Almost all digital communication is currently based on the technical infrastructure of the internet. This infrastructure has a physical component in the form of a global cable network, but also depends crucially on software standards such as the TCP/IP protocol. Regulating this digital infrastructure was long regarded as an apolitical and purely technical coordination task. Increasingly, however, we are seeing that decisions about global digital infrastructures have enormous consequences for the future of digitalisation. Such decisions create path dependencies and alter power constellations, and increasingly represent an arena of political contestation. Internet governance, therefore, is far more than technical coordination; regulatory decisions in this field crucially shape the political development of digitalisation.
Analysis of institutional structures and actor constellations is one important starting point to approach this issue. Internationally, questions of digitalisation are negotiated at different levels and in a wide range of formats. Alongside classical inter-governmental forums like the EU and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) there are also multi-stakeholder formats like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Governance Forum, as well as bodies composed largely of technical experts, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The debate on “digital diplomacy”, moreover, poses the question of the impact of digitalisation on modes of interaction in international politics.
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