Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Three Myths of Internet Governance...

"Governance" is too often a concept cloaked in mystery. Internet governance, specifically, is typically either referred to in overly broad generalized terms (making it applicable to both everything and nothing at the same time) or in overly narrow technocratic terms (making it so specific to each case that lessons can't easily be applied to other areas).

Internet governance is, of course, a monster topic, but a recent book by Richard Collins, Three Myths of Internet Governance: Making Sense of Networks, Governance and Regulation, highlights a few false assumptions that are commonly made in the academic literature on the subject. His three myths are...

  1. That Internet governance works best when the market decides.

  2. That self-regulation is both pervasive and effective (national policies are only marginally important).

  3. That the Internet regulatory environment is distinct from legacy media.

None of these myths should blow anyone's minds. However, Collins' strength isn't in his offering of these myths, but in his critique of the existing literature.

He emphasizes how, despite the Internet being a global medium, most scholarship takes the United States' experience as its focus. While conceding the value of much of this work, he says, "the idiosyncrasies of the U.S. has, misleadingly, constructed a world of for-profit domain name registries, fretting about network neutrality and the like as a global experience. It is not."

He then goes on to compare U.S. Internet governance arrangements with that of the U.K., and some of the differences are striking. Just a few stark contrasts: the U.S. registry, VeriSign, versus the U.K. registry, Nominet; the U.S. power over the gTLD versus the U.K. power over the ccTLD; vastly different levels of competition among telcos and ISPs; and the functioning of the U.K.'s LINX exchange.

Also among his major contributions, he explores what type of governance is present at each of the Internet's conceptual layers. Network governance (basically, self-regulation) dominates the Control layer, a combination of hierarchical governance (government-based) and market governance (free market mechanisms) characterize the Access layer, network and market governance combine to characterize the Internet Exchange layer, hierarchical and market governance characterize the Transport layer, and hierarchical and network governance characterize the Content layer.

Overall, the book isn't what most people would consider easy-reading, and its sometimes disjointed collection of essays comes across as exactly that. But all told, there are a lot of valuable cases and fun ideas here to play with.



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