Christine Zulehner - Titular Professor of the Innovation & Regulation in Digital Services Chair - Professeure Titulaire de la Chaire Innovation & Régulation des Services Numériques.
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The Innovation and Regulation Chair organized, jointly with Vox Internet, on March 31st, 2009, a seminar on “Technical regulation of the Internet : from standards to behavioral and societal norms”

In the field of innovation research, the interest for the topic of technical standardization is well known. Controversial dimensions are at stake, mainly due to the tension between the monopoly of exploitation, associated with the intellectual property laws and the pro-competing regulation, associated with the diffusion requirements.

Yet, the development of the Internet created disruptive ways to handle normalization process and to conceive technical standards. Various drivers contribute to the structuring of a new ecosystem of normalization : the emergence of Open innovation, the technical self-regulation handled by the various stakeholders in forums like IETF or W3C, the vertical integration in the telecom and content industries, the conflicting business models between proprietary and collective standards.

In the traditional models of growth of the telecommunication networks, standardization has a crucial role. Thanks to the technical standards defined at the very beginning, the various actors implied in the development of the global network (hardware and peripheral equipments producers, software developers, service providers?) can incorporate and the market can evolve together with the infrastructure. Additionally and adversely, standardization fits with a process of aggregation and adjustment between autonomous networks or the existing infrastructures.

The development of the network is based on gateways, interfaces, black-boxes. They guarantee compatibility and the exchanges between the various components of the infrastructure. In this second case, standardization intervenes primarily ex post: be it through agreements between industrial partners anxious to organize their common market, or by subcontractors gradually linked to a standard owner by the means of software interfaces.

In that case, the evolution is not led by the initiative of the bodies officially in charge of standardization: it comes out in a sporadic, bursting, cumulative way, under the pressure of professional user-groups and service providers. However, new technologies of information and communication (ICT) lead, by their specific dynamic, to widen this traditional framework of understanding.

First of all, standardization takes a new direction when the contexts of innovation are open and when the traditional separation of the technical layers is no more evident. Then, the multiplication and the competition between the aggregation platforms to capturing the relation with the consumer tend to make the technical standards evolve from the market standards.

This situation is not new and the well-known ?Microsoft judgments? already stated the problem. However, the example of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) seems to indicate that standardization is currently related less to the technical functionalities than more and more directly to the control of the uses.

Lastly, the weight of the technical standards and the control of interworking are, from now on, so important that the phenomena of competition relate, beyond the companies, to the authorities and actors of standardization themselves. Indeed, there is no more a single actor suitable for controlling the technical developments on one sector or one geographical area, as the operators of public networks or the computer makers did in the past. The emergence of open standards is fully representative in this context: technical flexibility is transferring on the market the capacity of initiative.

The Internet case demonstrates that the two traditional forms of standardization are not necessarily contradictory but that they create potential conflicts of normativity. Insofar as the daily practices which are spread on the networks are at the same time universalized by the technical standards and are differentiated according to diverse values and projects, the normativity of the Internet is building gradually, according to multiple practical, commercial, political, intellectual or ethical affordances.

Pierre-Jean Benghozi
Ecole Polytechnique

Françoise Massit-Folléa
Vox Internet II



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