisory Committee.

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Page Updated 06-Nov-2003
(c) 2001  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers All rights reserved.