Models of Internet Governance

45 Pages Posted: 26 May 2008 Last revised: 23 Dec 2013

See all articles by Lawrence B. Solum

Lawrence B. Solum

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: September 3, 2008


Internet governance is a large, complex, and ambiguous topic. When we think about regulation of the Internet, we might be thinking about a narrow but important set of questions about specific institutions, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): these institutions can be said to govern the technical infrastructure and architecture of the Internet. We might also be thinking about a much broader and perhaps more compelling set of questions about policy issues that implicate the Internet: these questions include the regulation of online gambling, child pornography, freedom of speech, and the future of commerce and implicate nation states and international organizations. Internet governance implicates both the narrow questions about Internet infrastructure or architecture and the broad questions about regulation of applications and content. Moreover, the broad and narrow questions are related. Regulation of the technical infrastructure of the Internet has implications for the regulation of applications and content.

The approach to Internet governance in this paper is based on three central ideas: (1) the idea that the Internet is constituted by its architecture or code; (2) the idea that the problems of Internet regulation can be analyzed by using the conventional tools of policy analysis, including but not limited to: (a) normative theory, (b) economics, and (c) social choice theory; and (3) the idea that the logical space for discussing Internet governance can be captured via a set of 'models' or ideal types for Internet regulation.

The five models are: (i) The model of cyberspace and spontaneous ordering which is premised on the idea that the Internet is a self-governing realm of individual liberty, beyond the reach of government control. (ii) The model of transnational institutions and international organizations which is based on the notion that Internet governance inherently transcends national borders and hence that the most appropriate institutions are transnational quasi-private cooperatives or international organizations based on treaty arrangements between national governments. (iii) The model of code and Internet architecture which is based on the notion that many regulatory decisions are made by the communications protocols and other software that determine how the Internet operates. (iv) The model of national governments and law which is based on the idea that as the Internet grows in importance fundamental regulatory decisions will be made by national governments through legal regulation. (v) The model of market regulation and economics which assumes that market forces drive the fundamental decisions about the nature of the Internet.

Keywords: Internet, ICANN, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, IETF, Internet Engineering Task Force, Domain Name, Internet Governance, Cyberspace, Network, Network Neutraility, TCP/IP

Suggested Citation

Solum, Lawrence B., Models of Internet Governance (September 3, 2008). Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 07-25, U Illinois Law & Economics Research Paper No. LE08-027, Available at SSRN:

Lawrence B. Solum (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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