ICANN — A Regulator in Need of Antitrust Oversight

By Lawrence White and Thomas Lenard

Lawrence White

...as the clock winds down on ICANN’s contractual relationship with the U.S. government, it is important to ask how well ICANN is performing its regulatory functions.

The pending transition of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers away from U.S. government oversight has involved in-depth discussion about how to maintain an open internet free from government control. What has received considerably less attention in these discussions is how ICANN has performed while under U.S. oversight—especially as a regulator. This lack of attention can partly be attributed to ICANN’s insistence that, as its president Göran Marby said at a Senate hearing last week, “ICANN is not a regulator.”

Perhaps not officially, but what ICANN actually does is indistinguishable from a regulatory agency. ICANN, however, is a regulator with a difference. It is not a government agency, but rather a private-sector corporation that is and will continue to be subject to U.S. antitrust laws whether or not its tie to the U.S. government ends. The presence of antitrust oversight is a good thing.

ICANN’s technical function of administering the Domain Name System requires it, albeit indirectly, to “license” the rights to use a top level domain name, such as “.com” or “.net”. ICANN does this through a system of registrars and registries.

Read full article as published in Morning Consult

Lawrence White is the Robert Kavesh Professorship in Economics and the ​Deputy Chair, Economics.