Formed in September 1998 to oversee Internet-related tasks previously managed on behalf of the United States government by other organizations, including the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), an organization that is now run by ICANN.

ICANN is charged with coordinating the Internet’s global system of unique identifiers and with maintaining the web’s secure and stable operation, a role that includes coordinating IPv4 and IPv6 Internet Protocol address spaces, maintaining registries of IP identifiers, and managing the top-level domain name space (the DNS root zone).

In recent years, much of ICANN’s work has been focused on DNS policy development for the internationalization of the DNS system and the addition of new generic top-level domains (TLD), as well as other forms of TLD, like sponsored top-level domains (sTLD). In 2011, the ICANN board voted to eliminate most restrictions on the names of gTLD, and began taking applications from prospective operators of the new ‘open’ gTLDs in January 2012.

ICANN’s position as a private company under contract to the U.S. government generated controversy among other governments, most notably China, Brazil and South Africa, during the first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in 2003. The controversy eventually lead to the formation in 2006 of the Internet Governance Forum convened under the auspices of the United Nations.