Global Internet Conference Opens With An Air Of PossibilityPublished on 24 April 2012 @ 4:38 pm
By Rachel Marusak Hermann for Intellectual Property Watch
Maintaining openness and promoting access were two major themes that emerged during the Global INET conference opening session yesterday. A panel of key internet actors gave their perspectives on the past, present and future of the internet, in line with the conference theme, “Meeting at the Crossroads: Imagining the Future of the Internet.”
The three-day conference, organised by the Internet Society, is taking place in Geneva through 24 April (IPW, 22 April 2012).
Opening the panel of keynote speakers, Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of Computer Science, University of California, Los Angeles, presented the history of internet during his intervention, running through a dense 20-year timeline of some of its greatest milestones. He noted that the internet has been “growing exceptionally ever since day one and it continues to grow.”
Integral to its inception, Kleinrock established ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, in 1969 at UCLA under the auspices the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). He emphasised the free and benevolent environment in which the internet was created.
“The funding profile was long-term, with minimum interference,” Kleinrock said. “People could do what they wanted. It was very open.” He said that this kind of environment is conducive to creativity. The subtext of the importance of internet openness hardly needed to be stated and it was a theme that was revisited by the following key note speakers.
The Future of Connectivity
The theme of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ intervention was the future of the internet. As a caveat, he quoted the speaker who came before him by saying, “It’s safe to predict that we will be unable to predict the future of the internet.” Nonetheless, he made two predications on the internet’s future.
“No one will notice when Hollywood dies.” – Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales
First, he banked on continued, widespread, worldwide connectivity in the future. “Imagine a world in which every single person has access to all knowledge,” he said. Second, he predicted that “No one will notice when Hollywood dies.” He said that in the same way that no one could imagine the death of the hardbound encyclopaedia in Wikipedia’s early days, that large scale collaborative video-making communities would destroy the film-making industry’s current model.
“We will be rolling out nearly unthinkable bandwidth,” Wales said. “Communities will produce Hollywood-and-better quality films collaboratively and these will become more popular than Hollywood and it will destroy their model. Mass collaboration, mass creativity will change everything.”
Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU), brought the conversation back to present day progress on making Wales’ first prediction, mass connectivity, a reality. He said that although progress has been made, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“Two thirds of the world’s population still does not have access to internet,” Touré said. “Broadband networks must be considered in the 21st century as basic services, like roads, rail, and electric services.” He highlighted some of the global initiatives being pursued to achieve connectivity goals. For example, the ITU and UNESCO have set up a Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2012 to encourage implementation of national broadband plans.
Challenges to Openness
Finally, Lynn St. Amour, president and CEO of the Internet Society, emphasised the importance of promoting internet’s openness during her intervention [doc]. “The internet has always grown organically, responding to needs of individuals and the network itself. Its distributed, open, and building-block structure has paved the way for years of amazing creativity and value,” she said. “The freedom that individuals have to provide online services without the approval of a governing body or central authority is critical to its utility and its value creation.”
St. Amour noted that one of the main challenges to this open internet are restrictive examples for national legislation, citing proposed US legislation to protect copyright holders, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). She said that both of these proposals would have had a “negative impact” on the experience of internet users.
Furthermore, she raised concerns over upcoming international proposals. “This year there are a number of international proposals that threaten to jeopardize some of the core principles of the internet. These proposals could result in countries assessing higher fees for data traffic – this would result in higher costs for everyone and raise the likelihood that some people would not use these services because they are more expensive,” St. Amour said.
In defending an open internet, St. Amour called on conference participants to be “vigilant in defending the internet’s principles and continue to support the multi-stakeholder model.”
Rachel Marusak Hermann may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.