UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Mapping the Operational Institutional Complex Sustaining the Internet’s Infrastructure

Mapping the Operational Institutional Complex Sustaining the Internet’s Infrastructure

About the project

Mapping the diverse complex of transnational actors managing the Internet’s infrastructure is critical to understanding the institutions that ensure the security and stability of the Internet and sustaining these institutions’ contributions to the global governance system.

Internet governance is regularly hailed as characteristically decentralised, yet the literature has historically focused on a few highly visible institutions—ICANN, the IGF, and, early on, the IETF. Van Eeten and Mueller’s “Where is the Governance in Internet Governance?” highlights this narrow focus, calling for more systematic evaluation of the diverse set of organisations and communities shaping Internet governance (2013).

To fill these gaps, this project maps and characterises the complex of actors - institutions, organisations, and communities - that ensure the security and stability of the Internet’s infrastructure. Building on case studies, fieldwork, and both qualitative and quantitative data on how this complex functions, this project develops an empirically-grounded, multilevel network model of the Internet’s decentralised governance regime.  This model characterises the increasingly important relationships between local, regional, and global actors critical to the core functions of the Internet, the (formal and informal) data and algorithmic governance practices within and among these institutions, and how they shape the management of critical Internet resources.  

Characterising these relationships and processes provides the foundations for systematically evaluating a number of contemporary challenges facing Internet governance:

  • characterising and evaluating empirical distinctions among governance and management decision making practices at the local, regional, and global level, with a special focus on context-specific factors
  • characterisation of the family of decision-making processes animating these relationships
  • how these processes adapt to keep pace with function-, market-, and context-specific demands
  • the role of data and knowledge sharing within and across this complex
  • how these institutions engage in the broader global governance system