The Internet and Global Governance: Principles and Norms for a New Regime

By Mueller, Milton; Mathiason, John et al. | Global Governance, April-June 2007 | Go to article overview

The Internet and Global Governance: Principles and Norms for a New Regime


Mueller, Milton, Mathiason, John, Klein, Hans, Global Governance


Since the mid-1990s, efforts have been under way to construct an international regime for global Internet governance. Beginning with the formation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, efforts at regime construction were a main focus of the 2001-2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society. However, little progress was made toward an international agreement. This reflected policymakers' ill-advised attempt to shortcut regime construction: they attempted to define regime rules and procedures without first defining underlying principles and norms. This article offers example sets of principles and norms of the type that are missing and that could provide the foundation for an Internet governance regime. The authors conclude that a framework convention would be the appropriate institutional mechanism for advancing regime construction. KEYWORDS: Internet governance, regime theory, World Summit on the Information Society, ICANN, framework convention.

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Since the mid-1990s, efforts have been under way to construct a global coordination and policymaking framework for the Internet. Such an international regime for Internet governance would be, at minimum, the sole global authority for the allocation of network addresses and domain names to users around the world. It could do much more, however--perhaps make global public policy on issues like unsolicited e-mail (spam), computer network security, and freedom of expression. Over the ten years of work on this regime, there have been several loci of activity: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Despite enormous efforts over those years, however, rather limited progress was made toward collective agreement. ICANN does perform technical coordination, but the organization did not win formal international recognition at the UN's WSIS. As for WSIS, it sought a broad solution to regime formation, but after four years of debate, it succeeded only in launching the Internet Governance Forum to continue that discussion.

In what follows, we seek to explain policymakers' very limited success to date in regime construction, and we suggest a way forward. Using concepts from regime theory, we argue that policymakers unwisely skipped foundational tasks in regime construction and immediately addressed second-order tasks. They did not attempt to forge agreements on underlying principles and norms for international cooperation on Internet governance, so that when they tried to build global rules and procedures, they had no consensus. We sketch out that process of regime construction and identify its weaknesses.

In the second half of this article, we propose sets of substantive principles and norms that could provide the initial content of an Internet governance regime. These are offered as an early draft of what could become a collective international agreement. Policymakers need to begin the task of making such a collective agreement. This could take the form of composing an international framework convention that defines collective principles and norms of the type we propose here.

ICANN, Internet Governance, and WSIS

This section sketches out the ten-year history of regime construction efforts and analyzes its modest results to date. ICANN was established as a California nonprofit public benefit corporation in 1998. Its creation was invoked by the US Department of Commerce during a public proceeding in 1997-1998 that invited international participation. ICANN took over the centralized coordination of the Internet's domain name and address assignments that had been performed by two US government contractors: University of Southern California-based computer scientist and Internet pioneer Jon Postel, who acted as the "Internet Assigned Numbers Authority" (IANA), and a company known as Network Solutions, now known as VeriSign. …

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