Creating Connectivity: Trust, Distrust and Social Microstructures at the Core of the Internet
Abstract: Since the commercialisation of the internet in the 1990s, many network operators world wide have been confronted with the paradox of internet interconnection: private network actors such as internet access providers, carriers and content-heavy companies compete in a market environment, but in order to have a product, they need to cooperate. This article illuminates practices of cooperation and coordination between networkers empirically from a micro-social perspective. The text focuses on the question of what role trust but also distrust play in mitigating legal, architectural and economic uncertainties in the field of internet interconnection. Preliminary findings from 38 qualitative interviews with network engineers, peering coordinators and internet exchange representatives across the globe are presented. Such networking professionals play a critical role in establishing, maintaining and dissolving connectivity globally. The article shows how trust and distrust work in tandem in this field. It shows how distrust can cause critical moments that lead to reflection about existing modes of governance. On a theoretical level, the study proposes a conception of internet interconnection as a global microstructure that allows for coordination in the absence of multi-lateral regulation or overarching organisational structures.