Before the establishment of ICANN, the IANA function of administering registries of Internet protocol identifiers was performed by Jon Postel, a Computer Science researcher who had been involved in the creation of ARPANET, first at UCLA and then at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute. In 1997 Postel testified before Congress that this had come about as a “side task” to this research work. The Information Sciences Institute was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, as was SRI International’s Network Information Center, which also performed some assigned name functions.

As the Internet grew and expanded globally, the U.S. Department of Commerce initiated a process to establish a new organization to perform the IANA functions. On January 30, 1998, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, issued for comment, “A Proposal to Improve the Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses.” The proposed rule making, or “Green Paper”, was published in the Federal Register on February 20, 1998, providing opportunity for public comment.

Until 1999, Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) operated the registries for the com, net, and org top-level domains (TLDs). In addition to the function of domain name registry operator, it was also the sole registrar for these domains.

However, several companies had developed independent registrar services. In 1996 one such company, NetNames, developed the concept of a standalone commercial domain name registration service which would sell domain registration and other associated services to the public, effectively establishing the retail arm of an industry with the registries being the wholesalers. NSI assimilated this model, which ultimately led to the separation of registry and registrar functions.

In 1997, PGMedia filed an anti-trust suit against NSI citing the DNS root zone as an essential facility, and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) was joined as a defendant in this action. Ultimately, NSI was granted immunity from anti-trust litigation, but the litigation created enough pressure to restructure the domain name market.

In October 1998, following pressure from the growing domain name registration business and other interested parties, NSI’s agreement with the United States Department of Commerce was amended. This amendment required the creation of a shared registration system that supported multiple registrars. This system officially commenced service on November 30, 1999 under the supervision of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), although there had been several testbed registrars using the system since March 11, 1999. Since then, over 900 registrars have entered the market for domain name registration services.