ICANN is a crucial player in international Internet governance because it manages the worldwide allocation of Internet Protocol ("IP") addresses -- the
numbers that identify an actual Internet site -- and associated website names within the Domain Name System ("DNS"). ICANN also authorizes domain
registries (equivalent to wholesalers), such as Verisign, Inc., to manage generic top-level domain names ("gTLDs"), such as .com, .net, .org, etc. The
registry, in turn, works with retailers, known as registrars (such as godaddy.com) to allocate specific domain names
(e.g. www.theatlantic.com) to individual consumers.
ICANN was created in 1998 to internationalize management of key aspects of the Internet that were previously overseen by the U.S. government. It receives
its formal authority from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority ("IANA") functions contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Today, ICANN is a
private non-profit organization headquartered in Marina del Rey, California, and governed by an internationally selected board of directors. It is assisted
by several advisory committees and supporting organizations that represent the full range of Internet constituencies - from governments to web companies.
Debate over control of the .patagonia domain arose during ICANN's recent push to authorize new gTLDs to complement the existing ones. Creation of the new
domains will allow for greater Internet innovation, increase competition in the registry space, and expand the existing namespace for domain names. ICANN
is currently overseeing an application process whereby interested companies and individuals, such as Patagonia, pay an application fee to apply to operate
a new gTLD of its choosing. If more than one applicant applies for the same domain, an auction will be held. The application process includes multiple
levels of review that ensure all stakeholders, including governments, have a voice in deciding which new gTLDs are assigned and to whom.
At the Beijing Conference, ICANN's Government Advisory Committee -- the principal voice of national governments within the institution -- recommended that
ICANN freeze consideration of several gTLDs,
including .patagonia and .amazon because certain governments objected to them.
Argentina may face an uphill battle because "Patagonia" does not fall
cleanly within the definition of a geographic domain, which would allow Argentina to block Patagonia's application. According to ICANN's guidebook,
applicants for geographic gTLDs are required to have the relevant local
government's support of their application (or, at least, a lack of objection).
To qualify as a geographic domain, the proposed address must include the name of: a city, a sub-national unit of a country (e.g. a state, county, or
province), a UNESCO region name (e.g. a continent or region), or country name. Purchasing .texas or .asia, for instance, would not fly.