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Roger Clarke's 'Internet Governance'

Overview of Internet Governance

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Version of 14 August 2002

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2002

This document is at



Internet governance emerged as a collaborative undertaking, rather than one planned and controlled in a heirarchical manner. From the early 1980s until the end of the 1990s, the key organisations were the IETF and IANA. (For details, see later). This document attempts a description of the arrangements in mid-2002, with limited regard to the somewhat tortuous history, nor to the many possible futures.

In an attempt to make the organisational complexity somewhat easier to understand, I have unilaterally distinguished between:

This is not a distinction used anywhere else that I have seen, but it has the benefit of bringing a little more structure to the presentation.

Operational Governance

To the extent that a governing body exists for operational aspects of the Internet, that body is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This organisation was formed in the hope that it would be able to encourage a degree of order without stunting the growth that has been achieved through a remarkably distributed (almost, dare one breathe the word, communitarian!) undertaking. Unfortunately, the organisation's constitution and activities have been contentious from the very beginning, and the situation remains vexed. See the separate section for information about the controversies.

ICANN's web-site states that ICANN "was formed to assume responsibility for the IP address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management, and root server system management functions previously performed under U.S. Government contract by Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and other entities.

"The Board of ICANN is composed of nineteen Directors: nine At-Large Directors, nine selected by ICANN's three supporting organizations, and the President/CEO (ex officio). Five of the current At-Large Directors were selected according to a vote of Internet users worldwide"

ICANN's functions are performed by a Board and an executive group, with three subsidiary Councils and Assemblies:

A great deal of information that is vital to the ongoing operation of the Internet continues to be maintained by the longstanding Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). That information includes:

Engineering Governance

The architecture and protocols of the Internet are developed and expressed by the IETF and its Working Groups. The family of organisations to which the IETF belongs is as follows:

The Internet Society (ISOC) is "the organizational home" of the IETF, IAB, IESG and IRTF. It is a "professional membership organization of Internet experts that comments on policies and practices and oversees a number of other boards and task forces dealing with network policy issues". For further information on ISOC, see also 'The Tao of IETF'

The IETF has generated, and continues to generate, a great many technical documents that are critical to the construction of artefacts that will connect to the present Internet, and to the migration towards future modes of operation. These are known as RFCs (short for 'Request For Comments').

Those documents are available in a number of places, including the IETF's own RFC pages, the RFC Editor's Web pages, and ISOC.

The documents are in a number of different series:

The process whereby standards are devised and enhanced is described in FYI 17 (aka RFC 3160, aka 'The Tao of IETF'), and BCP 9 (aka RFC2026).

Other vital resources are provided by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). For information on IANA, see 'The Tao of IETF'.


RC2026 (1996) 'The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 3', BCP9/RFC2026, October 1996, at

RFC2901 (2001) 'Guide to Administrative Procedures of the Internet Infrastructure' FYI37/RFC2901, August 2001, at

RFC3160 (2001) 'The Tao of IETF: A Novice's Guide to the Internet Engineering Task Force' FYI17/RFC3160, August 2001, at

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The content and infrastructure for these community service pages are provided by Roger Clarke through his consultancy company, Xamax.

From the site's beginnings in August 1994 until February 2009, the infrastructure was provided by the Australian National University. During that time, the site accumulated close to 30 million hits. It passed 65 million in early 2021.

Sponsored by the Gallery, Bunhybee Grasslands, the extended Clarke Family, Knights of the Spatchcock and their drummer
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Created: 11 August 2002 - Last Amended: 14 August 2002 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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