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The Emerging Field of Internet Governance

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter demonstrates the significance of the emerging field of Internet governance, highlighting issues over standards, names and numbers, and net neutrality, which are unfolding in a variety of contexts around the world, including the Internet Governance Forum. It describes how technology could bias outcomes across policy arenas, such as privacy or freedom of expression. Internet governance generally refers to policy and technical coordination issues related to the exchange of information over the Internet. Governance has had immediate implications for freedom of expression online. Despite the significant public interest implications, Internet governance is largely hidden from public view. A crucial role of Internet governance research is to evaluate the implications of the tension between forces of openness and forces of enclosure, examine the implications of the privatisation of governance, and bring to public light the key issues at stake at the intersection of technical expediency and the public interest.

Keywords: Internet governance, standards, net neutrality, Internet Governance Forum, technology, freedom of expression

Internet governance scholars focus on what is at stake in the design, administration, and manipulation of the Internet's protocological and material architecture—a departure from Internet research focused on Internet content and usage. This technical architecture is not external to politics and culture but, rather, deeply embeds the values and policy decisions that ultimately structure individual freedom online and the pace of Internet innovation. An important set of questions exists at this level of complex technological design and governance, which is orthogonal to content and generally outside of public view.

“Governance” in the Internet context requires qualification because relevant actors are not only governments. Governance often refers to the efforts of nation states and traditional political structures to govern. Sovereign governments do perform certain Internet governance functions such as regulating computer fraud and abuse, performing antitrust oversight, enforcing intellectual property laws, and responding to Internet security threats. Sovereign governments also unfortunately use content filtering and blocking techniques for surveillance and censorship of citizens. Many other areas of Internet governance, such as Internet protocol design and coordination of critical Internet resources, have historically not been the exclusive purview of governments but of new transnational institutional forms and of private ordering. Without this qualification, the Internet governance nomenclature might incorrectly convey that this type of scholarship focuses primarily on government policy or advocates for greater government control of the Internet (Johnson et al. 2004).

The study of Internet governance is concerned with a number of overarching questions. How are we to understand the role of private industry in determining communicative contexts of political and cultural expression? How can conflicting values be balanced: for example, the desire for interoperability versus the need to limit some exchanges based on authentication and trust? How should critical Internet resources be (p. 556) allocated, and by whom, to maximize technical efficiency but also achieve social goals? How do repressive governments “govern” the Internet through filtering, blocking, and other restraints on freedom of expression? What is the appropriate relationship between sovereign nation-state governance and non-territorial modes of Internet governance? What are the connections between Internet protocol design, innovation, and individual civil liberties? To what extent are the problems of Internet governance creating new global governance institutions and what are the implications?

Internet governance research brings these important public interest issues to light and produces the theoretical and applied research that influences critical public interest debates. This chapter offers a taxonomy for understanding themes and controversies in Internet governance and presents a canon of interdisciplinary Internet governance scholarship. The following are the key governance areas this chapter describes: control of critical Internet resources; Internet protocol design; Internet governance-related intellectual property rights; Internet security and infrastructure management; and communication rights. Internet governance decisions in these areas have enormous public interest implications but, unlike Internet Studies areas that are content-related, these decisions have a concealed technical complexity that renders them largely out of public view. The chapter explores the nature of this governance by, largely, private ordering and posits that all key Internet governance debates contain an inherent tension between forces striving for interoperability and openness and forces striving for proprietary approaches and information enclosure.

An Internet governance framework

“Internet governance” is a contested term with various definitions (Hoffman 2005). As Milton Mueller suggests, Internet governance debates have often reduced into an exaggerated dichotomy between the extremes of cyberlibertarianism and cyberconservativism (Mueller 2010a). The former can resemble utopian technological determinism and the later is basically a state sovereignty model that extends traditional forms of state control to the Internet with the goal of adequately serving the public interest. The cyberlibertarian and cyberconservative perspectives are indistinguishable in one way. They both disregard the governance sinews already permeating the Internet's technical architecture. While the relative malleability of content and the distributed nature of the Internet can misleadingly convey the impression that no one controls the Internet, coordination—sometimes, centralized coordination—occurs in several technical and administrative areas necessary to keep the Internet operational. In fact, Internet governance functions historically predate the term Internet governance, never mind the debates over what constitutes Internet governance (Abbate 1999).

To dismiss possible misconceptions, Internet governance is not merely about domain names. Because of the late 1990s controversies that led to the formation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a number of Internet (p. 557) governance examinations address domain names and debates about the role of ICANN in managing critical Internet resources (e.g. Wu et al. 2007). Domain names are also the one part of Internet governance that can “be seen” by general Internet communities so they have received disproportionate press coverage and attention in civil society.

Internet governance is also not only about institutions. One approach to studying Internet governance involves institutional ethnographies examining the organizations involved in Internet governance functions—e.g. the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), ICANN, the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), etc. Relegating Internet governance examinations to these institutions has limitations. First, it can omit private sector governance and the role of private industry contracts in ordering the flow of information on the Internet. Second, it can omit the role of self-governance, the possibility of co-regulation, and even the role of the traditional nation state in aspects of Internet governance and regulation.

Internet governance is also not the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Much discussion of Internet governance has focused on the IGF and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process that led to its formation1 (e.g. Drake 2006; Malcolm 2008). Some of this scholarship focuses on issues of new institutional forms, issues of multistakeholderism, analyses and critiques of agenda-setting processes, assessments of the efficacy of relevant actors, or examinations of cross-cultural collaboration. Scholarship examining the IGF process has been excellent, but the IGF is less critical than the actual arenas of Internet governance. The IGF supports a dialog (i.e. a series of conferences) with no policy-making authority or traditional powers such as taxation, judicial recourse, or enforcement mechanisms. Even as a dialog alone, some critiques of the IGF process have noted that it has sometimes eschewed divisive topics such as intellectual property rights, government censorship, and privacy (Malcolm 2008; Dutton et al. 2007). The practice of Internet governance is what has continued to occur outside of this discourse in institutions, in emerging government Internet policies, and in private decision-making.

Internet governance generally refers to policy and technical coordination issues related to the exchange of information over the Internet. There are many options for creating taxonomies of Internet governance functions (see, e.g. Dutton and Peltu 2007). The following sections present five (sometimes overlapping) themes in Internet governance and highlight key global policy debates in each area, as outlined in Table 26.1. (p. 558)

Table 26.1 Key topics of Internet governance


Some Specific Issues

Critical Internet Resources

Distribution of Internet Addresses

IPv4 Address Scarcity

The Domain Name System

Domain Name Trademark Dispute Resolution

Autonomous System Numbers

Institutions of Control (ICANN, IANA, RIRs)

Internet Protocol Design

Institutions of Control (IETF, ISO, ITU, W3C, etc.)

Interoperability and the Economics of Standards

Public Interest Implications of Protocol Design

The Transition to IPv6

Open Standards Debates

Debates over Role of Government

Intellectual Property Rights

Domain Name System as Copyright Enforcement

Trade Secrecy in Information Intermediation

Standards-Based Patents

Digital Rights Management

The Role of Network Operators in Enforcement

Global Trademark Dispute Mediation

Security and Infrastructure Management

National Security/Critical Infrastructure Protection

Securing Routing and Addressing Infrastructures

Public/Private Security Approaches and CERTs

Politics of DDoS Attacks

Network Management

Economics of Internet Exchange Points

Communication Rights

Universal Access Policies and Net Neutrality

Privacy Policies of Information Intermediaries

Government Filtering and Blocking

Use of Deep Packet Inspection by ISPs

Government “Kill Switch” Policies

Circumvention and Technologies of Dissent

Control of Critical Internet Resources

“Critical Internet Resources” are a central theme in Internet governance research and in global debates over control of the Internet (see e.g. Weber 2009). Critical Internet Resources (CIRs) usually refer to Internet-unique logical resources rather than physical infrastructure or virtual resources not exclusive to the Internet. Physical infrastructure such as the power grid, fiber optic cables, routers, and Ethernet switches are certainly critical Internet infrastructure but not CIRs per se. There are several explanations for this distinction. As will be described, CIRs must meet a technical requirement of global uniqueness, requiring some central coordination. In contrast, there are no coordination requirements limiting the dissemination of privately owned and operated physical infrastructure. Another distinction is that the physical infrastructure components can (p. 559) be used for other, non-Internet applications, but the logical resources that will be discussed are unique to the Internet and essential for its operation, regardless of underlying physical architecture. Similarly, virtual resources that are not unique to the Internet, such as those associated with electromagnetic spectrum allocation and management, are usually addressed outside of policy discourses about Critical Internet Resources, although there is nothing inherently fixed about this distinction. The main Internet governance concern over CIRs involves logical, software-defined resources unique to Internet architecture rather than physical architecture or virtual resources not unique to the Internet.2 This section briefly describes three types of Critical Internet Resources—Internet addresses, the Domain Names System (including the root zone file and domain names), and Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs)—and will explain some of the substantive policy issues in each of these areas.

One common characteristic of CIRs, as historically engineered, is their role as globally unique identifiers. Meeting this criterion of global uniqueness requires some central coordination, a condition at the heart of debates over who controls these resources and how they are distributed. Unlike other types of technologically derived resources (e.g. electromagnetic spectrum), CIRs have never been exchanged in free markets, nor directly regulated by sovereign governments. They have primarily been controlled by institutions and have therefore always invoked questions about institutional legitimacy.

Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are a fundamental resource required for exchanging information over the Internet. Each Internet device possesses a unique binary number identifying its virtual location, either assigned temporarily for a session or assigned permanently. Routers use these addresses to route packets over the Internet, somewhat analogous to the postal system's dependence on unique physical addresses. Under the prevailing Internet address standard, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), each binary address is a fixed 32 bits in length. This provides a reserve of 232, or approximately 4.3 billion unique Internet addresses. In 1990, the Internet standards community identified the potential depletion of addresses as a crucial design concern and the IETF recommended a new protocol, Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), to expand the number of available addresses. IPv6 extends the length of each address from 32 to 128 bits, supplying 2128 or 340 undecillion addresses. Despite the longstanding availability of IPv6, the upgrade to IPv6 has barely begun on a global scale. The distributed and decentralized nature of the Internet's technical architecture precludes the possibility of a coordinated, rapid transition. One problem is that the new protocol is not directly backward compatible with the prevailing protocol, in that a computing device exclusively using IPv6 cannot natively exchange information with a device exclusively using IPv4. (See DeNardis 2009a for a complete explanation.)

(p. 560) Historically, there have been significant Internet governance policy questions about IP addresses, primarily addressed within the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA, a function under ICANN) and the regional Internet registries (RIRs)3 to which IANA allocates addresses for regional assignment. Who should control the assignment and allocation of Internet addresses and on what basis do they derive their legitimacy? Should resources be directed toward first mover advantage, market efficiency, distributive justice, or some other objective?

A pressing question about IP addresses involves how to extend the life of the IPv4 address space. The exhaustion of the IPv4 address reserve has significant implications, especially in parts of the developing world without large existing stores of IPv4 addresses. One historical debate has involved the question of what type of market intervention or government regulation might be necessary, if any at all, to free up IPv4 addresses that are allocated but not used or provide incentives for upgrading to IPv6 (DeNardis 2009a).

The Domain Name System establishes the domain name space in the same way that the Internet Protocol establishes the Internet address space. The DNS translates between alphanumeric domain names and their associated IP addresses necessary for routing packets of information over the Internet. The DNS, through this address resolution process, handles billions of queries per day. It is an enormous, hierarchical database management system (DBMS) distributed globally across countless servers. The Internet's root name servers contain a master file known as the root zone file itemizing the IP addresses and associated names of the official DNS servers for all top-level domains (TLDs): generic ones like .com, .edu, .gov, etc. and country codes, or ccTLDs such as .cn for China or .uk for the United Kingdom. The IANA function under ICANN is ultimately responsible for managing the assignment of domain names, although delegated through Internet registrars, and for controlling the root server system and the root zone file. Milton Mueller's Ruling the Root (2002) provides an excellent analysis of the evolution of ICANN and the Domain Name System and associated governance debates.

The most high-profile Internet governance controversies in this area have involved struggles over DNS control and corresponding issues related to legitimacy and jurisdiction (Mueller 2002; Paré 2003). The controversy over US ties to ICANN and control of the Domain Name System continues to be a heated topic in international policy debates about Internet governance (e.g. Mayer-Schönberger and Ziewitz 2009).

There have been other substantive policy issues related to domain names. For example, the DNS was originally restricted to ASCII characters, precluding the possibility (p. 561) of domain names in scripts that are the basis of such languages as Arabic, Chinese, or Russian. The introduction of internationalized domain names (IDNs) in the opening decade of the twenty-first century enabled country code top-level domains in native language scripts. The relationship of domain names and freedom of expression is another recurrent topic, as well as DNS security and trademark dispute resolution for domain names. For example, what are the legal remedies for addressing trademark-infringing domain name registrations and what is the responsibility of domain name registries for infringement? National legal remedies have not always been helpful because of jurisdictional complexities such as where a trademark is registered, where a server is located, or where a trademark infringing entity resides. Traditional legal intervention in trademark disputes is also too lengthy a process relative to the quick pace of Internet developments. ICANN's Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) has served as a mechanism for trademark protection in the sphere of domain names but, like many of ICANN's activities, has long been controversial (Geist 2001).

Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs) are another Critical Internet Resource. Roughly speaking, an autonomous system (AS) is a network operator. More accurately, an AS is made up of a unique collection of routing prefixes used within a network system connected to the Internet. This virtual resource is a central currency of the Internet's routing system. Each autonomous system must have a globally unique ASN for use in Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing. BGP is a core Internet protocol that maintains a directory of network prefixes that establish how packets are routed among network operators.

Similar to IP addresses, IANA assigns blocks of ASNs to regional Internet registries, which in turn allocate numbers to network operators. ASNs have evolved similarly to the IP address space in that the original 16-bit number, allowing for only 216 unique numbers, has been expanded to 32-bit numbers to provide orders of magnitude more globally unique network identifiers.4 Many policy concerns about IP addresses are relevant to ASNs: who is eligible for an ASN, how are resource constraints shaping the political economy of these numbers, and what are the global implications of the proliferation of private Autonomous System Numbers that are designed to conserve globally unique ASNs but that cannot be used to access the global Internet? Internet governance research has not addressed the issue of Autonomous System Numbers as expansively as other Critical Internet Resources, so there is a great need for research in this area. This theme of control over technologically derived resources is not unique to Internet governance. What may be unique about Critical Internet Resources, and in particular IP addresses, is that they are completely global rather than geographically bounded resources and they require central coordination because of the technical criterion of each resource serving as a globally unique identifier. (p. 562)

Internet protocol design

Another Internet governance function is the development of Internet protocols, the standards that enable interoperability among information technologies. The Internet “works” because it is universally based upon a common protocological language. Protocols are sometimes considered difficult to grasp because they are intangible and often invisible to Internet users. They are not software or material hardware. They are closer to text (Galloway 2004). Protocols are literally the blueprints that developers use to manufacture products that will be compatible with other products based on the same standards. Routine Internet use involves hundreds of standards ranging from Bluetooth, Wi-Fi standards, the MP3 format for encoding and compressing audio files, VoIP protocols, HTTP, and the TCP/IP protocols on which the Internet relies at the network and transport layer. The Internet Protocol (mentioned above) is part of the TCP/IP protocol suite. These are just a few of the protocols that represent information in common formats, encrypt or compress information, provide error detection and correction, and provide common addressing structures.

The IETF has developed the core networking protocols for the Internet, including TCP/IP, so much scholarship about protocols has focused on this entity (e.g. Froomkin 2003). But IETF standards are only part of a vast protocol ecosystem required to provide end-to-end interoperability for voice, video, data, and images over the Internet. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets application-layer standards for the Web. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) sets standards in areas such as security and voice over the Internet. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) developed Ethernet and the Wi-Fi family of standards. Countless other entities develop specifications that collectively enable the transmission of information over the Internet: including the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG); the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG); the International Organization for Standardization (ISO); and the Standardization Administration of China (SAC).

Internet protocols not only serve technical functions, but have significant political and economic implications (Morris and Davidson 2003; Garcia 2005). The economic effects of information technology standards have been studied since before the advent of the Web (David and Greenstein 1990). Web accessibility standards make decisions about the extent of access for the hearing impaired and those with other disabilities. Authentication and encryption standards intersect with individual privacy online and mediate between competing values of individual civil liberties and national security and law enforcement functions. Internet governance research examines how values are embedded in protocol design; on what basis private standards-setting institutions have the legitimacy to make policy choices; and what the responsibilities of governments to encourage conditions that promote certain types of standardization processes are.

A traditional debate in Internet governance policy involves what constitutes an open standard (Ghosh 2005; Krechmer 2005; DeNardis 2011). This is a controversial issue with much at stake for Internet innovation and for technology companies whose success is dependent upon a particular definition of open standards. As Phil Weiser describes, (p. 563) “The most formidable regulatory regime that has governed the Internet to date is the institution of open standards that has allowed the Internet to grow exponentially as a network of networks” (Weiser 2001). Questions about standards openness exist in several areas. The first is the question of openness in standards development, meaning who is permitted to participate in standards design or permitted to access information about the development of a standard and associated deliberations, minutes, and records. A second set of questions addresses the degree of a standard's openness in its implementation, meaning whether the standard itself is published, whether the standard can be accessed for free, and to what extent the standard has underlying intellectual property restrictions for implementation in products. A third set of questions addresses the openness in a standard's use, meaning the resulting extent of product competition and user choice of technologies based on the standard. If one considers application-layer standards for voice, images, and video, the degree of openness of Internet-related standards is a complicated spectrum requiring a great deal of research.

Another global Internet governance debate involves the question of the appropriate role of governments in promoting certain types of standards. Governments (e.g. Japan, the European Union, and China) have attempted to promote the national adoption of the IPv6 protocol. Governments also increasingly try to encourage the adoption of open standards, often through electronic government interoperability frameworks (e-GIFs) specifying information technology standards for e-Governance infrastructures.

Internet governance-related intellectual property rights

Another Internet governance concern involves intellectual property rights (IPR) such as patents, copyright, trademarks, and trade secrecy. Whereas intellectual property rights enforcement online is designed into and implemented in technical architecture, such as the DNS, copyright filtering or digital rights management (DRM) technologies (Benoliel 2004; Gillespie 2007), or executed by network operators, such as “three strikes laws” and notice and takedown approaches, these technical protection measures are a direct concern of Internet governance. Many intellectual property issues address technical measures for control content, but others more directly address the Internet's actual technical architecture and specific areas of Internet resource coordination. For example, the issue of domain name trademark dispute resolution was mentioned above in the discussion of Critical Internet Resources. This section will provide a brief sample of a few of the other intellectual property rights issues that intersect with Internet governance functions. These will include: the use of the Domain Name System for copyright and trademark enforcement, standards-embedded patents, trade secrecy in information intermediation, and Internet three-strikes laws.

The Internet's Domain Name System has historically served a straightforward function of translating between alphanumeric domain names that humans use and the Internet addresses that digital devices use. It has also been identified as a resource for intellectual property rights’ enforcement. One technique has involved the seizure of (p. 564) domain names associated with websites deemed to be infringing intellectual property rights. The intended targets of the seizures, usually carried out by Internet registries or registrars, are websites that illegally distribute digital content such as pirated movies or sell counterfeit goods such as luxury handbag knockoffs. In the United States, for example, domain name seizures have been carried out by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an investigative law enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security.5 While too complex an issue to address briefly here, this technique, like many Internet governance areas, implicates conflicting public interest values such as freedom of expression versus law enforcement, complexities of national jurisdiction of cross-border infrastructures, as well as technical concerns about the stability and security of infrastructures of Internet governance.

Another ongoing Internet governance debate involves royalty-bearing patent claims embedded in Internet standards (DeNardis 2009b). The Internet has experienced rapid innovation and growth in part because of its underpinning of openly available technical protocols with minimal intellectual property restrictions. The evolution of the Internet's architecture and of Internet governance has created more complicated IPR conditions. A single device integrates countless functions—voice, video, text messaging, and imaging, and is able to connect to multiple networks like GSM cellular networks, Wi-Fi, or global positioning systems. These devices embed hundreds of standards, many of them royalty-bearing. This integration of royalty-bearing standards into the Internet landscape can have effects on innovation, on economic competition, and on costs to end-users (Kobayahi et al. 2009). Intellectual property scholar Mark Lemley has described the problem of patent owner holdup, particularly in the technical standardization context, as “the central public policy problem in intellectual property law today” (Lemley 2007: 149). An additional complexity is that standards-setting institutions, even those in the same industry, all have different policies about IPR (Lemley 2002). A related issue is the use of intellectual property laden standards as global trade barriers (Gibson 2007). The extent to which intellectual property rights are increasingly embedded in Internet-related standards, and the empirical implications of this phenomenon, is a critical topic for Internet governance scholarship.

The use of trade secrecy laws in Internet search and other information intermediation is another area of Internet governance concern, particularly within architectural components of the Internet that organize or manipulate information. Search engines provide a prime example of this because they use trade-secret protected techniques related to the algorithmic sorting and ranking of information. Search engine companies can invoke trade secrecy to protect themselves, particularly in litigation matters, from disclosing information about how these technologies and algorithms work (Grimmelmann 2007). To the extent that Internet governance refers to policy and coordination issues related to the exchange of information over the Internet, the direct mediating power of (p. 565) search engines in ordering information on the Internet is an Internet governance concern. Like all technologies, search engines are not disembodied, neutral tools but reflect editorial control decisions of designers. Policy controversies about search engines revolve around such issues as the possibility of search engine bias (Goldman 2006), as well as state censorship implemented via search technologies. Some suggest that greater transparency of algorithmic ordering, possibly legislatively mandated transparency, or other legal remedies, might be necessary to assess possible degrees of search engine bias (Pasquale 2006). Here the issue of trade secrecy can conflict with public interest concerns related to transparency and fairness. However, loosening trade secrecy protections in this area might itself have unfortunate consequences such as making it easier to game search engine results, particularly by search engine spammers. Trade secrecy issues will increasingly arise in other areas of Internet governance, such as within the private agreements and techniques shared among carriers at Internet exchange points discussed later in this chapter.

Network operators, such as Internet service providers (ISPs), serve a number of Internet governance functions related to access policies, network management, and security. But they too—like registrars and registries—have been drawn into the front lines of intellectual property rights enforcement. So-called three-strikes laws, also called graduated response, is an approach some countries have taken to curb online copyright infringement, particularly illegal file-sharing. At the request of media content industries and required by law in some countries, network operators take action against users allegedly engaged in illegal file-sharing by either completely disconnecting users from the Internet or deploying a variety of punitive technical measures such as blocking access to certain sites, portals, and protocols, monitoring communications, or throttling back bandwidth. For example, France introduced a statutory measure that implemented a three-strikes approach. As is the case in other Internet governance functions related to intellectual property rights’ enforcement, this approach raises questions such as the economic burden of these measures on network operators, the implications of these techniques to freedom of expression, and the civil liberties implications of network operator surveillance on individual privacy.

Internet security and infrastructure management

Securing critical Internet infrastructure is one of the most critical areas of Internet governance and one that involves a variety of solutions and problems related to authentication, critical infrastructure protection, encryption, worms, viruses, denial of service attacks, and data interception and modification. Internet governance scholars address a number of questions related to problems of cybercrime and cybersecurity. Is the Internet's underlying routing and addressing system adequately secure? How vulnerable is the DNS to a major service disruption? What is the relationship between national and international approaches to Internet security and how is this coordinated? What are the responsibilities of the private sector, individual users and technical communities, and (p. 566) where does government fit in this framework (Brown and Marsden 2007)? What is the political economy of certain hacking techniques such as the distributed denial of service attacks carried out by Anonymous and others?

Some describe Internet security as part of a “peer production of Internet governance” framework, meaning that individuals and the companies operating networks are primarily responsible for securing the Internet (Johnson et al. 2004). It is true that the private sector develops and implements the majority of Internet security measures. Businesses selling products online implement voluntary authentication mechanisms such as public key cryptography to secure online transactions. Service providers, business Internet users, and individual users implement their own access control mechanisms such as firewalls. But this view of the peer production of Internet security also extends to the multi-stakeholder institutions that design the protocols intended to secure information (e.g. encryption protocols), authenticate users (e.g. public key cryptography), and secure Internet infrastructure (e.g. IPsec, DNSsec).

This is also one area of Internet governance in which governments are quite involved. Most national governments enact policies for critical infrastructure protection and cybersecurity. For example, the US Department of Homeland Security operates a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) that works in conjunction with private industry to identify security problems and coordinate responses. Detecting and responding to Internet security problems is a complicated area of public-private interaction and also one requiring transnational coordination. There are hundreds of CERTs around the globe, many of which are hybrid public-private institutions. The coordination of information and responses to attacks among these public-private entities is a critical Internet governance concern. This is one area that benefits from conceptual frameworks of Internet governance that address co-production processes involving a complexity of actors (Levinson 2010).

Internet governance scholarship in this area also extends well beyond the end user Internet security problems that are most visible to the public such as viruses and worms. Many types of attacks target the Internet's underlying infrastructure. One example involves distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) that hijack computers and deposit code that unknowingly makes these computers work together to disable a targeted computer by flooding it with requests. The targets of these attacks have included the Internet's root servers, high-profile commercial websites, WikiLeaks, and government servers. These are all significant Internet governance concerns, but especially attacks on the Domain Name System, which can potentially affect large parts of the Internet. Two Internet security concerns addressing underlying Internet infrastructure involve securing the DNS itself (Kuerbis and Mueller 2007) and securing the Internet's routing and addressing infrastructure (Mueller and Kuerbis 2010).

At the level of infrastructure management, there are a number of Internet governance areas. Scholarship has primarily focused on access and “last mile” issues of interconnection. For example, network neutrality papers focus primarily on last mile and home Internet use. Much less scholarly attention has been given to the Internet's backbone infrastructure. The Internet is a collection of networks owned and operated by private (p. 567) telecommunications companies (e.g. British Telecom, Korea Telecom, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast). These companies operate hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission facilities, including terrestrial fiber optics, microwave facilities, submarine fiber cable, and satellite links. These backbone facilities aggregate Internet traffic and transmit bits over backbones at rates upwards of 40 Gbps (e.g. OC-768 fiber optic transmission). For the Internet to successfully operate, these Internet backbones obviously must interconnect.

Commercial networks conjoin either at private Internet connection points between two companies or at multi-party Internet exchange points (IXPs). These IXPs are the physical junctures where different companies’ backbone trunks interconnect, exchange Internet packets, and route them toward their appropriate destinations. One of the largest IXPs in the world, based on throughput of peak traffic, is the Deutscher Commercial Internet Exchange (DE-CIX) in Frankfurt, Germany. DE-CIX was founded in 1995 and is owned by the non-profit “eco Internet Industry Association.”6 DE-CIX connects hundreds of companies, including content delivery networks, web hosting services, and Internet service providers. For example, Google, Sprint, Level3, and Yahoo! all connect through DE-CIX, as well as to many other IXPs. Other interconnection points involve private arrangements between two telecommunications companies to connect their respective IP networks for the purpose of exchanging Internet traffic. Making this connection at private interconnection points requires physical interconnectivity and equipment but it also involves agreements about cost, responsibilities, and performance. There are generally two types of agreements—peering agreements, whereby no money is exchanged among companies agreeing to exchange traffic at interconnection points, and transit agreements in which one company agrees to pay a backbone provider for interconnection. Transit agreements often involve a smaller company paying a larger company in exchange for this interconnection. There is no standard approach for peering agreements, with some interconnections involving formal contracts and others just verbal agreements between companies’ technical personnel. Interconnection agreements are unseen in that there are no directly relevant statutes, there is no regulatory oversight, and there is little transparency in private contracts and agreements.

These interconnection points have enormous implications. One area of inquiry involves the critical infrastructure implications of whether Internet backbone architectures have sufficient redundancy, capacity, and performance to meet requirements for the Internet's growth and reliability. Problems with peering and transit agreements, not just problems with physical architecture, can produce network outages. For instance, in 2008 there was an Internet outage stemming from an interconnection dispute between Cogent and Sprint (Weiser 2009), and in 2010, from a peering dispute between Comcast and Level 3.

Another area of inquiry involves competition and antitrust implications of peering and transit agreements. Unlike other telecommunications services, there have been almost no regulations of interconnection points. Market forces, coupled with some (p. 568) antitrust oversight, have historically been considered sufficient to discourage anti-competitive behavior in backbone interconnection agreements (Kende 2000). Others have cited concerns about lack of competition in Internet backbones, dominance by a small number or companies, and peering agreements among large providers that are detrimental to potential competitors (Kesan and Shah 2001). Developing countries have complained about transit costs to connect to dominant backbone providers.7

These interconnection points, because they concentrate the flow of traffic between network operators, are also obvious potential points of government filtering and censorship. Having greater transparency and insight into the arrangements at these sites of potential government intervention is an area in need of additional Internet governance research. Finally, the emerging area of interconnection patents is a critical area of Internet governance scholarship. For example, several companies successfully sued Vonage for infringing on patents for VoIP interconnection techniques (Werbach 2009).

Internet governance-related communication rights

Freedom of expression and association are increasingly exercised online but the same technologies that expand freedom of expression have created unprecedented privacy concerns and opportunities for governments to censor and filter information. Internet governance scholarship often invokes a “rights” framing to address substantive issues. On one side are the Internet governance issues that address the prospect for governments to promote the public interest through interventions such as universal access policies, broadband incentives, and network neutrality regulations (Yoo 2004; Wu 2005; Felten 2006; Wu and Yoo 2007). On the other side are mounting concerns about government censorship and surveillance, and ways in which suppression of freedom of expression is increasingly designed into or enabled by Internet infrastructure (Dutton et al. 2011). Technical measures such as infrastructure disabling, content filtering, digital rights management techniques, and blocking access to websites are techniques that repressive governments use to restrictively govern the flow of information on the Internet (Deibert et al. 2008). To the extent that government policies as well as architectural design and implementation decisions determine communication rights and civil liberties online, this area is an important part of Internet governance research.

Governance, in the traditional sense of the actions of sovereign nation states, has had immediate implications to freedom of expression online, particularly beginning in the early twenty-first century. These actions include filtering and blocking techniques enacted through the Great Firewall of China, online censorship regimes in countries such as Iran, Cuba, and Syria, and even more extreme approaches that completely sever Internet infrastructure for political reasons. For example, the Nepalese government cut (p. 569) off international Internet connections during the martial law declared by the King in 2005.8 The Burmese government severed Internet connectivity in 2007 in response to political protests and to stop citizens and journalists from sending images and other information making the world aware of the government's violent suppression of protests and other human rights violations.9 The entire world watched as the Internet went dark in Egypt in 2011. Also in 2011, Internet infrastructures were intentionally disrupted in the United States, in San Francisco, California, when the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency shut down its in-station cell phone service in a preemptive effort to impede a planned protest. Internet governance scholars study both the technical aspects of these so-called “kill switch” approaches and questions about the conditions, if any, under which government termination of communication networks is permissible or advisable.

Private industry Internet governance over platforms and infrastructure also raises issues related to communication rights. Social media companies like Facebook make decisions that influence individual privacy online (e.g. the Beacon controversy). Recall how Yahoo! settled a lawsuit brought in the US by several Chinese dissidents who alleged they were persecuted for political speech after Yahoo! revealed their identities to the Chinese government. The United States government asked Twitter to delay scheduled service maintenance during the protests following the 2009 Iranian presidential election so that online dissent and citizen journalism could continue unabated. Google initially took criticism from international human rights organizations for complying with requests to delete politically sensitive YouTube videos or to filter content. These circumstances have raised public questions about corporate social responsibility as well as the ethical and legal consequences potentially faced by corporations involved in these controversies.

Private industry also intersects with communication rights at even less visible levels, such as the use of deep packet inspection by network operators. Bendrath and Mueller (2010) have described deep packet inspection (DPI) as a “potentially disruptive technology, one with the ability to dramatically change the architecture, governance and use of the Internet.” DPI is a capability manufactured into firewall technologies that scrutinizes the entire contents of a packet, including the payload (i.e. information content) as well as the packet header. ISPs and other information intermediaries have traditionally used packet headers to route packets. It has not always been technically viable, or necessary, to inspect the content of packets because of the enormous processing speeds and computing resources this requires. ISPs use DPI to perform network management functions as well as copyright enforcement in cooperation with intellectual property rights holders. DPI can help identify viruses, worms, and other unwanted programs embedded (p. 570) within legitimate information and help prevent denial of service attacks. The most publicized instances of DPI have involved ad-serving practices of service providers to provide highly targeted marketing based on what a customer views or does on the Internet.10 Some scholars have raised concerns about state use of deep packet inspection for Internet censorship (Wagner 2008).

The use of DPI is an area with historically almost no transparency. Regardless of whether DPI is used for ad serving, copyright enforcement, law enforcement, traffic prioritization for competitive gain, or routine network management functions, this type of information surveillance raises privacy implications for citizens using the Internet, as well as concerns about the chilling effects this surveillance would have on free expression, democratic participation, cultural production, and possibly innovation.

The tension between interoperability and information enclosure

This chapter has conveyed how Internet governance functions carry significant public interest implications and how these functions are diffusely distributed among new institutional forms, the private sector, and more traditional forms of governance. Network management via deep packet inspection raises privacy concerns; protocol design makes decisions about accessibility, interoperability, economic competition, and individual freedom; critical resource administration has implications for the future of the Internet's architecture as well as the pace of economic development; governments use technologies such as filtering and blocking for censorship and surveillance.

Despite the significant public interest implications, Internet governance is largely hidden from public view (not intentionally hidden but hidden nevertheless). User engagement with content, and the relative malleability of content, can convey the false impression that there is a great deal of public oversight of the Internet. Concerns about securing the Domain Name System and routing and addressing infrastructures are similarly invisible to the public. The general public is not aware about what occurs at IXPs, in search engine algorithms, or in the open standards debates. This “concealed complexity,” to use Langdon Winner's phrase, all but precludes the ability of users to have oversight and input into these areas. Internet governance scholars and Internet scholars generally, have a responsibility to bring this largely hidden world to a wider audience and explain why citizens, and other scholars, should be critically engaged in these debates.

(p. 571) Internet governance as a field is inherently interdisciplinary. Examining research questions related to control and governance of the Internet's underlying architecture requires a significant degree of technological knowledge. Many Internet governance scholars have backgrounds in computer science and engineering, either educationally or experientially. As evident in the literature review underlying this chapter, scholars most directly examining Internet governance are situated in interdisciplinary information schools and Internet centers,11 communication schools, the field of science and technology studies (STS), and the legal academy. Traditional academic disciplines have somewhat circumvented Internet governance topics. For example, political scientists accustomed to studying the governance structures of nation states have not collectively embraced the study of more hybridized and diffuse Internet governance institutions (Mueller 2010b).

Internet governance research is also inherently global, addressing issues that obviously transcend national boundaries and nation-state governance structures. A global community of Internet governance scholars has coalesced around the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet). This scholarly community was formally launched in the spring of 2006 in conjunction with the inauguration of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum. GigaNet has four principal objectives: “to: (1) support the establishment of a global network of scholars specializing in Internet governance issues; (2) promote the development of Internet governance as a recognized, interdisciplinary field of study, (3) advance theoretical and applied research on Internet governance, broadly defined; and (4) facilitate informed dialogue on policy issues and related matters between scholars and Internet governance stakeholders (governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society).”12

One important overarching theme in Internet governance research is the large role of private ordering in determining online public policy. Private industry has always played a crucial role in the design and administration of the Internet. Representatives from technology companies actively participate in standards-setting organizations; private companies operate and manage the wired and wireless telecommunications infrastructures underlying the Internet; private corporate Internet users are responsible for securing Internet transactions with customers. As even newer forms of private Internet governance emerge, it is critical for society (and scholars) to assess the potential consequences. The positive aspects of private industry Internet governance are the same as they have always been—the prospect of technical expediency and the promise of market-driven innovation.

All areas of Internet governance are sites of debates over competing values. These debates contain an inherent tension between forces striving for interoperability and openness and forces striving for proprietary approaches and information enclosure. To a greater or lesser degree, this inherent conflict enters nearly all of the contemporary (p. 572) controversies in infrastructure policy, Critical Internet Resources, security, standards, and intellectual property rights. This tension is especially present in private industry Internet governance contexts. The tradition of Internet designers has been to publicize information about the decisions that led to design choices and administrative procedures. But trade secrecy in information intermediation is inherently closed. The escalation of interconnection patents at IXPs is another move toward more proprietary norms. The use of deep packet inspection has marked a shift away from traditional Internet values. Internet governance techniques can inherently be techniques to gain competition advantage. Standards-based patents, search engine trade secrecy, and competitively motivated prioritization of traffic can all have consequences for competition and innovation.

The implication of this tension between openness and enclosure always raises the prospect of a resurgence of proprietary communication norms and a diminishment of Internet governance transparency. One important role of Internet governance research is to assess the implications of this tension between forces of openness and forces of enclosure, examine the implications of the privatization of governance, and bring to public light the key issues at stake at the intersection of technical expediency and the public interest.


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                                                                  (1) The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was a two-phase process organized by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 2003 and Tunis, Tunisia in 2005. A dominant source of contention in the WSIS process was the issue of United States government oversight of ICANN and the prospect of further internationalizing this authority. One outcome of this impasse was the formation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which would have no decision-making authority but which would continue the multi-stakeholder dialog.

                                                                  (2) Other definitions of Critical Internet Resources, such as the definition from the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), include issues directly related to telecommunications infrastructure, interconnection, and peering.

                                                                  (3) The five Regional Internet Registries are the African Network Information Centre (AfriNIC), the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre (LACNIC), and Europe's RIPE Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC). The RIRs are private, nonprofit institutions that employ a contract-oriented administrative model of governance. They serve large geographical areas, managing the address space allocated to them by IANA, under ICANN.

                                                                  (4) See Request for Comment 4893, “BGP Support for Four-octet AS Number Space.” Available at <>. Accessed June 14, 2011.

                                                                  (5) See US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Press Release, “‘Operation In Our Sites’ targets Internet movie pirates,” June 30, 2010. Available at < 100630losangeles.htm>. Accessed June 14, 2011.

                                                                  (6) Background information about DE-CIX is available at <>. Accessed June 14, 2011.

                                                                  (7) See the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) paper “Internet Traffic Exchange and the Development of End-to-End International Telecommunication Competition” (2002) URL (last accessed in July 2010) <>

                                                                  (8) See OpenNet Initiative's dispatch “Nepal: Internet Down, Media Censorship Imposed.” Available at <>. Accessed March 21, 2011.

                                                                  (9) See the account of Burma Internet shutdown in OpenNet Initiative Bulletin, “Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma,” Report. Available at <>. Accessed March 21, 2011.

                                                                  (10) For example, in 2008, Charter Communications announced that it would begin offering advertisers information to help target its customers with marketing information tailored to the contents of Internet searches. Under pressure from privacy advocates, lawmakers, and citizens, Charter decided to suspend its ad program.

                                                                  (11) For example, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, the Oxford Internet Institute, and the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

                                                                  (12) From the founding statement of principles of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (2006).