Chapter 2. Internet governance as it was


Trying to make the [gTLD-]MoU democratic is like trying to teach a goat to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the goat.

  Ken Freed
Table of Contents
2.1. Technical coordination
2.1.1. Historical development
2.1.2. Current arrangements
2.1.3. Criticisms
2.2. Standards development
2.2.1. Standards bodies
2.2.2. Criticisms
2.3. Public policy governance
2.3.1. Internet-related public policy issues
2.3.2. Criticisms
2.4. Governance mechanisms revisited

As noted in the Introduction, governance is a broader term than government, and non-hierarchical mechanisms and institutions, such as norms and markets, can be involved in the governance of social systems. But what specifically is Internet governance? The Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG),[1] which was established by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to report to WSIS on this question, offers the following definition:

Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.[2]

This definition is broad enough to encompass every type of governance from the rule-making of nation states, to the market forces of e-commerce, and the standards activities of the IETF. In fact, the definition is perhaps too broad to be particularly useful. It can be narrowed by drawing a distinction between what I will call technical coordination, standards development, and public policy governance.[3]

In essence, technical coordination is conducted by the institutions that manage the Internet’s technical architecture and resources. Some of these institutions have been alluded to above, but their history and structure will be described below in greater detail. The principal mechanisms of technical coordination tend to be the use of norms and markets.

Standards development will be defined as the processes by which technical standards are developed for the operation of the Internet. This chapter’s overview of standards development will focus on the work of the IETF, but will also make comparisons and draw contrasts with other standards bodies. In standards development, the dominant mechanisms of governance are norms and architecture.

Public policy governance is potentially the broadest category of all, and yet until recently the most overlooked. It relates to the development of international public policy for the Internet. One way in which to usefully distinguish it from technical coordination and standards development is that the problems engaged by public policy governance are more likely to be problems of regulation, rather than coordination.[4]

To date the mechanism of governance that has predominated in the public policy sphere has been that of rules at the domestic level, however the establishment of the IGF heralds the possibility of a more consistent, network-based model of governance being applied to manage international public policy issues on the Internet.

As both the focus of this thesis and the mandate of the IGF are limited to public policy governance, discussion of the other two spheres of Internet governance will serve mainly to exemplify processes that may be adapted for use in public policy governance or which illustrate pitfalls to avoid. But since there is not always a clear division between the practice of technical coordination or standards development on the one hand, and the development of public policy on the other, the formation of the IGF also provides those practising technical coordination and standards development with a venue in which to engage in the explication of international public policy norms that impact their activities.

After surveying each of the three spheres of Internet governance in turn, this chapter will conclude by explaining in more detail why governance by network is a more appropriate mechanism by which for public policy governance to be conducted than any of the other mechanisms alone, which will in turn set the scene for the following chapter’s examination of how governance by network fits in with the existing international system.





WGIG, Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance (2005), 4


The Internet Governance Project also divides Internet governance into three distinct functions that are similar to those isolated here; technical standardization (which corresponds to standards development), resource allocation and assignment (technical coordination), and policy formulation, policy enforcement, and dispute resolution (legal governance): Mathiason, John, Mueller, Milton, Klein, Hans, Holitscher, Marc, & McKnight, Lee, Internet Governance: The State of Play (2004), 9. Sadowsky, Zambrano and Dandjinou identify two functions; Internet administration (incorporating technical coordination and standards development) and Internet governance: Sadowsky, G, Zambrano, R, & Dandijinou, R, Internet Governance: a Discussion Document (2005) , 11.

A third, slightly different approach adopts a layered model akin to that of the OSI networking stack, in which the lowest or “infrastructure” layer would largely cover issues such as interconnection and universal access, the intermediate “logical” layer most other issues of technical coordination and standards development, and the highest, “content” layer, public policy governance: Kapur, Akash, Internet Governance: A Primer (2005), 4.


Holitscher, Marc, Internet Governance Revisited: Think Decentralization! (2004), 1