The Role of Legitimacy in the Design and Competition Between Institutions: the Case of Internet Governance

Eric Brousseau (Paris-Dauphine, PSL Research University)

Abstract: Established in 1865, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been successful until the early 1990’s in regulating the global telecommunication infrastructure. However, it missed to a large extent the digital revolution. The “governance” of the Internet is in the hands of a wide network of state and non-state actors interacting in an on-going process of norms settlement. One organization is central there: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN) that manages the addressing system of the Internet; a vector enabling to impose governance principles in the digital-sphere. While ICANN is not a US Governmental Agency, it is an established under the US law and it operates under a contract with the US Government. Despite claims by the ITU, supported by many Governments, and all kind of stakeholders to take control of the governance of the Internet, a coalition arround ICANN has been sucessful in keeping control of the Internet development. On the basis of an analysis of the historical archives of the ITU and of ICANN, this paper builds upon the recent work of Greif and Rubin (2013), which opens the ‘black box’ of endogenous political legitimacy. It claims that ICANN and the way it has been orchestrating a new principles of governance has been a way to legitimize the US Federal government oversight over the Internet. In the same time, it led the later to relinquish elements of sovereignty, initiating balances in the power system. This has been the condition for the formation of a coalition, both in term of political influence and competencies, which has been progressively establishing new principles of international governance.