Special ReportBy Francesca Musiani, Valérie Schafer
This article shows how the ‘Internet model’ – an ecosystem in constant evolution, influenced by the widespread development of the Web and its commercial and public use, and by the reconfigurations of the Internet value chain – has, ever since the inception of Arpanet at the end of the 1960s, raised issues of modelization and of flow management. Taking the Internet’s architecture as its main object of inquiry, the article retraces the negotiations and the controversies that this architecture has been subject to, the tensions which it is currently undergoing, and the discussions concerning its possible futures. In so doing, it aims to show how the Internet model, far from being static or inevitable due to a supposedly intrinsic technical superiority, has constantly shaped and been shaped by changes in practices over time – notably its mass appropriation – and by an assemblage of technical, economic, political and social choices made by different stakeholders. In particular, we show how the issues of modelization and neutrality of the Internet invite us to (re)think its materiality and its spatiality, and the crucial role of protocols and of infrastructures for the functioning of a “ network of networks ” where the virtual is entangled in the tensions that are transforming ‘real’ society.