Elon University

Panel Session: Core Values and the Future of the Internet

What should be preserved and how, and what changes are inevitable?

Brief description: Among the common ideals and values some have identified to be at the core of today’s new information networks are interoperability, open standards and universal accessibility. What makes the Internet what it is? What is happening to its core values as it evolves? What should be preserved and how, and what changes are inevitable? Session organizer was the Internet Society and moderator Alejandro Pisanty, professor at the National University of Mexico and active leader in the Internet Society. Panelists included Danny Weitzner, formerly W3C Technology & Society policy director, now the associate administrator for policy at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Nathaniel James, Mozilla Foundation; Parry Aftab, director of WiredSafety.org; Bill St. Arnaud, information technology consultant and futurist from Ottawa; Scott Bradner, Harvard University technology officer and Network World columnist.

Details of the session

Longtime Internet Society leader Alx Pisanty began the session by crediting Sivasubramanian Muthusamy of the Internet Society India Chennai chapter with the idea to examine and promulgate underlying network values. “He first came up with the question, ‘What are the core values of the Internet, how are they threatened, what can we do that strengthens them to ensure that the Internet can be the best that it can be and more into the future?'” Pisanty noted, adding that a session on the same topic also took place in 2009 at the Internet Governance Forum meeting in Egypt.

Scott Bradner, a Jon Postel Service Award winner, Internet pioneer and ISOC leader, shared a brief history lesson to establish the origins of the Internet’s core values. He explained that the end-to-end principle originated from Internet innovators’ decision to split TCP and IP into two separate protocols. The concept was to keep issues best handled by the end systems out of the Internet itself, allowing the systems on the ends to make their own decisions.

“They made the choice to split them apart and let the end system decide what service they wanted rather than telling them,” he said.

“Dave Clark said an über goal was to use existing heterogeneous networks. Just use what’s there… The end-to-end principle was an articulation of what went before. The network doesn’t have to be knowledgeable about what the application is. When Tim [Berners-Lee] came up with the Web he didn’t need to get permission. It just worked because the network didn’t know what was going on. The Internet was never designed to be any one thing. The people who were designing the Internet were not designing for the applications they knew; they were designing for the applications of the future that they could not know.”

He noted that the success of the Internet has left legacy telecommunications carriers with less power over the marketplace. “Skype works, Vonage works. The carriers, the people who are transporting the bits to you, are not in the value chain. Whether the bits are valuable or not, the carrier doesn’t know it. They are bit pipes… they are seen as commodity providers, and the commodity business is a tough business, and most carriers don’t think they can make it that way.”

When Bradner addressed how Internet evolution is being managed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, he expressed concern about growing pressure from outside forces. “The Internet is THE thing,” he noted. “Where does that leave the [legacy] standards bodies? It left them looking enviously at the Internet.”

He added that various standards groups “look at the Internet and say, ‘It’s not quite right for my application,'” so the IETF is met with requests and complaints on a regular basis. “They are pushing on it in the regulatory space, they are pushing on it in the commercial space,” he said, adding that the Internet works well and is a great success yet outside forces insist they “want to ‘fix’ the Internet to make it better.”

Bill St. Arnaud, an information technology consultant and futurist who was formerly the chief research officer at CANARIE Inc., spoke about how the Internet can be leveraged to fight global warming and reduce humans’ carbon footprints. He said many processes can be moved online and emissions can also be reduced through eliminating shipping and transportation costs.

But he raised a red flag about political forces that “under the guise of being ‘green’ are implementing protocols that could really impact the Internet as we know it.”

At the same time, the servers that keep the Internet running currently use fossil fuels. He promoted initiatives to move all of the servers to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydropower.

Parry Aftab is a consultant on cybercrime, Internet privacy, kids’ safety online and cyber-abuse issues who spoke about the importance of protecting people on the Internet without restricting their freedoms.

“Sometimes when people interview me, they seem to think there is a tension between being creative with technology and being safe,” she said. But she also said the answer is not “turning it off.”

“[The Internet] gives them the chance to use creativity so a little child in rural Alabama can write poetry that Maya Angelou can see,” she said.

She likened the Internet to driving a car, saying there should be precautions but those precautions should be limited. “We need to empower people to use their values, express their values and for that to happen we have to keep the Internet open enough that other people can’t tell us what those values can be,” she said.

Nathaniel James, who currently works with the Mozilla Foundation and is a former leader of OneWebDay, talked about an effective way to determine and promote values of the Web. “We have to connect with people’s values in order to protect what we value about the Web,” he said. He is working with Mozilla to build up Drumbeat.org, which he describes as a sort of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts or Sierra Club for the Web.

The principal behind it is democratic, he said, to “get outside of geek-friendly communities.” The experience is intended to combine values, the experience of building something and fun, a model that has been used all over the world.

Danny Weitzner, an associate administrator for policy at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, spoke about the viability of a multistakeholder approach to shaping the future of the Internet.

“The rule of law applies online as well as off,” he said, “but we do have real challenges about how to apply and express privacy online, copyright online, a reasonably secure Internet environment, without going overboard and restraining the environment. We have real challenges to protect children without restricting freedom of expression. What we’ve seen in the first 15 years or so of the Web being around as a popular tool is that we have a spectrum of approaches. On one end there are the purely voluntary and on the other are the rules of law.”

He said he favors “a hybrid model” – a multistakeholder approach that embraces the participation of governments, NGOs, corporations and individuals.

“We need a multistakeholder model to develop rules of the road and create the stability we need to continue innovation,” he declared. “We can learn a lot from the environment that the early Internet and Web technical standards bodies lived in [IETF and ICANN].”

He said such bodies have to be open to all, have transparent actions, function across borders, and create decision-making environments in which their members are willing to agree to accept and honor the decisions. He indirectly touched on the political tensions between ICANN and the ITU.

He used the words “flexibility,” “challenges” and “exponential growth” in indirectly articulating that it’s possible any type of approach to governance or regulation will have a tough time dealing with the issues ahead. While it is impossible to foretell where communications evolution will take us, Weitzner said there should be some stability and a channel in which problems can be addressed quickly.

He added that the Commerce Department has just appointed a task force to look into copyright, online privacy, cybersecurity and the free flow of information on the global Internet after these four political realms were defined as “the most critical ones in which to make the most progress on in the Internet environment.”

Weitzner questioned “whether we can have a feedback loop or whether we are going to need a much more heavy-handed sort of government control over the privacy environment.” He added that, no matter what, this type of decision-making requires a dialogue.

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