Intermediation and Governance of Digital Flows: Canadian Internet Service Providers as Instruments of Public Policy

  • Author / Creator
    Zajko, Michael
  • The internet has often had a disintermediating effect, 'disrupting' and circumventing traditional middlemen and gatekeepers. This dissertation examines the related trend of intermediation, or the ascendance of new internet intermediaries and their growing significance in our lives. Among these institutions, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) occupy a fundamental position in the internet's topography as operators of material infrastructure, rooted in territories where multiple government agencies exercise regulatory control. As a result, ISPs have become ideal and idealized instruments of governance for the twenty-first century. They are seen as the means through which all of the various dreams associated with connectivity can be achieved. ISPs act as agents of economic and social development, as well as instruments of regulatory capitalism: where 'market forces' fail to produce desired outcomes, ISPs can be steered into desirable conduct through regulatory regimes. As intermediaries become increasingly capable and vital stewards of society's data flows, they are subject to growing expectations on their conduct. Drawing on theories of governmentality and nodal governance, I argue that ISPs are accumulating new roles and responsibilities as sites of governance, but these roles can also contradict one another, resulting in persistent forms of role conflict. These include conflicts over ISPs' roles and responsibilities in aiding policing and surveillance, cyber security, copyright enforcement, and privacy protection. They also involve continuous regulatory struggles about the responsibilities that different classes of ISPs have to one another, efforts to mold the Canadian government's vision of a 'competitive' telecom industry into existence, and the persistent challenge of extending broadband connectivity beyond Canada's urban centers. Drawing on telecom industry/policy presentations, expert interviews, and documents, I show how intermediaries navigate these conflicts individually or collaboratively, choosing a path through competing expectations, serving as policy instruments as well as agents of governance.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Shearing, Clifford (Public Law [external])
    • Rockwell, Geoffrey (Philosophy)
    • McNally, Michael (Library and Information Studies)
    • Haggerty, Kevin (Sociology)
    • Krahn, Harvey (Sociology)