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Internet governance

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Internet governance is the development and application of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet. This article describes how the Internet was and is currently governed, some of the controversies that occurred along the way, and the ongoing debates about how the Internet should or should not be governed in the future. Internet governance should not be confused with E-Governance which refers to technology driven governance.



The Internet is a globally distributed network comprising many voluntarily interconnected autonomous networks. It operates without a central governing body. However, to maintain interoperability, all technical and policy aspects of the underlying core infrastructure and the principal namespaces are administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), headquartered in Marina del Rey, California. ICANN oversees the assignment of globally unique identifiers on the Internet, including domain names, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, application port numbers in the transport protocols, and many other parameters. This creates a globally unified namespace that is essential for the global reach of the Internet. ICANN is governed by an international board of directors drawn from across the Internet technical, business, academic, and other non-commercial communities. However, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, continues to have final approval over changes to the DNS root zone.[1][2] This authority over the root zone file makes ICANN one of a few bodies with global, centralized influence over the otherwise distributed Internet.[3]

On 16 November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Tunis, established the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to open an ongoing, non-binding conversation among multiple stakeholders about the future of Internet governance.[4] Since WSIS, the term "Internet governance" has been broadened beyond narrow technical concerns to include a wider range of Internet-related policy issues.[5][6]


The definition of Internet governance has been contested by differing groups across political and ideological lines. One of the main debates concerns the authority and participation of certain actors, such as national governments, corporate entities and civil society, to play a role in the Internet's governance.

A Working group established after a United Nations-initiated World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) proposed the following definition of Internet governance as part of its June 2005 report:

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.[7]

Law professor Yochai Benkler developed a conceptualization of Internet governance by the idea of three "layers" of governance: the "physical infrastructure" layer through which information travels; the "code" or "logical" layer that controls the infrastructure; and the "content" layer, which contains the information that signals through the network.[8]


To understand how the Internet is managed today, it is necessary to know some of the main events of Internet governance.

  Formation and growth of the network

The original ARPANET, one of the components which evolved eventually into the Internet, connected four Universities: University of California Los Angeles, University of California Santa Barbara, Stanford Research Institute and Utah University. The IMPs, interface minicomputers, were built during 1969 by Bolt, Beranek and Newman in accord with a proposal by the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which funded the system as an experiment. By 1973 it connected many more systems and included satellite links to Hawaii and Scandinavia, and a further link from Norway to London. ARPANET continued to grow in size, becoming more a utility than a research project. For this reason, in 1975 it was transferred to the US Defense Communications Agency.

During the development of ARPANET, a numbered series of Request for Comments (RFCs) memos documented technical decisions and methods of working as they evolved. The standards of today's Internet are still documented by RFCs, produced through the very process which evolved on ARPANET.

Outside of the USA the dominant technology was X.25. The International Packet Switched Service, created during 1978, used X.25 and extended to Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, and the USA. It allowed individual users and companies to connect to a variety of mainframe systems, including Compuserve. Between 1979 and 1984, a system known as Unix to Unix Copy Program(UUCP) grew to connect 940 hosts, using methods like X.25 links, ARPANET connections, and leased lines. Usenet News, a distributed discussion system, was a major use of UUCP.

The Internet protocol suite, developed between 1973 and 1977 with funding from ARPA, was intended to hide the differences between different underlying networks and allow many different applications to be used over the same network.

RFC 801 describes how the US Department of Defense organized the replacement of ARPANET's Network Control Program by the new Internet Protocol during January 1983. During the same year, the military systems were removed to a distinct MILNET, and the Domain Name System was invented to manage the names and addresses of computers on the "ARPA Internet". The familiar top-level domains .gov, .mil, .edu, .org, .net, .com, and .int, and the two-letter country code top-level domains were deployed during 1984.

Between 1984 and 1986 the US National Science Foundation created the NSFNET backbone, using TCP/IP, to connect their supercomputing facilities. The combined network became generally known as the Internet.

By the end of 1989 Australia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom had connected to the Internet, which now contained over 160,000 hosts.

During 1990, ARPANET formally terminated, and during 1991 the NSF ended its restrictions on commercial use of its part of the Internet. Commercial network providers began to interconnect, extending the Internet.

Today almost all Internet infrastructure is provided and owned by the private sector. Traffic is exchanged between these networks, at major interconnect points, in accordance with established Internet standards and commercial agreements.


During 1979 the Internet Configuration Control Board was founded by DARPA to oversee the network's development. During 1984 it was renamed the Internet Advisory Board (IAB), and during 1986 it became the Internet Activities Board.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was formed during 1986 by the US Government to develop and promote Internet standards. It consisted initially of researchers, but by the end of the year participation was available to anyone, and its business was performed largely by email.

From the early days of the network until his death during 1998, Jon Postel oversaw address allocation and other Internet protocol numbering and assignments in his capacity as Director of the Computer Networks Division at the Information Sciences Institute of the University of Southern California, under a contract from the Dept. of Defense. This function eventually became known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), and as it expanded to include management of the global Domain Name System (DNS) root servers, a small organization grew. Postel also served as RFC Editor.

Allocation of IP addresses was delegated to four Regional Internet Registries (RIRs):

In 2004 a new RIR, AfriNIC, was created to manage allocations for Africa.

After Jon Postel's death during 1998, the IANA became part of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a newly created Californian non-profit corporation, initiated during September 1998 by the US Government and awarded a contract by the US Department of Commerce. Initially two board members were elected by the Internet community at large, though this was changed by the rest of the board during 2002 in a little- attended public meeting in Accra, Ghana.[9]

During 1992 the Internet Society (ISOC) was founded, with a mission to "assure the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world". Its members include individuals (anyone may join) as well as corporations, organizations, governments, and universities. The IAB was renamed the Internet Architecture Board, and became part of ISOC. The Internet Engineering Task Force also became part of the ISOC. The IETF is overseen currently by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), and longer term research is carried on by the Internet Research Task Force and overseen by the Internet Research Steering Group.

During 2002, a restructuring of the Internet Society gave more control to its corporate members.

At the first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva 2003 the topic of Internet governance was discussed. ICANN's status as a private corporation under contract to the U.S. government created controversy among other governments, especially Brazil, China, South Africa and some Arab states. Since no general agreement existed even on the definition of what comprised Internet governance, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan initiated a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) to clarify the issues and report before the second part of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis 2005. After much controversial debate, during which the US delegation refused to consider surrendering the US control of the Root Zone file, participants agreed on a compromise to allow for wider international debate on the policy principles. They agreed to establish an Internet Governance Forum, to be convened by United Nations Secretary General before the end of the second quarter of the year 2006. [10] The Greek government volunteered to host the first such meeting.

  Globalization and governance controversy

The position of the US Department of Commerce as the controller of the Internet gradually attracted criticism from those who felt that control should be more international. A hands-off philosophy by the US Dept. of Commerce helped limit this criticism, but this was undermined in 2005 when the Bush administration intervened to help kill the .xxx top level domain proposal.

When the IANA functions were given to a new US non-profit Corporation called ICANN, controversy increased. ICANN's decision-making process was criticised by some observers as being secretive and unaccountable. When the directors' posts which had previously been elected by the "at-large" community of Internet users were abolished, some feared that ICANN would become illegitimate and its qualifications questionable, due to the fact that it was now losing the aspect of being a neutral governing body. ICANN stated that they were merely streamlining decision-making processes, and developing a structure suitable for the modern Internet.

Other topics of controversy included the creation and control of generic top-level domains (.com, .org, and possible new ones, such as .biz or .xxx), the control of country-code domains, recent proposals for a large increase in ICANN's budget and responsibilities, and a proposed "domain tax" to pay for the increase.

There were also suggestions that individual governments should have more control, or that the International Telecommunication Union or the United Nations should have a function in Internet governance.[11]

One such proposal, resulting from a September 2011 summit between India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA), would seek to move internet governance into their sphere of dominance.[12] The move is a reaction to a perception that the principles of the 2005 Tunis Agenda for the Information Society have not been met.[12][13] The statement calls for the subordination of independent technical organizations such as ICANN and the ITU to a political organization operating under the auspices of the United Nations.[12]

  See also

  Internet bodies

  United Nations bodies


  1. ^ Klein, Hans. (2004). "ICANN and Non-Territorial Sovereignty: Government Without the Nation State." Internet and Public Policy Project. Georgia Institute of Technology.
  2. ^ Packard, Ashley (2010). Digital Media Law. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 65. ISBN 978-1-4051-8169-3. 
  3. ^ Mueller, Milton L. (2010). Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance. MIT Press. pp. 61. ISBN 978-0-262-01459-5. 
  4. ^ Mueller, Milton L. (2010). Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance. MIT Press. pp. 67. ISBN 978-0-262-01459-5. 
  5. ^ Mueller, Milton L. (2010). Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance. MIT Press. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-0-262-01459-5. 
  6. ^ DeNardis, Laura, The Emerging Field of Internet Governance (September 17, 2010). Yale Information Society Project Working Paper Series.
  7. ^ "Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG)", June 2005), p.4.
  8. ^ Yochai Benkler, "From Consumers to Users: Shifting the Deeper Structures of Regulation Towards Sustainable Commons and User Access", 52 Fed. Comm. L.J. 561, (2000).
  9. ^ "Net governance chief will step down next year", David McGuire, Washingtonpost.com, 28 May 2002.
  10. ^ Gore, Innocent Internet governance: U.S., Developing countries strike deal, Africa News Service Nov. 21, 2005, Gale Canada in Context.Web, 29 Oct 2011.
  11. ^ Goldsmith/Wu, Jack/Tim (2006). Who Control the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.. pp. 171. ISBN 978-0-19-515266-1. 
  12. ^ a b c "Recommendations from the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) Multistakeholder meeting on Global Internet Governance", 1-2 September 2011, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  13. ^ "Tunis Agenda for the Information Society", World Summit on the Information Society, 18 November 2005

  Further reading

  External links



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