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section heading icon     bodies

Much of the criticism of ICANN reflects lack of awareness with international and national standards, pricing and other coordination bodies established over the past 150 years to deal with 'new media'.

This page highlights some of those bodies.

It covers -

section marker     international and other standards organisations

A perspective on ICANN as the "invisible government of the world" is provided by the history of international standards and traffic management bodies.

There is an intelligent introduction in Constructing World Culture: International NonGovernmental Organizations Since 1875 (Stanford: Stanford Uni Press 1999), a collection of essays edited by John Boli, in Autonomous Policy-Making By International Organisations (London: Routledge 1999) edited by Bob Reinalda, The Standards Edge: Future Generations (Ann Arbor: Bolin 2005) edited by Sherrie Bolin, Craig Murphy's International Organization & Industrial Change: Global Governance since 1850 (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1994), Samuel Krislov's How Nations Choose Product Standards and Standards Change Nations (Pittsburgh: Uni of Pittsburgh Press 1967) and in the 2006 'From Setting National Standards to Coordinating International Standards: The Formation of the ISO' (PDF) by JoAnne Yates & Craig Murphy. 

Another perspective is offered by Standards Policy for Information Infrastructure (Cambridge: MIT Press 1995) edited by Janet Abbate & Brian Kahin as part of the excellent Harvard Information Infrastructure Project and by Governing Global Networks: International Regimes for Transportation and Communications (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1996) by Mark Zacher & Brent Sutton.

Recognition from the 1850s onwards of benefits for businesses, consumers and governments from adoption of infrastructure and other standards saw the emergence of a range of national and sectoral standard-setting and compliance-monitoring bodies.

Those bodies were often based in the private sector but recognised in national legislation, underpinning moves for broader coordination through international umbrella bodies, industry agreements and regional/global agreements endorsed by governments.

One point of entry for mapping such agreements and bodies is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Geneva-based entity. It traces its origins to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) founded in 1906 and the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations (ISA), concerned with mechanical engineering and active from 1926 to 1942.

The ISO provides a forum for complementary (and competing) national and sectoral bodies - of varying credibility - such as ETSI, NISO, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), Association of National Numbering Agencies (ANNA), International Bureau of Weights & Measures (BIPM), Union of Potato Starch Factories of the European Union, International Union of Technical Associations & Organizations (UATI), Universala Esperanto-Asocio and the Federation of the European Rigid Polyurethane Foam Associations (BING).

Commercial interest, specialisation and institutional inertia means that the number of organisations has increased rather than shrunk. In mapping communication bodies the observer thus encounters national umbrella organisations such as Standards Australia (SAA) and regional bodies such as ETSI.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is

a non-profit making organization whose mission is to produce the telecommunications standards that will be used for decades to come throughout Europe and beyond.

We have highlighted other standards organisations in the Networks & GII guide elsewhere on this site.

section marker    
the ITU

Originally founded in the 19th century, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) works to create uniformity in global telecom operations. Gerd Wallenstein's Setting Global Telecommunications Standards (Norwood: Artech 1990) is one view of the process. The ITU In A Changing World (Boston: Artech 1988) by George Codding & Anthony Rutkowski explores pre-web challenges.

The ITU is discussed in more detail elsewhere on this site.

section marker     the UPU

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) - an agency of the United Nations since 1948 - dates from an international conference in Berne, Switzerland during 1874. It serves as a forum for cooperation between national postal services, setting rules for international mail exchanges and providing advice about national policy and services.

In 1840 Rowland Hill introduced prepaid postage and a uniform rate for letters in the UK, providing a model adopted by other countries. Carriage of mail across borders was, however, contentious. An 1863 conference in Paris of national postal authorities, under the auspices of the United States, established general principles for mutual agreements between 15 nations.

The 1874 conference, convened by the Swiss government but largely driven by the government of Germany's Second Reich, involved 22 nations and resulted in the Treaty of Berne which unified "a confusing international maze of postal services and regulations into a single postal territory for the reciprocal exchange of letters."

That treaty established the General Postal Union, renamed the Universal Postal Union in 1878. It now has 189 member countries. The major study is George Codding's The Universal Postal Union: Coordinator of the International Mails (New York: New York Uni Press 1964).

The UPU And postal regimes are discussed in more detail elsewhere on this site.

section marker     IMO and ISA

As suggested earlier in this profile, formal global rules and acceptance of commercial/professional norms for the maritime industry are significant given the 'statelessness' of the high seas, the desirability of equal regulatory costs for industry players and a regime that addresses concerns regarding the desirability of free passage and responsibility for environmental impacts.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is concerned with conventions regarding of prevention damage to ships and their cargo (animate or otherwise), the minimisation of pollution and compensation for damages. Examples are the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

International control of ship-generated pollution by the IMO dates from the 1950s, with effective control from the 1973 Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships that established international construction and equipment standards and minimises excuses for states to delay vessels in ports.

Control of dumping of wastes at sea dates from the 1972 London Dumping Convention, which reflected disquiet about disposal of hazardous wastes off the shores of other states. UN agencies have enunciated general principles against the discharge of wastes from land into the oceans, although serious action has essentially been confined to regional settings in Europe, North America and parts of Australia.

For perspectives see Bruce Farthing's International Shipping: An Introduction to the Policies, Politics & Institutions of the Maritime World (London: Lloyd's 1987), A.W. Cafruny's Ruling the Waves: The Political Economy of International Shipping, 1945-85 (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 1987) and Pollution, Politics & International Law: Tankers at Sea (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 1979) by Michael M'Gonigle & Mark Zacher.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and in effect from 1994. It seeks to "organize and control activities in the regime for the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil beyond the limits of national waters". The US has not ratified the Law of the Sea Convention and is thus not a member of the Authority.

section marker     the ICAO

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) prescribes air transport jurisdictional and technical norms and rules. The early history of aviation technology meant that the right of overflight over national territories became an issue before there were major questions about freedom of flight over the world's oceans.

Technical rules facilitating international air transport are included in annexes to the ICAO Convention. Some technical issues (notably coordination of flights involving different airlines and facilitation of traffic in airports) are handled by the International Association of Transport Airlines (IATA), a NGO that is the sponsor of the dot-aero gTLD.

Perspectives are provided by Christer Jonsson's International Aviation and the Politics of Regime Change (New York: St Martins 1987).

section marker     the ICC and transnational river commissions

Those fond of the 'railway' metaphor have pointed to the history of the US Interstate Commerce Commission (initially established to regulate railroad companies) and to the UK Railway Clearing House as models for thinking about ICANN.

As we noted earlier in this profile, the two standard ICC studies are A History of the ICC: From Panacea to Palliative (New York: Norton 1976) by Ari & Olive Hoogenboom and The Interstate Commerce Commission and the Railroad Industry: A History of Regulatory Policy (New York: Praeger 1991) by Richard Stone. They are complemented by Paul MacAvoy's The Economic Effects of Regulation: The Trunk Line Cartels and the Interstate Commerce Commission before 1900 (Cambridge: MIT Press 1965). For the Railway Clearing House see Martin Campbell-Kelly's 'The Railway Clearing House and Victorian Data Processing' in Information Acumen. The Understanding & Use of Knowledge in modern Business (London: Routledge 1994) and The Railway Clearing House in the British economy 1842-1922 (London: Allen & Unwin 1968) by Philip Bagwell.

From a European perspective two more persuasive models may be the commissions concerned with pre-industrial information highways - the major rivers - that cut across national borders and cultures.

Examples are the Danube Commission (DC) and the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR). Salient discussions are Watercourse Co-operation in Northern Europe - A Model for the Future (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2004) by Malgosia Fitzmaurice & Olufemi Elias and International Institutional Law: Unity Within Diversity (Leiden: Brill Academic 2003) by Henry Schermers & Niels Blokker.

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version of July 2004
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