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ICANN, its life and work (part 4): The Supporting Organizations, focus on the ASO

Home > Observatory and resources > Expert papers > ICANN, its life and work (part 4): The Supporting Organizations, focus on the ASO

Created in 1998 by the Clinton Administration to ensure the “privatisation” of Internet governance which had been overseen by American universities and research centres up until then, the acronym ICANN is well known to those working in domain names.

And yet, its philosophy, its specific missions and its organisation remain largely unknown. This series of publications will lift the veil of mystery and perhaps help our readers better interact with ICANN.

There are three Supporting Organizations, which each elect two members of the ICANN Board, i.e. 6 out of 20. They provide input and represent the interests of three separate groups:

  • IP address managers or Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) through the ASO (Address Supporting Organization)
  • Generic TLD managers under the GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organization)
  • ccTLD registries, within the ccNSO (Country Code Names Supporting Organization)

We take a detailed look at the missions and structure of each of these Supporting Organizations. First up, the ASO.

The ASO and its missions

The ASO is tasked with “reviewing and developing recommendations on Internet Protocol (IP) address policy and advises the ICANN Board on policy issues relating to the operation, assignment, and management of IP addresses”.

This body was created in 1999 within ICANN through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the latter and the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). In 2022, the RIRs were:

  • AFRINIC, for Africa
  • APNIC, for Asia and Pacific
  • ARIN, for North America
  • LACNIC, for Latin America and parts of the Caribbean
  • RIPE NCC, for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia

We will cover their functions in greater detail in a later article.

Broadly speaking, these organisations play the same role for IP addresses and AS (Autonomous Systems) as Top-level Domain registries for domain names. They were initially grouped under the NRO (Number Resource Organization) before the creation of the ASO. Outside of ICANN, the NRO is their coordinating body.

The ASO merely acts as an interface between the NRO and ICANN. Within ICANN, the ASO is charged with reviewing and developing recommendations on Internet Protocol (IP) address policy and advises the ICANN Board on policy issues relating to the operation, assignment, and management of IP addresses. In return, it must ensure that the Global Policy Development Process (GPDP) set out by ICANN is applied by the different RIRs.

The NRO provides secretariat support for the ASO and acts as a coordinating mechanism for the RIRs. This complicated set-up – given that the coordination could have been ensured within the ASO and thus under the aegis of ICANN – has been put in place precisely to emphasise the decisional and operational independence of the RIRs with regard to ICANN. ICANN has no legal authority over the RIRs, and likewise, the latter can only make recommendations to ICANN. However, given the high degree of specificity of the activity of RIRs and their expertise, it is entirely in ICANN’s interest to follow their recommendations.

Up until now, there have been no serious public conflicts between ICANN and the NRO, although the reciprocal status of these two bodies collaborating through the ASO could create a deadlock if each side dug in their heels and refused to negotiate their position. In this extreme example, the NRO would prevail in all likelihood, given that it has an ‘operational’ power that ICANN does not.

The ASO and its organisation

Given that the ASO is simply the ‘link’ between the NRO and ICANN, the ASO Address Council (ASO AC) is in fact the NRO Number Council (NRO NC).

The NRO NC which also forms the ASO AC is composed of 15 members elected from among volunteers. Each RIR appoints three members of the NRO NC/ASO AC, two of which are elected by each RIR’s community and the third by the RIR’s Executive Board.

The ASO and the ASO AC have distinct responsibilities. While the ASO deals with the practical aspects connected with managing IP addresses, the ASO AC handles governance-related matters:

  • overseeing implementation of the GPDP
  • providing recommendations to the ICANN Board concerning the recognition of new RIRs
  • defining procedures to appoint Directors to serve in the ASO’s two seats (Seat 9 and Seat 10) on the ICANN Board of Directors and to serve on other ICANN bodies
  • providing advice to the ICANN Board on Internet number resource allocation policy, in conjunction with the RIRs
  • developing procedures for conducting business in support of their responsibilities, in particular for the appointment of an ASO AC Chair and definition of the Chair’s responsibilities

Nevertheless, the ASO remains a relatively discreet actor in the ICANN ecosystem due to the highly technical nature of the subjects covered and the independence of the members of the NRO with regard to ICANN. The same is not true of the other two Supporting Organizations, the GNSO and ccNSO, which we will present in turn in the next two articles.