Early View Article - Internet Fragmentation, Political Structuring, and Organizational Concentration in Transnational Engineering Networks

Internet Fragmentation, Political Structuring, and Organizational Concentration in Transnational Engineering Networks

Is the internet at risk of fragmentation? Whereas the literature has examined this question with a focus on domestic policies, communication standards, and internet governance institutions, we analyze fragmentation and alternative outcomes in transnational engineering networks. These networks constitute the social foundations of the unified or ‘global’ internet. Our contributions include: (1) broadening the debate beyond fragmentation‐related network outcomes to include political structuring and organizational concentration; and (2) new evidence from an important engineering network around the Internet Engineering Task Force comprising thousands of participants and over four decades. Our analyses reveal fast and continuous network growth as well as clear signs of growing concentration of the network around a few major companies. A key implication is that, at the level of engineering networks, concerns about internet fragmentation might be unfounded and might distract from more salient developments such as organizational concentration.

Policy Implications

  • Political leaders and other stakeholders engaged in debates about internet fragmentation – at the Internet Governance Forum as well as in parliaments, civil society and the media – should broaden the terms of debate to pay more attention to alternative outcomes such as political structuring and organizational concentration in and beyond transnational engineering networks.
  • Leaders of internet governance organizations – and internet governance practitioners more broadly – should assess whether, and to what effect, deliberation and decision‐making processes in their organizations afford highly central positions to a few major actors.
  • Standards development organizations such as the IETF should debate whether highly central actors should face enhanced responsibility for the openness and inclusiveness of the standards development process and whether procedural changes to enact this responsibility are required.

 

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