Internet Governance: The Way It Works Now
Internet Governance: The Way It Works Now
Internet Governance: The Way It Works Now

    Get Involved Today

    There has been a lot of talk recently about the
    ITU getting involved with regulating aspects of the Internet
    . But some of you
    may be wondering how the Internet is governed now. If you don’t have multiple
    hours to devote to the rabbit warren of Wikipedia articles on the subject, read
    on for a brief explanation of the current organizations involved in Internet

    These organizations can be roughly divided into two major
    categories: international technical standards organizations and governance
    organizations. The technical standards organizations tend to deal with
    standards on a physical level: how to make a computer chip, for example. The
    governance organizations deal more with permissions and protocols: what are
    appropriate identifiers for computers on a network, or how to write a webpage
    that all computers will understand. But this is not a perfect rule, and there is
    significant overlap between the two groups.

    Technical Standards

    There are three major international technical standards-setting
    bodies that impact Internet technologies: the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International
    Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International
    Telecommunication Union (ITU).

    What Do They Do?

    are a way of making sure that something is made consistently; for example,
    making sure that all countries use the same format for the bar codes on
    passports and visas, so that only one kind of scanner is needed at customs offices.
    The IEC publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic and
    related technologies. The ISO has a broader mission, promulgating worldwide
    proprietary, industrial, and commercial standards. The ITU sets standards for
    how telecommunications networks work, as well as coordinating use of the radio
    spectrum and satellite orbits, and working to improve telecommunication
    infrastructure in the developing world. The IEC, ISO, and ITU all collaborate
    on standards to ensure compatibility between standards, or when a standard
    falls under the purview of multiple organizations.

    Who Are They?

    ITU is
    a body of the United Nations, while the other two are voluntary partnerships
    composed of national committees. These national committees can be public,
    private, or joint public-private, while the ITU is necessarily an
    inter-governmental organization.

    I Have Strong
    Feelings About These Issues! Will They Listen to Me?

    that depends on where you live. Each country and national committee has its own
    procedures for public participation. In the U.S., for example, the IEC and ISO
    national committees are run by the American National Standards Institute
    (ANSI). ANSI allows a public review period for standards, but requires
    interested parties to purchase copies of the drafts and mail comments to their
    office. In contrast, the British Standards Institute has a
    to allowing comments on draft standards, including links to allow commenters to
    read the standards online, greatly improving the opportunity for public

    the ITU allows private organizations to join as non-voting Sector Members.
    Currently, there are over 700 public and private sector companies acting as
    Sector Members. Reduced membership fees are available for organizations in
    developing countries and academic institutions, but the costs are still high,
    potentially in the tens of thousands of dollars. As a result, almost all Sector
    Members are for-profit companies, with a handful of educational institutions.

    Internet Governance

    Though it was originally developed by the U.S.
    government—which retains certain controls—almost all of the Internet’s current
    structure, development, and regulation comes from the private sector. The major
    governance organizations are the Internet Corporation for
    Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Society (ISOC),
    and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

    What Do They Do?

    is a nonprofit organization with authority over unique identifiers on the Internet,
    including Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which identify computers on the Internet,
    and top-level domains (.com, .net, etc.). Within ICANN, IP addresses are
    managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). IANA is managed by
    ICANN under a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce, which also
    provides oversight. There have been complaints about the U.S.’s role in
    controlling the international resources IANA manages.

    ISOC provides
    financial and structural support for the development of the Internet. It
    supports and promotes the work of the standards settings bodies for which it is
    the organizational home:

    • The
      Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) develops and promotes Internet
      standards, cooperating closely with the W3C and ISO/IEC standards bodies and
      dealing in particular with standards of the TCP/IP and Internet protocol suite.
    • The
      Internet Architecture Board (IAB) is a committee of the IETF that represents
      the IETF in liaison relationships with other organizations. It also oversees
      the technical and engineering development of the Internet by ISOC.
    • The
      Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) is responsible for the overall
      operation of the IETF. It is composed of the IETF Chair and Area Directors.
    • The
      Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) focuses on long-term research issues
      related to the Internet such as Internet protocols, applications, architecture
      and technology. Projects are carried out by research groups with stable,
      long-term membership.

    W3C is the
    main organization governing technical standards for the Internet, including
    HTML and XML. It was founded in 1994 to create uniformity in standards. At the
    time, different vendors were offering different versions of HTML, risking
    inconsistency; W3C’s goal was to create a set of core principles and components
    that would be used by all.

    Who Are They?

    organizations are all global, private sector nonprofits. Some, like the IETF,
    started out as government entities that later transitioned to private
    organizations. Others, like W3C, had government support at their outset but were
    created as private organizations. Their funding mostly comes from membership
    dues and domain name registrations, although W3C also gets corporate donations.

    I Have Strong
    Feelings About These Issues! Will They Listen to Me?

    Yes! Although not a completely open process, the above
    organizations are all committed in various degrees to a bottom-up process that
    allows participation from multiple stakeholders, including the public.

    • ICANN
      holds public meetings, rotated between continents, to encourage participation
      in its processes; these meetings are simulcast online, when possible. It also
      has a public comment site and blog with open comments.
    • ISOC
      offers free membership to individuals; organizational membership, which
      includes representatives on the advisory council, starts at $1250 for nonprofit
      organizations and $2500 for for-profit organizations.
    • IETF Working Groups have open membership. To join,
      one must merely subscribe to the mailing list for the group.
    • IRTF Research Groups vary in their membership
      policies; some are open and some closed. Those with limited membership are
      required to report their progress to the community and encouraged to hold
      occasional open meetings.
    • W3C
      Working Group participation is limited to members and experts invited by
      members. Membership is open to all organizations, but costs start around $1000
      per year. However, W3C provides other venues for public participation and

    One of the most important things about this system of
    governance is that it is relatively apolitical. This is a key aspect of
    Internet governance, and one that must be maintained.