Keeping the Internet open for innovation


Internet Society President and Chief Executive Officer

11 Nov 2009 @ 08:53 CET

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - The end of October marked the 40th anniversary of what many consider to be the birth of the Internet.

Despite its overwhelming success, and the ever-expanding list of other success stories that it has enabled, there is today a growing chorus of voices calling for fundamental changes to its structure and the development model at its core.

Those seeking radical change are responding to a range of concerns - some genuine, some misplaced - about the way in which the Internet currently operates. The responses they propose frequently call for unilateral control over the Internet or for user restrictions – often under the guise of better protecting or serving end-users, or to create a so-called "safe environment".

What the proponents of these responses often fail to consider are the full implications of their solutions upon both current and future Internet growth.

Many of the approaches they prescribe for solving today's challenges would severely compromise the open Internet and, in many ways, eliminate the possibility for diverse individuals and organisations to imagine new contexts and to surprise us with their creativity and innovation.

When we think of the applications and services that have become so successful, such as Google, Twitter, or YouTube, it is clear that none have been mandated or developed by a central body planning the future Internet. Rather, each grew from the vision of an individual or individuals who had the ability and the freedom to develop and deploy their idea.

Ordinary users spontaneously discovered and embraced new applications, taking advantage of the freedom of choice and flexibility that the Internet and the Internet Model allows.

These success stories were made possible by the open technical design and development model of the Internet that has been at its core since its inception all those years ago.

The model adheres to principles that include open, globally interoperable technical standards; freely accessible processes for technology and policy development; globally distributed responsibility for technical, management, and administrative functions; and transparent and collaborative governance.

Internet governance: the next steps

The European Commission has acknowledged the importance of this development model in a recent Communication, Internet governance: the next steps, which stressed the importance of including diverse stakeholders in Internet Governance.

Ultimately, the Internet works because people want it to work and collaborate to make it work. No single entity can be said to own, manage, or control the Internet. Indeed, because it is able to adapt to both diversity and rapid change, the Internet model truly is intrinsic to the Internet's success and, indeed, its very existence.

It is this Internet model that inspires and nourishes phenomenal innovation in services and products. Innovators are not locked into a centrally predetermined future. Instead, they have the freedom to create multiple possible futures, with success or failure very much determined by users.

In this way, the Internet contributes to economic growth across all sectors. And it supports cultural and linguistic diversity. Its benefits are not accidental and to preserve them, we must all commit to protect this model.

The Internet today is not perfect and its form is constantly evolving. There are many areas of genuine concern - such as security, privacy, and bandwidth management - stemming from the exponential growth the Internet has experienced year on year.

These growing pains require work on several fronts, and they are currently being addressed through focused efforts that, crucially, respect the need for the fundamental building blocks of Internet technology to remain interoperable.

Part of the genius of the Internet is that its technical architecture specifically does not try to predict or restrict the future. We must preserve the vision that allows us to tackle today's problems without stifling tomorrow's development. While today's must-have feature will eventually become tomorrow's legacy product, the Internet should remain the endlessly-adaptable platform for new and unimagined products and services.

Thanks to the open Internet Model of development and management, the future of the Internet is emerging all around us. The true future Internet can only be an open, globally addressable Internet.

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