The GovLab Selected Readings on Mapping the Internet Governance Ecosystem

As part of an ongoing effort to build a knowledge base for the field of opening governance by organizing and disseminating its learnings,  the GovLab Selected Readings series provides an annotated and curated collection of recommended works on key opening governance topics. The Governance Lab @NYU (GovLab) cross-posts weekly on CGCS’s Internet Policy ObservatoryThis edition of selected readings explores the literature on Mapping the Internet Governance Ecosystem, the original post can be found here.

Internet governance has the following generally accepted (although by no means uncontroversial) working definition drafted during the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in 2005: “the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.” Internet governance is often described as occurring within an “ecosystem” of institutions organized inregional, national, and global “layers” of governance. Internet governance issues are also described as “layered” – for example, the technical layer comprises elements like servers, infrastructure and protocols, while the the non-technical layer comprises issues like intellectual property rights and security. Further complicating the Internet space are the many important distinctions and interactions between the roles and responsibilities of the various Internet governance actors, like the UN, ICANN and the over one hundred local Internet Society chapters, to name a few.

The introduction to this Selected Reading pauses to take note of the announcement on March 14, 2014, by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA announced that it intended to relinquish its oversight role over the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) functions (a part of ICANN). These functions include, for example, IP address allocation and administrative responsibilities over the Domain Name System root zone. ICANN is responsible for the execution of these functions via IANA, a “service” or “department” of ICANN which has historically been overseen by the NTIA through contract. The March 14th announcement indicated that the NTIA (and, by extension, the United States government) will transition its oversight and contractual responsibilities over these functions to the “global multistakeholder community”. Lennard Kruger’s piece is written expressly for the U.S. Congress and describes ex-ante what such a transition might need to take into account. Several other pieces describe ICANN’s role in Internet governance and what the IANA functions –as well as their counterparties, or “customers”—are. A special issue of the GovLab SCANalso records some of the reactions to this announcement from around the globe.

In this first installment of the GovLab Selected Readings on Internet Governance, we look at publications that introduce the “field” or “ecosystem” of Internet governance, including its actors, processes, challenges, and issues.

Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Annotated Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Cerf, Vint (Chair) et al. ICANN’s Role in the Internet Governance Ecosystem(Report of the ICANN Strategy Panel). February 20, 2014.

  • In particular, the report argues that ICANN should push for globalizing its functions, relationships with other actors, and its accountability mechanisms.
  • The report describes an “onion skin model of the Internet”, in which various layers are contained within each other as a layered system. The layers, from inside to out, are:
    • Infrastructure layer (e.g. the building blocks of the Internet, including technical standards)
    • Technical layer (also the “network layer” or “logical layer”, describing the standards that facilitate data transfer, like TCP/IP)
    • Content layer (including policies like intellectual property rights and content control)
    • Social layer (dealing with “practices that define paramount rights and principles associated with ‘social conduct’ online”)
  • The report describes the difference between governance and government in order to articulate why ICANN should globalize, not internationalize – that ICANN’s governance often lies outside of the exclusive domain of governments. The report borrows the Tunis Agenda definition of Internet governance.
  • The report considers the various actors in the Internet governance ecosystem as “stewards”. It argues that actors can take roles of three varying natures:
    • Stewardship –this is a form of leadership, described as being the “good management” of a shared resource –including providing principles and purpose for the management, development, and protection of shared resources.
    • Coordination –this makes sure that no responsibility “falls into the cracks” and is particularly important at the technical/logical layer.
    • Contribution –this involves participating in Internet governance forums and conferences, and building capacity within the ecosystem by sharing best practices and knowledge.
  • The report characterizes governance of the Internet as consisting of a “web of relationships”. These webs feature mutual dependencies and recognize the roles and responsibilities of various institutions and actors. The report describes how ICANN performs stewardship, coordination, and contribution within its own particular “web”. The report describes ICANN’s “web of relationships” according to the “layers” over which its relationships span (e.g. technical and non-technical coordination).
  • The report offers a set of principles ICANN should follow:
    • Reciprocity: “do no harm nor threaten to harm”
    • Respect: “honor freedom of choice and diversity”
    • Robustness: “send conservatively and accept liberally”
    • Reasonableness: “avoidance of capricious or arbitrary decisions”
    • Reality: “persistent testing of theories in practice”
  • The report concludes by prescribing a “roadmap” towards globalizing ICANN:
    • Globalize, not internationalize
    • Consolidate and simplify DNS root zone management
    • Create a “web” of Affirmations of Commitments
    • Globalize the process for accountability within a web of relationships

DeNardis, Laura. The Global War for Internet Governance. Yale University Press. January 14, 2014.

  • This book discusses the complex relationships between a variety of public and private actors in Internet governance whose interactions are often hidden because of the highly technical nature of the issues.
  • DeNardis explores how domain names and IP addresses are delegated and assigned by ICANN; how protocols that allow different devices to interoperate over networks are created and subsequently adopted; how Internet traffic is physically routed around the globe; and how various trade agreements and economic drivers shape the landscape of the Internet and its governance.
  • She argues that “the exact same technologies and mechanisms of coordination that enable the free flow of information can be used to block access and engage in invasive surveillance of individuals.”

Global Partners and Associates. “Internet Governance: Mapping the Battleground.” April, 2013.

  • This report describes the development of the “multistakeholder model” of Internet governance following the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process in 2003 and 2005. It lays out some of the forums, bodies, and conferences in the Internet governance ecosystem and explains their impact and relevance to Internet governance and its “mechanisms, processes, and actors.”
  • In particular the report seeks to further resolve “how the multistakeholder model is meant to apply to ‘international public policy issues pertaining to the internet’ and the ‘respective roles’ of different stakeholders.” The report characterizes these debates as “battles.”
  • The report overviews:
    • Priority Internet governance battleground mechanisms, processes, and actors –including the WSIS review process, the International Telecommunications Union, the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).
    • Inter-governmental spaces “to watch” – including the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Human Rights Council, organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the G8, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals Agenda, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
    • Non-institutional forums (avenues for promoting a “positive agenda”) – including the Conference on Cyberspace, the Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest, the Stockholm Internet Forum, the Freedom Online Coalition, the Cyber Dialogue, and RightsCon.

The GovLab. ICANN Primer: Primer on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. October 13, 2013.

  • This Primer describes the role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in coordinating the Internet’s system of unique identifiers, the way ICANN is structured, and how it functions. This Primer also identifies some recent decisions ICANN has made and current challenges that ICANN faces and the steps that the organization is taking to address these issues as it develops a strategic plan for the future.
  • The primer describes how ICANN coordinates the allocation and assignment of three sets of unique identifiers for the Internet:
    • Internet Protocol (IP) addresses – the numerical ID given to every computer or device connected to the Internet (IP addresses are what computers use to locate and reach other computers online), and autonomous system numbers (ASNs) – the numerical ID that uniquely identifies a specific network on the Internet;
    • Protocol port and parameter numbers – the numbers that, when added to an IP address, signify the unique destination location needed to reach a specific process or application running on a computer; and
    • Domain names – the human-memorable IDs for IP addresses. Domain Names are part of the Domain Name System (DNS), a hierarchical and distributed system that associates a domain name (e.g., with the correlating numerical IP address (e.g., “”).
  • It concludes with challenges ICANN is currently facing, including the globalization of its functions, the diversification and enlargement of its stakeholder body, and its policy development activities in the face of increasingly complex global systems by which Internet governance (in which ICANN plays a critical role) occurs.

Kruger, Lennard G. “Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. January, 2013.

  • In this piece –written as an intelligible document for the layman or newcomer to Internet governance (here, specifically for the United States Congress)—Kruger explains some basic concepts and narratives contained in “Internet governance”, beginning with multiple definitions  to show that Internet governance is a debate with many different perspectives.
  • The piece goes on to describe the nature of Internet governance, emphasizing especially that governance cannot stop at the border of any one nation state –that Internet governance is inherently international—and that, for the most part, the successful functioning of the Internet depends on private sector actors like domain name registries and registrars, Internet service providers and web hosting companies, and others operating the Internet’s servers and networks.
  • Kruger then focuses on the U.S. government, describing how the U.S. government, through Department of Commerce, holds a unique influence over ICANN, “largely by virtue of its legacy relationship with the Internet and the domain name system.” Here Kruger discusses ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments, as well as the contractual relationships between ICANN, the U.S. Department of Commerce (i.e. the NTIA), and VeriSign (a company that maintains the .com and .net registries).
  • The piece also describes some historical narratives behind Internet governance –including, for example, the impact and place of the World Summit on the Information Society or the World Conference on International Telecommunications—and the proposed models of Internet governance those narratives have created.
  • In particular, Kruger uses the piece to inform the question of whether and how the U.S. government’s relationship with ICANN should end, and the ways in which this relationship impacts “how other aspects of the Internet may be governed in the future, especially in such areas as intellectual property, privacy, law enforcement, Internet free speech, and cybersecurity.”
    • [Note: the NTIA announcement discussed in the introduction to this Selected Reading marks the “beginning of the end” of the unique relationship between the U.S. government and ICANN –or, as Steve Crocker, Chairman of ICANN’s Board has put it, “the end of the beginning”.]

Mueller, Milton. “Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance.” in Information Revolution and Global Politics. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010.

  • This book explores the actors and issues that face Internet governance and how they can be categorized according to their roles and functions. Mueller also provides several perspectives on the central issues in Internet governance, largely arguing that Internet governance requires very innovative and flexible mechanisms to be effective and legitimate.
  • Mueller highlights three arguments in particular:
    • Openness and freedom online can directly antagonize those who fear terrorist attacks and that this antagonism can profoundly impact how political discussions around Internet regulation evolve.
    • “The governance of the Internet needs to explicitly recognize and embrace the principle that there are limits to national sovereignty over the flow of information.”
    • There should be a “political movement to define, defend, and institutionalize individual rights and freedoms on a transnational scale.”

Did we miss anything? Please submit reading recommendations to

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.