Who Regulates the Internet?


The Internet, with its sprawling, multifaceted structure, does not have a single regulating body. Instead, various public and private regulating organizations have stepped in to handle the various areas of concern that fall within the definition of "regulation." Organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force regulate hardware and software protocols that keep the Internet running smoothly, while the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers handles addressing and domain-name distribution. The United Nations works in tandem with organizations such as the Internet Society to suggest social regulations, while local governments have their own regulating bodies to control Internet access.

The Internet Engineering Task Force

  • The Internet Engineering Task Force works to guide the way hardware and software protocols develop within the Internet. The group writes technical documents specifying how programmers and engineers should implement particular Internet standards, and researches how the Internet grows and changes due to changes in these protocols and how users engage with them and other users. The IETF is made up of a set of of committees whose membership spans the globe. One particular committee, the Internet Architecture Board, oversees how private and public institutions develop Internet technologies.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

  • The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers coordinates the use of addresses on the Internet. This means that ICANN regulates how second-level domain names, or those appended with suffixes such as ".com" or ".org" (among others), are distributed by vendors and navigated by users. ICANN then coordinates these names with numeric Internet Protocol addresses, Domain Name System servers, and other systems to make sure Internet traffic can travel reliably from one computer to another. This coordination, as the ICANN website points out, is key to having "one global Internet."

The Internet Society and the Internet Governance Forum

  • The Internet Society is committed to creating an equitable, open space of communication. Unlike the IETF and ICANN, the Internet Society concerns itself with the social impact of the Internet, and to that end contributes to the World Summit on the Information Society, a United Nations summit that addresses subjects such as online security, business and global Internet access. The Summit takes into consideration the work of organizations such as the Internet Society and publishes a series of briefings and suggestions, which are then unofficially carried out by the Internet Governance Forum.

Government Agencies

  • Outside of technical and global regulation, local governments often play a key role in regulating the Internet. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission, while not regulating the Internet directly, regulates the distribution of Internet access and content in the U.S. For example, the FCC dictates a system of "Net neutrality," within which Internet providers must remain transparent, must not block content and must not discriminate against individuals or organizations. The FCC has jurisdiction only in the United States, however, so its influence over the global Internet remains limited.

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