The Social Construction of Internet Routing

The Internet is not a single network, but rather a global system of thousands of interconnected computer networks. In many ways, the interconnections between computer networks – termed the inter-domain routing system – is the most critical component of Internet infrastructure: in the absence of these interconnections, there would be no Internet. In this project, I sought to find out how and why the inter-domain routing system is maintained as a stable, reliable component of Internet infrastructure; and what happens when it fails. Over 3 years of ethnographic and historical research across North America and South Asia, I studied the the practices and communities of the technical personnel tasked with managing the interdomain routing system. I found, quite unusually, that inter-domain routing system is stabilized and ordered to a large degree through social relationships of trust among the Internet’s technical personnel, produced and reproduced in interlinked regionally organized communities of practice. I placed this system of trust relationships alongside state and market interests in the constitution of the inter-domain routing system to theorize a form of governance of Internet infrastructure which I term distributed governance.

Representative publications and presentations:

  • Where in the World is the Internet? Location Political Power in Internet Infrastructure. Ph.D. dissertation. School of Information, University of California, Berkeley. 2014. [link]
  • The Myth of the Decentralized Internet. Internet Policy Review. Vol. 5, Issue 4. September 2016. [link]
  • The Intimate Spaces of Network Interconnection Markets. Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) Annual Conference. Berkeley, USA. June 2016.
  • On the Value of Internet Names and Numbers: A High Stakes Game? International Conference on Public Policy. Milan, Italy. July 2015. [link]
  • The New Cartographers: Trust and Social Order Within the Internet Infrastructure (with Coye Cheshire). Proceedings of the 38th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy (Telecommunications Policy Research Conference). 2010. [link]