Internet Governance: Uncovering the Layers


By Junior Melo [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The exploration of Internet Governance is an intriguing look into the evolution of how governments and non-state stakeholders manage issues and risk, attempt to work collaboratively to tackle a multitude of infrastructure and virtual factors related to expansion and commoditization, and design an overarching ‘root’ methodology, which all comes together to create a foundation for the Internet user experience today.  If things are going well around access availability and the general usage of the Internet, an average user may never uncover all the governing bodies or practices that contribute to International Internet Governance.

The most eye-opening details on the issues related to Internet Governance can be found in the book Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace written by Milton Mueller.   Mueller explains that the assignment of unique identifiers of an address space has three distinct criteria and can be represented as three distinct layers (p17).  These three distinct layers are the Technical Layer (coordination to ensure uniqueness), the Economic Layer (decisions about rationing scarcity), and the Policy Layer (decisions about rights)(Mueller p19).


The Layers work in tandem to create the user experience we see today.  The Technical Layer encompasses the generation of unique identifiers in a physical sense around root directories, communication and access capability, and IP assignment.  In a fashion that is similar to telephone number, Ethernet IP addresses can be assigned to individual computers, networks, servers, and Internet sites.  The uniqueness of the IP allows the “call” to be directed to the correct “connection” and for a communication to ensue.

The Economic Layer is where property rights come into play as it relates to copyright, trademark, and the overall commercialization of the domain name space.   This is where issues around the right to a specific domain name begin to raise questions about the nature of global property right.  But how does one resolve property rights conflicts at an international level?

The Policy Layer is where a variety of issues, including intellectual property rights in WIPO, can be disputed.  The Policy Layer houses the organizations tasked with creating policy through collaboration with stakeholders whether they are governments or non-stake actors.  Organizations involved in Internet Governance span a number of areas including those that are part of the Internet and telecommunications communities like GNI, IAB, ICANN, W3C, and ITU along with organizations that have different primary focuses including UNESCO, UNHRC, FAO, WPFC, and OECD.

Understanding the makeup of these layers and how they contribute to Internet Governance will aid individuals and organizations to undertake the enormous task of dealing with the Internet issues that affect the global community in small and large ways.  Peeling back the layers is the only way to understand how they relate to each other and how to best utilize the technology to great a better world.

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