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Laying the path: governance in early internet design

Sandra Braman (Professor in the Department of Communication, based at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)


ISSN: 1463-6697

Article publication date: 23 September 2013




This article aims to present an analysis of ideas and practices regarding governance of and by the network design process by participants in the technical design process during the first decade (1969-1979) as recorded in the technical document series that provides both the medium for and the history of that design process, the Internet RFCs.


The research was conducted via a comprehensive inductive and adductive reading of all of the publicly available documents in the series from its launch in October of 1969 through the close of 1979.


The findings show that internet designers were well aware that the infrastructure they were building was social as well as technical in nature. They were concerned about both governmental constraints on the design process (governance of) and about how protocol compliance could be achieved (governance by the network design process). As do informational states, network designers developed governance tools that affected the identity, structure, borders, and change in social, informational, and technological systems. The dual faces of network governance reveal tensions between the network political and the geopolitical.


This work contributes to our understanding of the interactions between the social and the technical in the course of the internet design process as it was expressed in concerns about governance by others and of others brought up in the course of resolving technical design problems. Methodologically, the research provides a model of one approach to analyzing the development of governance mechanisms and specific policies along sociotechnical boundaries.



This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0823265, and by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Office of Undergraduate Research. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author. Received 16 July 2013 Revised 16 July 2013 Accepted 17 July 2013


Braman, S. (2013), "Laying the path: governance in early internet design", info, Vol. 15 No. 6, pp. 63-83.



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