Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace

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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

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