Regulating the Global Information Society

By Christopher T. Marsden | Go to book overview
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Locating Internet governance

Lessons from the standards process

Mark Gould

As the Internet has grown, the debate about its governance and regulation has become more significant. At the same time, that debate has also become polarised, with different constituencies arguing for incommensurable solutions. The consequences of this debate are many. A system for governing the Internet could regulate access to the networks, peering agreements between network providers or 'netiquette'. 1 At its heart, however, are questions about the infrastructure. The infrastructure itself is founded on standards. Those standards, therefore, are the basic subject matter of Internet governance:

We care about standards because of the fantastically complicated economic question of who captures the often considerable value that is created through the establishment of a standard. And we also care about standards because…they arise through the condensation of processes of social discourse… To the extent that Internet standards shape public discourse, their rule-setting function is a matter of public concern. And to the extent that the Internet serves as a medium for the agenda-setting from which a wide variety of technical standards emerge, the properties of that medium and the larger technical public sphere of which it is a part are likewise matters of political concern.

(Agre 1998)

This chapter examines how various standards processes might contribute to an understanding of Internet governance, and especially the question of where that governance might be located.

What is Internet governance?

The notion of governance is not novel to the Internet. 'Internet governance' is rarely defined, however. Valuable guidance can be found in the literature on the provision of public services, and especially in the work of R.A.W. Rhodes. Noting that 'current use does not treat governance as a synonym for government', Rhodes draws on the insights provided by socio-cybernetics to arrive at


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Regulating the Global Information Society


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