Internet RFCs as social policy: Network design from a regulatory perspective



The Internet has come to fill centrally important economic, social, political, and cultural functions during a period in which policy-making, too, has been undergoing significant change. The Internet “Requests for Comments” (RFC) process is both the venue technical decision-making and for the development of Internet governance procedures and institutions. Because this process casts decisions in technical terms, it has largely been without policy scrutiny. This paper offers a preliminary analysis of the RFC discourse for ways in its decision-making contributes to, operationalizes, influences, or conflicts with the laws of geopolitically recognized governments, and for ways in which the discourse itself serves as the means through which the more formal institutions and practices of Internet governance developed. The paper opens with a discussion of the gap between the technical and legal Internet discourse communities. Policy functions filled by Internet RFCs include explicit policy-making, explicit policy analysis, and implicit policy analysis (insights into policy issues that are not expressly discussed but that can be elicited from the texts through policy analysis). As a discourse matrix, the RFCs have several features that enable the conversation to fill additional policy-related functions that include defining the policy subject (the Internet), establishment of Internet design processes, policy implementation programs, conflict and conflict resolution, informal problem resolution, and political analysis.