Cyberspace Technological Standardization: An Institutional Theory Retrospective

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Acknowledging the value of standard-setting, the Clinton administration originally made "industry self-regulation" the guiding principle for standardizing the Internet. The succeeding administration continues to use this approach. Nonetheless, historical analysis of the last two decades shows that industry self-regulation has not always been a coherent policy. Rather, it has become a rhetorical device used to legitimize the government's agendas, particularly the mandated design of cyberspace's architecture and infrastructure. To date, there are still too many inconsistencies in the government's formal standardization policies. For example, the government's policy of centralizing early infrastructure standards to mandate cyberspace's architecture is in tension with its actions aimed at privatizing the Internet's funding and governance. These contrasting policies demonstrate that "industry self-regulation" of cyberspace has actually included a large measure of government intervention. This paper is a historical and conceptual assessment of the government's standardization policies using a comparative institutional theory approach. After assessing standardization policies, this study considers the unique, multi-layered architecture of cyberspace to identify which institutional body should standardize the Internet. To do so, this study identifies a distinctive production process for cyber standards that distinguishes between the standardization of early infrastructure and the standardization of complementary applications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1259-1339
Number of pages81
JournalBerkeley Technology Law Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • UNITED States
  • CLINTON, Bill, 1946-
  • SELF-regulation of industries
  • INTERNET industry
  • INFORMATION superhighway


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