Internet Governance

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What organizations are in charge of internet governance?



Summary of Internet Governance bodies by ACM's Ubiquity magazine

Certain protocols, and the parameters required for their usage, are essential in order to operate on the Internet. A number of bodies have become responsible for those protocol standards and parameters. It can be fairly said that those bodies steer the Internet in a significant sense. This document is a summary of those bodies and their most important characteristics.

Almost all Internet technological standards are developed and set by the group consisting of the Internet Society (ISOC) and the units operating under the auspices of ISOC: the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Research Steering Group (IRSG), the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), and the RFC Editor. It is important to note that, while these units are responsible to ISOC, ISOC allows them a large degree of independence in their technical work.

Internet domain names and IP addresses are the province of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and its Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

World Wide Web standards are developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

It should be noted that the direction of the Internet's physical network structure is not addressed in this document. That structure is essentially determined by a large number of mainly commercial network operators, ranging from small to intercontinental, that build and join their infrastructures in response to market forces, in order to provide them to subscribers on a paid basis. These networks that form the Internet are linked in a topology similar to that of a large, well-developed highway system. ( )


Gilbert Ramsay:

" here is a potted (and outrageously simplified) history of Internet governance. Once upon time, it was suggested to the US defence advanced research projects agency (DARPA), that a decentralised, ‘packet switched’ digital communications network would be much more robust than conventional phone network that existed at the time. In order to turn this idea into a reality, a bunch of brilliant nerds – many of them MIT alumni who had learned about the intricacies of switching technology through that university’s legendary model railway club – were hired. Given relatively free range with the most advanced computer equipment that then existed on the planet, these nerds did what all right thinking employees do. They pissed around. They invented the electronic bulletin board in order to talk about Star Trek. They (well, to give credit where it’s due, Ray Tomlinson) invented email pretty much just for the hell of it. Along the way, they also built ARPAnet – the US military network which became the main tributary of the various early computer networks that flowed together to make the Internet. Indeed, as Wolfgang Kleinwaechter of the University of Aarhus tells us: ‘The domain name system (DNS) was also developed bottom up. It was coordinated by its father, Jon Postel, with one assistant in his California office in Marina del Rey until the early 1990s. He managed the zone files of a database and was not interested in being pulled into policy’.

This basically left a situation in which the US government ‘owned’ the Internet, without really understanding exactly what it owned. Meanwhile, people like Jon Postel simply got on with running it. But while they weren’t interested in being ‘pulled into policy’, that’s just not how politics works. Because, of course, even if you aren’t interested in politics, it is interested in you. And it sure as hell is interested in you if you essentially hold the keys to the most sophisticated communications network ever devised. In practice what happened was that, as the Internet developed in importance, the US military began to take a progressively more proactive interest in the running of the project they had funded. In particular, this meant commercialisation as companies like Network Solutions were given contracts to sell domain names for money. One day in 1998, this all this became too much for Postel, who quietly took over the entire Internet, by writing to eight of its twelve ‘name servers’, asking them to route queries to his own computer at the University of Southern California, making it in effect the ‘root’ for the entire net. As Goldsmith and Wu claim in their brilliant description of this Internet revolt, the people running the servers, who were all colleagues of Postel knew what they were letting themselves in for. One even arranged to have his children looked after, fearing his imminent arrest. But they did as they were asked. In what followed, the conversation between Postel and Clinton policy advisor Ira Magaziner asking the computer genius calmly to ‘put things back as they were’ is priceless.

ICANN was in essence the compromise deal that came out of this power battle. On the one hand, ICANN is, to the chagrin of many, not formally a part of the international system of UN affiliate organisations – although national representatives attend its meetings. Technically indeed, it remains under contract to the US Department of Commerce, although it chafes against this. It is a ‘corporation’, but - as I mentioned – it does not work for profit. The only reason this odd chimera is able to function at all (and, by and large, it actually functions reasonably well) is that it focuses as far as possible on technical matters. When I went there, it had all the trappings of a jet setting international meeting but for one thing. Every now and then amidst all the suits you would come across a bearded guy in a pair of sandals, and the sense was that these people were still running the show – just." (

Key Book to Read

  • INTERNET GOVERNANCE: ISSUES, ACTORS AND DIVIDES. By Eduardo Gelbstein and Jovan Kurbalija. Global Knowledge Partnership.

Downloadable at

  • Report:
  1. The Remarkable Internet Governance Network – Part I By: Lynn St. Amour and Don Tapscott [1]
  2. The Remarkable Internet Governance Network – Part II By: Lynn St. Amour and Don Tapscott [2]

More Information

  1. There is an overview graphic on their main page
  2. The Working Group on Internet Governance,, has issued a report on the topic of reform. The WGIG is a group of experts tasked by the United Nations to think about and come up with a report about Internet governance. See at
  3. Visualisation of the four scenarios proposed at

Academic bibliography

Mowery, David C. and Timothy Simcoe. 2005. “Public and Private Participation in the Development of and Governance of the Internet.” In Richard R. Nelson, ed. The Limits of Market Organization. New York: Russell Sage.


  1. Net Dialogue is a key resource site on internet governance areas [3]
  2. Internet Governance Forum
  3. OECD Internet Governance
  4. Working Group on Internet Governance