DNS and the Power Behind the Internet Naming System

The internet is a global resource for billions of users. It is what almost all of us now rely on for economic development,  political organizing and free speech communications. Come October, the US department that has controlled a critical internet process since the internet was created, will no longer do so. It’s no wonder in this politically heightened atmosphere, there would be some major concern regarding this shift in who holds the power of the internet. For those concerned about freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of knowledge we’ve broken down what there is to know before the power changes hands. 

Internet Fundamentals

Here’s what you need to know about the core components of the internet:

  • An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a string of numbers that identifies each computer using the internet to communicate over a network. IP addresses allow billions of devices to be pinpointed and differentiated from one another. Computers/machines access websites based on IP addresses .
    • Example:
  • Each IP address has an associated domain name. A domain name like “www.compulite.ca” is more descriptive, easier for humans to remember and specifies a computer by a name rather than a number.
    • Example: www.compulite.ca
  • With the help of the Domain Naming System (DNS), we can pair IP addresses with servers simply through inputting a domain name. DNS is like a phone book or directory of names and associated IP address.Without the fundamental controls of DNS the internet network would not function.

Since about 1997, the United States Department of Commerce has held the ultimate authority over DNS and how it is controlled. But come this October, in what the US deems an act of international diplomacy, the US will give its power over to ICANN.


The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit organization located in California, that was established in 1998. It’s a consensus driven organization made up of advisory committees, Board of Directors and a Governmental advisory committee that has representatives from 111 states (mostly UN members). They are responsible for the overall coordination, stability and security of the internet’s unique identifier systems, and plays a major role in overall internet governance. It’s primary focus has been in developing policies for the internationalization of the DNS system.

ICANN Manages

  • Domain Name System (DNS)
  • Root Servers
  • Coordinates the supply of IP addresses
  • Maintains the central repository for IP address

ICANN Does Not Manage

  • Content published to the internet
  • Malware
  • Spam
  • Internet Accessibility

There has been much controversy surrounding America’s decision to release control to ICANN. With fears that it could increase the power of foreign governments and open the door to the likes of China and Russia to meddle with the essential components of the internet. But those in favor of the move, believe it is the best way to prevent authoritarian regimes from expanding policies beyond their borders and thus creating their own walled-off internet.


The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is also run by ICANN. It distributes blocks of IP addresses to the rest of the world.

IANA Manages

  • Top-Level domains (TLDs)
  • Assigns IP addresses and ranges, and ports
  • DNS root zone
  • has the right to recognize dot-com addresses, as well as dot.bank and dot.xxx, etc. as valid domains global top level domains (gTLDs)

The root zone is the authority that distributes and implements changes to the county code top-level domains (like .com, .ca, .gov, .edu, etc.). As of 2015, there were 1058 top-level domains. The root DNS servers are essential to the functioning of the internet and are a network of hundreds of servers in many different countries around the world. There are thirteen (logical, not actual physical servers) root name servers that are essentially responsible for the performance and management of all the servers in the world. With 10/13 servers, managed in the United States (as shown in chart below) it has caused many to speculate on why it is necessary to change who has authority of it. After all, if something happens to happens to the DNS root servers at large, the internet as a whole would be affected.

logical root name servers

Things to Consider

 For a global internet to exist, freedom from barriers and the flow of knowledge must be permitted. With safeguards in place to prevent foreign takeover, one can only hope that ICANN will not be not be influenced by any one party.

There will likely be no noticeable change for most internet users as ICANN has been overseeing most of the same duties it will soon officially control for years now. While ICANN will run independently, it will have oversight from a multi-stakeholder, international advisory board. It is what many consider to be a global solution for a global asset.