The making of institutions of information governance: The case of the internet governance forum

Dmitry Epstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Histories of information systems are inseparable from the histories of their governance. In the case of the Internet, governance structures informally developed during its early design were substantially different from the typical mechanisms resulting from public policy decision-making. Traditionally, global information systems, such as telecommunication systems, were governed through state-centric mechanisms that would set treaty-based framework for non-state actors to operate within. Legitimate participation in these traditional governance structures was the prerogative of states that possessed sole decision-making authority. In the case of the Internet, non-state-actor-driven governance frameworks were developed outside of those traditional mechanisms. They relied on a different conception of legitimacy and authority. This paper discusses how the state and non-state actors were forced to cooperate around the creation of institutions that could accommodate the variety of views on authority, legitimacy, and decision-making processes in Internet governance. It tracks the creation of the Internet Governance Forum as a case where notions of legitimacy and authority were redefined for policy deliberations of complex information systems. The paper concludes with whether those changes lead to the emergence of new institutions that contribute to the sustainability of the network by enabling coexistence of competing political interests and values; and what this could mean for the future of the network.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)137-149
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Information Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding of the WGIG was another aspect where WSIS participants sought to revise the power relations between the state and the non-state actors. When the WGIG was originally formed there was no debate regarding its funding. That omission was strategic. On the practical level, it eased the establishment of the WGIG during the first phase of WSIS. Since the UN was not asked to pick up the bill, the member states were more inclined to support the creation of the working group. On the ideological level, the advocates of limited state involvement in Internet governance wanted to see a ‘multistakeholder’ funding for the group. As a result, WGIG had to solicit funding from numerous entities including governments (Switzerland, Netherlands, Norway, France, and Japan) and non-governmental organizations (Numbers Resource Organization, Swiss Education and Research Network – SWITCH, ICANN, and the Foundation for MultiMedia Communications) (Mathiason, 2009: 116). This voluntary funding arrangement noticeably missed representation from governments of the global south, the G77 group and China, who favored a UN-centric arrangement for Internet governance.

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from Cornell University Institute for the Social Sciences. I want to thank the anonymous reviewers, the members of the New Media + Society Research group at Cornell University’s Department of Communication, and Mary Grace Flaherty for their insightful comments at the various stages of this manuscript.


  • Internet governance
  • information policy
  • institutional history


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