Ruling the Root
Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace
328 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: May 3, 2002
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: January 30, 2004
- Publisher: The MIT Press
In Ruling the Root, Milton Mueller uses the theoretical framework of institutional economics to analyze the global policy and governance problems created by the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses. "The root" is the top of the domain name hierarchy and the Internet address space. It is the only point of centralized control in what is otherwise a distributed and voluntaristic network of networks. Both domain names and IP numbers are valuable resources, and their assignment on a coordinated basis is essential to the technical operation of the Internet. Mueller explains how control of the root is being leveraged to control the Internet itself in such key areas as trademark and copyright protection, surveillance of users, content regulation, and regulation of the domain name supply industry.
Control of the root originally resided in an informally organized technical elite comprised mostly of American computer scientists. As the Internet became commercialized and domain name registration became a profitable business, a six-year struggle over property rights and the control of the root broke out among Internet technologists, business and intellectual property interests, international organizations, national governments, and advocates of individual rights. By the late 1990s, it was apparent that only a new international institution could resolve conflicts among the factions in the domain name wars. Mueller recounts the fascinating process that led to the formation of a new international regime around ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. In the process, he shows how the vaunted freedom and openness of the Internet is being diminished by the institutionalization of the root.
The Domain Name System (DNS) is the least understood part of the critical infrastructure that makes the Internet run. It is also the part that threatens the greatest mischief. Mueller has written a magnificent account of its history, and has provided a powerful set of insights to help us understand its future.
Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School, author of Free Culture
If you care about the prospect of losing your rights...this book's for you—perhaps even on a beach.
The Internet is in the midst of a kind of 'constitutional crisis,' with contending parties struggling, largely out of public view, for control of the'root', the one central point of authority on which the functioning of the Internet depends. It is a complicated story, but Mueller tells it well, demystifying the complex web of technical and policy questions at the very heart of this struggle; anyone interested in whether, and how, the Internet might continue its remarkable growth into the future would be well advised to start here.
David Post, Temple University Law School