Internet Governance Regimes by Epistemic Community: Formation and Diffusion in Asia.

Author:An, Jungbae
Position:Report
 
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1 Introduction

Internet governance has rapidly shifted from a nonpolitical issue area in the 1990s to one that is the focus of contention in high politics today. Because the Internet has become so indispensable that it is now the substrate of almost every technology and because of the high stakes involved owing to the lucrativeness of the Internet, and its implications on national security, (1) contention in Internet governance may naturally be unavoidable. Greater challenges in coordinating and cooperating among the stakeholders have correspondingly emerged. (2) The question of how the Internet should be governed and who controls the Internet has become of paramount importance.

This article contributes an essential piece to the field by focusing on the role of a community of domain-specific professionals in shaping and managing global Internet regimes. Previously, scholars, drawing on the international relations theories, tended to point to several factors for emerging contention: extrinsic uncertainty, changing market conditions, declining US dominance, and regime complex formation. (3) We, however, argue that, despite such contention, the idea of multistakeholderism has been sustained and embodied in transnational Internet organizations and norms until now because an epistemic community of technical experts has played a critical role in shaping and even guiding the current modality of Internet governance by supplying necessary domain-specific norms. (4)

Experts in the Internet epistemic community in Asia, for instance, were often more interested in technological standards and protocols for scientific purposes than economic benefits, political clout, and national security purposes. (5) Their service to the public through providing such standards and protocols was frequently based more on technical rationality, embedded typically in principles of collaboration, meritocracy, and "rough consensus" than on material compensation or reward. (6) Rather than being forced by states, (7) these experts aimed to pursue technological efficiency and public convenience.

Communities of Internet experts tended to voluntarily participate in and implement Internet governance based on certain norms. Their tendency to welcome any type of entity who was interested in participating and who came from other fields and a state-led tradition of international coordination has laid the foundation for many Internet governance organizations to be multistakeholder and for the Internet ecosystem to be the regime complex in managing global cyberactivities. (8)

In this study, we did not intend to side with a naive technological determinism or a sort of technologist supremacy. (9) Rather, we attempt to add a piece to the still incomplete picture that depicts Internet governance only with sovereign states, businesses, civil societies, and intergovernmental organizations. (10) This missing piece is the domain-specific network of experts, (11) or the Internet epistemic community. The perspective of such experts is necessary to understand who makes the rules on Internet governance or where the rulemaking power comes from, and yet, currently only little literature focusing on their role is available. In order to unpack their roles, we examine Asian Internet history because the region is imbued with complicated international affairs, yet has developed vibrant Internet cultures. (12)

We ask why and how Internet regimes were formed and diffused in Asia, as they are seen today, and to answer these questions, we focus on the role of a specific Internet epistemic community. In doing so, we expect to contribute to the field in the following ways. First, theoretically, we identify attributes shared by members of the Internet epistemic community, which are regarded as the key source of the influence of the epistemic community but are seldom analyzed. (13) Second, we clarify why and how such diffusion occurs, an issue that remains unclear in the literature. (14) To our knowledge, this article is among the first to investigate how Internet regimes in Asia have diffused. Finally, we empirically examine Asia's Internet history and the Internet epistemic community in Asia, both of which have been largely ignored by academia despite the region's importance as one of the fastest-growing Internet-related economies and despite the geopolitical dynamics of Internet-related public policies in the region. Our findings, nonetheless, should be readily applicable globally.

2 Actors in Internet Governance

Internet governance regimes now involve actors from different fields and levels. Each actor (or set of actors) strives both to maintain their own influence in regimes and to ensure that the processes include their own interests, therefore creating a political struggle for the Internet. In this section, we describe four groups of actors generally recognized in the field--the state, business, civil society, and the epistemic community--before advancing two points as gaps in the extant literature. (15)

Regarding who governs Internet regimes, some scholars have argued that the political aspect of Internet governance has left the hands of technicians, who have held the responsibility since the early history of Internet development, and is now largely controlled by the state. The key premise of this argument is that governments prefer regimes that mirror their own national interests. States with power are the primary actors in Internet governance regimes and significantly affect regulatory coordination in the regimes because such coordination leads to welfare gains for governments and to control of sovereignty. (16)

According to this state-centric perspective, negotiations among states determine whether and how regimes are established and operated. In the same vein, the distribution of power is the crucial structural context under which bargains take place. As such, the currently rising contention in Internet governance can be attributed to the declining relative power of the United States. (17)

Some scholars have paid attention to the increasing importance of private actors, particularly business sectors, to focus on the market-based global competition to ensure the innovations. As the flow of digital

goods and services reshapes society and generates wealth on an unprecedented scale, businesses are willing to lobby governments and participating transnational organizations, or to act on their own even when they find themselves in contention with other actors, to be a part of the vast wealth that the Internet creates. (18) Scholars emphasizing the role of private actors in international regimes, which are comprised of the principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures in a given issue area, also found that major private Internet companies are increasingly making their voices heard in Internet governance regimes. (19)

Civil society activists are another group of actors who have powerfully surfaced in the Internet governance regimes. As shown in the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and Internet Governance Forum (IGF), transnational advocacy groups have been passionate participants who wanted to steer global conferences toward their policy preferences and goals. These groups have generally preferred bottom-up decision-making in regimes and tended to adopt consensus in their own decision-making. (20)

While their policy preferences are diverse, transnational advocacy groups commonly invoke the problem of democratizing international institutions, in which state actors are traditionally dominant stakeholders, while wanting to bear more roles and responsibilities for policy development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. (21) Similar to the rise of transnational advocacy groups as rising nonstate actors, Internet users are collectively becoming substantial agents of change in norms of Internet regimes. (22)

Finally, epistemic communities are often considered significant transnational actors in Internet governance as discovered in other issue areas. (23) Although Internet epistemic communities are somewhat similar to transnational advocacy groups or technically advanced user collectives, they are distinguishable because of their unique characteristics such as shared sets of normative and principled beliefs and causal beliefs among their members. (24) Such epistemic communities can also be important actors by supplying and enhancing certain norms as key components of international regimes. Few scholars, however, have focused their attention on the role of Internet epistemic communities (25) and yet largely overlooked the linkage between attributes of Internet technical experts and the formation of Internet regimes.

We advance three points in the extant literature that lay the foundation for our argument and analysis in this article. First, although scholars mentioned so far in this section have addressed what has changed in Internet governance, along with the technological development and the ensuing increase in actors in terms of scale and variety, they have not properly addressed the constant features in Internet governance such as certain norms that are sustained as key components of Internet regimes. (26) As we argue specifically in the next section, certain values and norms have remained in and diffused through Internet regimes despite the relevant policy spectrum of diverse actors. We shed light on this puzzle by examining the crucial role of the Internet epistemic community in the development of Asian Internet regimes.

Second, despite the existence of seminal works on epistemic communities in other issue areas, such as the environment, trade, development, and telecommunication, (27) the role of epistemic communities in Internet governance has largely been ignored in the field. In this study, we specify the attributes of an Internet epistemic community and argue the importance of the role of such a community in...

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