Martin H. Knahl
Network Research Group, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, United Kingdom
Keywords: Internet governance, ICANN, ISOC, IETF, WSIS.
Abstract: Internet governance is concerned with the global management and operation of key internet resources.
Given the global nature and reach of internet based services, technological as well as political aspects and
considerations are interwoven and cannot be separated. This paper analyses current trends and
developments regarding internet deployment and governance and is considering future developments. The
paper suggests that governments as well as market governance will remain present for the network access
and content. Is is further argued that internet governance is having more diversity with respect to
governance and more prominent network governance than other communication channels. The paper further
considers future developments and proposes alternative perspectives.
Internet governance refers to the global management
and operation of the key internet resources such as
the IP address allocation or domain names (Collins,
2006; Mueller, 1999). It is widely seen as a technical
and political process (Kleinwaechter, 2004). The
operation of the internet is relevant for the global
economy and the internet provides a globally
adopted communication medium. Thus political and
technological aspects are interwoven and cannot be
separated. This paper identifies and outlines the
most relevant internet deployment implications. It
then identifies the key players and developments
affecting internet governance. Current trends and
arguments with respect to internet governance are
put into context and evaluated. The paper further
analyses future developments and proposes a set of
alternative perspectives.
The deployment and growth of internet services and
online participation (Gibson, 2005) is facilitating the
development from legacy network infrastructures
towards new network infrastructures. The shift from
circuit switching to packet switching is further
affecting governance. Both legacy and new network
infrastructures require regulation if they are to serve
the public’s interest (e.g. enable competitive access
to the local loop for the provision of broadband
services or fair allocation of IP addresses).
A number of architectural and technical aspects
are fundamental for the operation of the internet and
the provisioning of internet services (e.g. addressing
and naming) must be tightly-controlled and
supervised (as opposed to market driven
governance). It is required to have an ultimate
authority with respect to address (and domain name)
distribution to avoid (or resolve) potential
addressing and naming disputes and ambiguities. On
the other hand competition will ultimately benefit
customers in areas such as network access (e.g. with
respect to performance and prices).
However government intervention may be
required to facilitate the provisioning of affordable
internet services and to nourish competition. For
example in the United Kingdom Oftel has intervened
on a number of occasions to create conditions for a
competitive and user-centred market (Collins, 2006).
Example interventions include Oftel’s directives
forcing BT to introduce Flat Rate Internet Access
Call Origination (FRIAC), to implement local loop
unbundling or the release and pricing of wholesale
datastream products. On a European level the
telecommunication industry has been transformed
from predominantly uncompetitive state monopolies
governed by a detailed (and rather restrictive)
framework of regulations into a competitive market
(Christou, 2006). The European Commission is
largely responsible for the related legislation and the
promotion the recent liberal, multi-layer approach to
governance of the telecommunication market and
industry (Christou, 2006; Sandholz, 1998). These
examples suggest that regulatory intervention is
required to address the market position (and its
impact upon competition) of major
H. Knahl M. (2007).
In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and e-Government /
e-Learning, pages 247-250
DOI: 10.5220/0001284402470250
telecommunication players. This is making fair,
efficient and transparent network and internet
governance a prerequisite for the operation and
development of the internet.
Several assumptions prevail with respect to internet
governance: that internet governance is distinct from
governance of other media (e.g. television), that it is
extending effectively through the whole internet
community or that it is market driven. However a
number a key players and driving forces behind the
evolution of the internet put those assumptions in a
different light and impact upon the current and
future development of the internet. From a European
perspective the European Union Framework
Directive excludes key elements such as internet
addressing and naming from national bodies’
responsibilities. Governance of the internet is
divided between different institutions. This current
state of the art, the activities and authority of these
are highly contested and remain uncertain.
The Internet Society (ISOC) is an international,
non-profit organisation formed in 1992 to provide
support for the internet standards and development
process. ISOC accomplishes this through
maintaining and supporting other internet
administrative bodies such as Internet Architecture
Board (IAB) or the Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF). ISOC also promotes research and other
scholarly activities relating to the Internet. The IAB
is the technical advisor to the ISOC. The main
purposes of the IAB are to oversee the continuing
development of the TCP/IP Protocol Suite and to
serve in a technical advisory capacity to research
members of the internet community. IAB
accomplishes this through its primary components,
the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet
Research Task Force (IRTF). Another responsibility
is the editorial management of the IETFs Request
for Comments (RFCs). IAB is also facilitating
external liaison between internet and other standards
organisations and forums. The vast majority of
internet related technological standards are
developed and specified by the Internet Society
(ISOC) and the units operating under ISOC: Internet
Architecture Board (IAB), Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF), the Internet Research Task Force
(IRTF), the Internet Research Steering Group
(IRSG), Internet Engineering Steering Group
(IESG), and the RFC Editor. Whilst these
organisations are responsible to ISOC, ISOC aims to
ensure a large degree of independence in their
technical work. IETF is a loosely self-organized,
grass-roots technical group consisting of mainly of
researchers, vendors and networking industry. It is
acting as an activity of ISOC and has no formal
management. There is no formal membership and
generally, attendance at IETF meetings and
subscription to IETF mailing lists is open to all
volunteers. Participants are expected to contribute as
individuals, rather than as representatives of
companies or organizations. The IETF concerns
itself with the engineering and architecture of the
internet. It is the principal body that develops, tests
and implements new internet technological
standards, including protocols, that are published in
the form of Requests for Comments (RFCs). The
IETF relies on ‘volunteers’ (often representing the
interests of an industry stakeholder) and is using
"rough consensus and running code" results in a
potentially slow process the number of contributors
is either too small to make progress or too large (i.e.
making consensus difficult). For protocols like
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) which is
used to transport e-mail over the internet, there is
also considerable resistance to any change which is
not fully backwards compatible. Given the number
of contributors with opinions on standards issues is
very large, consensus mechanisms on how to
improve the standardisation process prove difficult
to realise.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
and Numbers (ICANN) is the non-profit corporation
that was formed by the U. S. government in 1998 to
assume responsibility for the IP address space
allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain
name system management and root server system
management functions (in conjunction with Generic
Name Supporting Organisation, GNSO). This was
formerly performed under U.S. Government contract
by IANA and other entities. The IP Addresses are
allocated by means of a central authority that
franchises them to interested organisations. For
Europe ICANN has delegated authority to the
Réseaux IP Européens (RIPE).
However the independence and neutrality of
ICANN remained questioned (Mueller, 1999).
Although the ICANN’s board of directors was
composed of members from different regions of the
world to represent the heterogeneity of the internet
community the close relationship between ICANN
and the US government remained. The U.S.
government have been heavily criticised for using its
unique ICANN relationship to ICANN its
advantage. In one example, the administration of
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
U.S. President George Bush objected to the .xxx
adult domain that eventually led ICANN to reverse
an earlier decision and reject the domain suffix
(Plau, 2006). However, the fact remains that some
analysts and researchers value ICANN as an
independent body representing the interests of the
Internet community as a whole whilst others refer to
it as a ‘public-private partnership’ (Collins, 2006;
Fromkin, 2003; Christou, 2006).
ICANN decides on new top-level domain names and
delegates the implementation and management of
existing and new domains. This process takes place
in conjunction with the Governmental Advisory
Committee (GAC). ICANN is intent on keeping the
existing model and aims to evolve rather than being
replaced by a new model of communal state-let
internet governance. On the other hand the
modelling and implementation of new structures for
internet governance is the clear intention of a large
proportion of the international community (Wray,
2005). The position regarded as control-oriented
approach proposed and supported by a number of
states (e.g. China, Pakistan) aims to create a new
governing council based in the United Nations (UN)
that would oversee and ICANN and to which
ICANN would be accountable. Another approach
envisages a ‘lightweight’ governance structure
(initially recommended by the EU) based on a
cooperation model encompassing governments,
industry and other relevant organisations dealing and
overseeing ICANN and a forum to provide a
recommendations and proposals for internet practice
and operation. At the same time a discussion
surrounding the possible control (i.e. censorship) of
control surrounds this discussion, with some players
seemingly more concerned with the control of
content than others (e.g. the official EU position is
that the cooperation model is not about content and
that it advocates free speech on the internet).
In January 2002 the United Nations General
Assembly issued a proposal on Information and
Communication Technology (ICT) issues leading
towards the World Summit on the Information
Society (WSIS) series of United Nations sponsored
conferences (Kleinwaechter, 2004) . The task of
organising and running the WSIS leading to the
global summit of Tunis in November 2005 was
delegated to the International Telecommunications
Union (ITU). The ITU can be seen as a potential key
player in counterbalancing the power of the US
government and ICANN. However the internet
community seems unconvinced of ITU’s ability to
play a constructive role in the development and
governance of the internet (e.g. given failure of
‘global’ standards such as the OSI model and its
perceived history of bureaucracy and sluggishness).
At Tunis discussions over internet governance and
the role of ICANN dominated the conference,
leading to the “decision” to leave overall control
with ICANN. Additionally it was decided to
establish the purely consultative Internet
Governance Forum (IGF). Supporters of the
outcome argue that the concern over US dominance
over the internet (e.g. with respect to freedom of
information) are insubstantial and that the US will
guarantee the best possible development of the
internet. However the given status quo remains
controversial and contested given its strategic
economic, cultural and technological importance
(Christou, 2006; Collins, 2006). It can be argued that
further refinement of internet governance must be
linked to wider regulatory changes of a
predominantly globalised economy and international
A number of critics of the United Nations led
IGF are concerned by the lack of any decision-
making abilities with respect to the core aspects and
issues surrounding internet governance. A recent
IGF meeting in Athens was overshadowed by
discussions of the role of ICANN and the clashing of
opinions. Whilst European Union endorsed an
announcement by the U.S. Department of
Commerce to consider ending its control of ICANN,
the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
regarded the same issue as making "little or no
change" (Blau, 2006). Given the lack of any real
decision-making abilities makes it difficult to
evaluate the results or recommendations from the
IGF at this stage.
It is therefore clear that institutional (e. g.
originating from government) as well as market
governance are present for the network access and
content. Additionally network governance is having
a major impact upon these aspects and is further
strongly present in the control and operation of the
internet. Furthermore it becomes clear that the
internet is having more diversity with respect to
governance and more prominent network
governance than other communication channels (e.g.
based on legacy network infrastructures). This
suggests that network governance and self regulation
have the potential to contribute towards efficient and
constructive governance. However, this discredits
the notions of ‘market knows best’ and that the
internet is distinct from issues surrounding legacy
media. It can be argued that cases such as the .eu
Top Level Domain (TLD) provide evidence of
international private-public governance in the
internet community and that this reflects the
development towards post-regulatory state
governance (Christou, 2006). Institutions and
institutional cooperation have been essential to the
development of the internet. The IETF and ICANN
provide an interesting contrast of different
organisational and internet governance cultures. It
can be argued that ICANN has partly ‘failed’
because it represents a move away from traditional
internet self-governance and given its close links to
the government of a nation state (i.e. the US). It can
be argued that ICANN’s effectiveness has been
impeded by a lack of sense of itself and by its
dependence upon the US government to legitimate
its rule and that the resulting lack of an established
culture has undermined the achievement of an
effective and successful modus operandi (Bowrey,
2005). On the other hand the IETF always had a
clear mission statement and ‘voluntary’ participation
which has enabled it to evolve and renew itself.
Given the predominantly technical nature of its tasks
facilitates an open, fair and transparent modus
The internet is best understood as a network of
networks with a multitude of interconnected and
layered aspects as opposed to one closed medium or
infrastructure. It can be compared to a dynamic
organism with constantly changing operational and
governance requirements. Hence it can not have a
single, centralised and unified all-encompassing
governance organisation. The tendency to think of
the internet as a unity that can be regarded in
isolation is not reflecting the nature of the
communications phenomenon. The critical issues are
whether technical and operational standards are set
according to specific interests. Hence internet
governance becomes a political issue. Certainly
control might be exerted to undermine the interests
of the internet community.
Ultimately the challenge is to find a way to
implement and operate a new governance system
that will meet the requirements of the 21
century. A
successful diplomacy for the information age will be
much more complex and interconnected. There will
be more stakeholders than governments (e.g. private
industry and civil society), all with different interests
on different issues.
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