"The Role of Legitimacy in the Design and Competition between Institutions: the case of Internet Governance"
Established in 1865, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been successful until the early 1990’s in being the core organization in the regulation and coordination of the global telecommunication infrastructure. However, it missed to a large extent the Internet/digital revolution. The “governance” of the global information infrastructure is presently in the hands of a wide, and often loose, network of state and non-state actors interacting in an on-going process of norms settlement taking place in various overlapping forums. One organization is however central in this “eco-system”: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN). This organization, manages the addressing system of the Internet; which is a vector to control the access, or the exclusion, from the Internet; hence a tool enabling to impose governance principles in the digital-sphere. While ICANN is not a US Governmental Agency, it is an organization established under the US law and operating under a contract with the US Government. Despite claims by the ITU, supported by many Governments, and all kind of stakeholders to take control of the governance of the Internet, a coalition formed of (mainly) OECD countries, and supported by representatives of businesses and of the “technical community” has been continuously working since the mid 2000’s in reinforcing the eco-system built around ICANN, which keeps control of the Internet expansion, architecture, and critical resources. On the basis of an extended analysis of the historical archives of the ITU and of ICANN, this paper builds on the work of Greif and Rubin, which opens the ‘black box’ of endogenous political legitimacy. It claims that ICANN and the way it has been orchestrating a multi-stakeholder approach of governance, involving on an equal footing users, corporations, NGOs, IGOs and governments has been a way to legitimize the US Federal government oversight over the development of the Internet and its global regulation. In the same time, it led the later to relinquish elements of sovereignty. Transfers of competences initiating balances in the power system of governance, has been the condition for the formation of a coalition, both in term of political influence and competencies, which has been progressively establishing new principles of international governance.
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