The internet’s architecture is constantly changing. The content and computing devices which end users see are only the surface of a massive underlying infrastructure of networks, services, and institutions that keep the internet operational.
This architecture comprises private information intermediaries such as network operators, exchange points, search engines, hosting services, e-commerce platforms, and social media providers.
Global coordination is necessary to keep the internet operational. For example, global technical standardization ensures interoperability, cyber security governance maintains stability and authentication, and centralized coordination ensures that each internet name and number is globally unique. These, and other, tasks necessary to keep the internet operational, are collectively referred to as global internet governance.
As the internet becomes increasingly enmeshed with vital aspects of everyday life, actors that perform these various internet governance functions are also being called upon to provide expert knowledge on the governance of human behaviour online. This trend complicates an already difficult governance terrain.
For the majority of its history, the internet has been governed in an organic and piecemeal fashion by a variety of standard-setting and other technical bodies and by private companies performing key roles as network operators and information intermediaries.
Multi-stakeholder governance means governance involving more than one of the four categories of participants: firms, states, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society (including technical experts acting in their individual capacities). It typically utilizes relatively non-hierarchical procedural rules.
Rather than hard law and regulatory enforcement, governance is accomplished by means of voluntary compliance with technical standards, codes of conduct, and industry best practices.