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The popularly held image of the Internet is that it exists as a global resource that — the best efforts of some governments notwithstanding — is impossible to fully control, almost like a technological force of nature.

But, of course, a clear Wi-Fi connection doesn’t just appear out of thin air. The Internet, like all types of man-made infrastructure, has regulations and dedicated human monitors. The ultimate authority, perhaps unknown to many of its global users, has been at the US Department of Commerce.

Now that setup is changing, leaving the future of global Internet governance in uncertain terrain and sparking an intense...

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