Who Should Govern the Internet? Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance

By Blumenthal, Marjory S. | Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Who Should Govern the Internet? Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance


Blumenthal, Marjory S., Issues in Science and Technology


The phrase "Internet governance" stimulates a range of responses, from fear on the part of infotech pioneers to hope in the hearts of many government leaders in emerging economies. A global "network of networks," the Internet interconnects networks that serve people in nations with widely varying political and social norms, and it can seem threatening to those uncomfortable with free and open communications. At the same time, its connection with economic development and creativity, with the "information society," makes access to it important to all. Further complicating the situation is the historic role of the United States as a leader in developing, using, and hosting businesses that help to operate the Internet or related services. Other countries, especially in the developing world, have begun to look to the United Nations (UN) for alternative leadership, both because of its international character and because its one-country-one-vote processes can limit U.S. influence. These circumstances have made Internet governance a controversial topic since it emerged in the 1990s, and the publication of Networks and States is something of a milestone in its young history.

Milton Mueller could be considered the godfather of Internet governance studies. A professor at Syracuse University and the director of its Internet Governance Project, Mueller has cast a critical eye on many aspects of Internet development, beginning with the establishment in 1998 of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the assignment of domain names. Both ICANNs U.S. connections and the nature of its processes (which have evolved with attempts to be more effective) have been a target for criticism from Mueller and others. Mueller has remained a keen observer and active participant in Internet discussions, and not surprisingly, his book blends analysis and opinion.

Networks and States is a primer on Internet governance, and it chronicles the evolution of key transnational institutions. Broader than his previous book, Ruling the Root, it benefits from his background in communications studies and his broad social science sensibilities. This perspective is a welcome contrast to the lawyer-dominated debates that characterize most discussions of cyber policy. Mueller draws broadly from the social science literature in his analysis of networks as an organizational form, arguing that "the future shape of Internet governance will be worked out via negotiation of governance problems attendant upon the rise of transnational networked forms of organization"

Acknowledging that many of the issues he raises remain unresolved, Mueller catalogs ways in which the Internet puts pressure on states because of its global scope, the presence of new types of regulatory institutions, and the activism of the Internet community. He strives to explain how the range of activities now conducted via the Net make it necessary to consider numerous aspects of law, regulation, and public policy. The attempt is valuable, but the results are uneven.

Institutional frameworks are Muellers central concern, and he characterizes Internet governance as a generator of institutional innovations that he regards as positive responses to the political pressure generated by the Internet. In saying that "cyberspace is indeed a place of its own," Mueller keeps alive a belief held by early Net pundits that the system is so unique that it requires new policies, practices, and institutions. He argues that "Those who wish to govern the Internet ... may be required to mirror its transnational, networked relations." Mueller champions "multi-stakeholderism," a form of governance that includes a wide range technical, business, government, and citizen groups in a transnational system.

Mueller is ideally positioned to describe the arc of evolution of the international institutions associated with Internet governance. He has been a close observer of the structures and processes associated with the UN and in particular the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and its progeny: the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). …

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Who Should Govern the Internet? Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance
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