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I will talk about how to identify internet governance in interconnection arrangements. The interconnection between networks of internet access providers, carriers or content providers are what makes the internet a network of networks.
They concern the core of the network.
I suggest that an interdisciplinary research perspective from France can help us see the governance aspects in these arrangements. It has been coined the Economics of Convention.
Governance here is understood as „reflexive coordination“ – as opposed both to steering and coordination in general.
The foundational works of the Economics of Convention were published in the mid 1980s, among others by Luc Boltanski (left) and Laurent Thévenot (middle).
Since then, this research perspective has come to be used for the analysis of phenomena in the economic realm often.
What makes the Economics of Convention an attractive research perspective for internet governance is that it allows to draw a richer, more nuanced, „socialized“ picture of processes usually understood in economic or technical terms only. Internet interconnection is one of these phenomena.
The economics of convention are a set of concepts – not a theory – that rest on two basic assumptions about human action:
1. We act under uncertainty, because No external structures such as political institutions or norms determine our actions. Nor do we only follow an inner striving for the maximisation of personal utility.
2. The second assumption is that we are equipped with a cognitive and political capacity. This means that we are capable of evaluating what we consider legitimate in any given situation. It means that we do not stick to the same principles with regard to all our actions.
We can find it legitimate to donate blood or to sell it – depending on the situation.
The critical capacity enables us to reflect upon coordination, thus: produce reflexive coordination, aka governance.
In their book On Justification, Thévenot and Boltanski elaborate the main concepts of the economics of convention:
== 1 ======
There is a plurality of principles of coordination which the call„orders of worth“. When necessary, actors refer to these principles to justify their action. Orders of worth is just a fancy term for mindsets or arguments that can claim broad societal legitimacy, such as the market, the domestic, the industrial or the civic order of worth. You can read up on this in my paper. What is important in the context of internet interconnection is, that we should not be looking for that ONE driver of action but numerous drivers that co-exist.
== 2 ======
Orders of worth can be discovered in situations of conflict. Because in conflicts we have to justify our action, i.e. explain our reasoning, mobilise devices that support this reasoning etc. By focussing on conflicts the Economics of Convention show a sensitivity for change.
== 3 ====== This focus bears the question how reliable coordination and stability are possible.
This is where the concept of "form investments“ comes into play. Fancy term for any being or device that serves to generalise and carry forward coordination over time. Examples include: codes, standards, rules, trademarks, customs. Investment describes the effort/cost that is necessary to introduce such devices or forms.
== 4 ====== And finally, the Economics of Convention challenge the dominant perception of markets as places where goods and services are exchanged for a price.
In order for goods to be exchanged they need to be qualified. „Goods" are not given. Things or activities/practices are made goods. So markets are not just places where goods are exchanged with the help of the pricing mechanism. Instead: markets are places where the quality of goods and services is tested. The common knowledge about what constitutes products is what they call quality conventions.
So we have a plurality of orders of worth, which actors mobilise as justifications in conflicts. We have form investments like rules or codes. And we know that markets need quality conventions in order for goods to be exchanged.
What can these concepts teach us about Internet Interconnection?
Start: 0:40, End 1:47
What do we learn? Internet interconnection is also about ... making music! No, seriously ...
What can these concepts teach us about Internet Interconnection?
Start: 0:40, End 1:47
What we learn – not just by this video, but also from my interviews – is, that there is a plurality of legitimate frames for decision making in internet interconnection:
Internet interconnection practices are arrangements in which different orders of worth are called upon by individual actors.
Price, that is: an economic market incentive, is only one of them.
Other phenomena include: As could be seen: - Personal relationships - Collective interest - Tradition
== And from the literature: Vodoo Information exchange (routes) Trust Geographic proximity (helps enforce implicit contracts) Uniqueness of (routing)-options Redundancy
These phenomena can be related to the domestic, the industrial and even the inspired order of worth.
- signal reflexive, political capabilities - the mode of coordination itself becomes an issue - drive actors to justify their actions
From interviews: Interconnection landscape seems to be rather peaceful, conventional arrangements appear stable.
But: Peering conflicts became public, notably in the US. Level 3 evoked context of net neutrality, asked regulator to step in and regulate interconnection.
Involving regulator introduces a civic order of worth in the arrangement of internet interconnection. It puts the dominant interpretation of „how peering is done“and the modes of coordination under tension.
==> For my interviewees this step is against informal rules, a "no go", "none of us wants to be regulated", "my network, my rules“.
Mode of evaluation: Collective interest Format of information: Formal, official Elementary relation: Solidarity Human qualification: Equality
THERE ARE SPECIFIC UNCERTAINTIES IN INTERNET INTERCONNECTION THAT NETWORK ACTORS HAVE TO OVERCOME
Architectural opaqueness: network and application layers are separated in the internet. In comparison to app-layer businesses, network actors have less abilities to qualify data as "immaterial goods". Boundary zone that limits the interconnection market.
Systemic uncertainty: Internet is live. Network actors strongly interdepend on each other in a dynamic way. Limited control.
(I do not elaborate on incomplete information with regard to the content of the agreements as this is not specific to interconnection: Technically, a lot of information is available, can be re-engineered (as Feldman et al have shown). But contents of agreements are secret.)
HOW DO NETWORK ACTORS OVERCOME THESE UNCERTAINTIES?
This is where the "form investments" come into play. Because instead of negotiating every situation of uncertainty anew, people rely on "coded, or invested forms“. Such forms become part of conventional arrangements.
I will elaborate this by the example of the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) which is backed up by the interviews.
Through BGP Autonomous Systems exchange routing information, that is: Which routes are available for the traffic I want to send to another end point in the network?
BGP is considered absolutely critical and extremely complex. It is so complex that there is not even a funny cartoon about it on the internet.
Incorrect or deceitful use of the BGP protocol can lead to disruptions of a global scale (Pakistan example of 2008).
How do network actors mitigate the systemic uncertainty brought in by BGP? Three form investments:
- Procedure for resolution of irregularities - Expert knowledge is being cultivated (all interviewees agreed that BGP administration is a highly complicated task) ==> The role of the network engineer - Initiatives for "Collective responsibility and collaboration", common best practices/rules
These three investments facilitate coordination by making things more general.
How do network actors mitigate the systemic uncertainty brought in by BGP? Two form investments:
Procedure for resolution of irregularities Initiatives for "Collective responsibility and collaboration", common best practices/rules
These investments facilitate coordination by making things more general and carrying coordination forward.
The concept of quality conventions leads to revisit the market question:
Recall: Markets are where the quality of goods is tested. So a common knowledge about the quality conventions of internet interconnection is necessary for the market to work.
We need to ask: What is being exchanged in internet interconnection? How is worth evaluated? The answer may be less clear today than in the early times of the internet.
Simple answer to what is being exchanged: IP packet transport in peering; the termination of IP packets (transit) and connectivity (routes for packets to travel).
The quality convention in this scenario is a Non-Quality convention: It is the best effort principle – both technically and socially. Technically: the internet protocol makes no guarantees; socially: there are no obligations towards the peering partners, hand-shake agreements
However, "quality" is being reframed these days: rise of content delivery networks; content caches spread at the edges of the network. And network actors implement so-called service classes in IP-packets (Diff serv). The conventional character of these classes lies in the fact that network actors informally agree how to interpret these priority flags, if at all. In a direct peering relationship both parties will interpret the prioritization requests. At public peering facilities, everybody will overlook these steering signals.
Summing up: Network actors may factor in a plethora of different aspects in the "product" of interconnection. The "product" may be less homogenous in reality than on the sketchboard. It demands construction effort. There is not one market for connectivity but many markets. Quality conventions serve as differentiating principles for these markets in different regions. ==> Demand for further analysis. (Cloudflare)
For internet governance research
Interconnection arrangements are often treated as solely economic action or technical, as if everything was about the price.
This view is too simplistic. It is impossible to see finely grained, reflexive coordination when treating all interconnection the same: With the Economics of Convention perspective we can cater for the plurality of arguments that lead to, stabilise or shut down interconnection between the networks of the internet.
We have integrated actors and their social relationships – trust! –, artifacts such as protocols, structures (arrangements of conventions), regional and cultural diversity into the picture.
Uncertainty and disputes allowed us to identify some themes of internet governance In these arrangements – for instance a struggle over the civic scope of interconnection or the challenging of quality conventions.
The most important learnings: Interconnection arrangements differ and they are subject to change. Thus: internet governance through interconnection arrangemens is not the same everywhere.
What will be interesting for future research the relationship between local economies of convention and global ones in internet interconnection.
Internet interconnection: how economic sociology can inform the discourse on internet governance
Internet interconnection: how the
Economics of Convention can inform
the discourse on internet governance
Uta Meier-Hahn | firstname.lastname@example.org | @zielwasser
Global Internet Governance Academic Network Symposium 2014, Istanbul
Download full paper from http://zweitgeburtsort.de/s/GigaNet-2014_How-Economics-of-Convention-can-inform-
1 1 Sep 2014
• Plurality of orders of worth (contra
• Conflicts cause justifications (focus on
situations and change)
• Form investments (stabilise coordination)
• Quality conventions (antecede markets)
A set of concepts
Watch this video
What can these concepts teach
us about Internet
Plurality of orders of worth
Price is one mode of evaluation
– among others.
By making peering conflicts
public network actors introduce
a civic order of worth.
Network actors face
architectural opaqueness and
Form investments, Re: Border Gateway Protocol
Form investments, Re: Border Gateway Protocol
• Procedure for resolution of
• Common best practices
Internet interconnection, a
market for ...?
• Dispose of universal view on interconnection
• Assume uncertainty for network actors
• Focus on situations and how uncertainty is
• Discover governance in action in disputes, form
investments and quality conventions