Brief session description:
Monday, April 23, 2012 – A global Internet should reflect a consistent quality of service and access to its benefits, along with respect for local culture and needs. A truly global Internet represents the broad spectrum of society – who they are, where they live, at what point they are in their lives. The participants will explore some of the current challenges and opportunities in reaching a global Interest as seen from regional and national experiences. Such challenges include: technical issues such as reliable power and available infrastructure; cultural issues such as localized content and support for multiple languages and scripts; policy issues such as privacy and data sharing; market dynamics needed to support infrastructure development and affordable service delivery. How people collectively address these issues will determine what kind of Internet we can expect in the future. Solving regional concerns while maintaining global interconnection is a shared problem, and the outcomes affect us all.
Details of the session:
Session moderator was Robert Pepper, vice president for global technology policy at Cisco. Participants included: Peter Bruck, CEO and chief researcher at Research Studios Austria; Eric Burger, professor of computer science at Georgetown University; Grace Chng, senior correspondent for Straits Times; Ndeye Maimouna Diop Diagne, director for ICT, Senegal; Patrice Lyons, corporate counsel, Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI); Ernest Ndukwe, chairman, Openmedia Communications, Nigeria; Alejandro Pisanty, professor at the National University of Mexico, previously a member of ICANN and ISOC boards of trustees and active in the Internet Governance Forum.
With a panel spanning multiple world regions, moderator Bob Pepper of Cisco kicked off the discussion by asking each participant to share some personal experiences and knowledge the idea of global Internet and its definition. Much of the debate centered around the creation of global versus local content.
Alejandro Pisanty, a university professor from Mexico City and longtime leader at the top levels of global Internet governance processes, said it can be difficult to define the idea of the global Internet in way that pleases everyone.
He described it as, “Access to interoperable networks based on open protocols, based on the IP protocol, at least for now, and I think for a decade or two. They will know when it’s not the Internet – at least more-experienced users – they will know it’s not the Internet they are having access to if it’s limited in the services or the content they can access through their devices of choice.
“We can be more technical,” he added, “and say access to the global Internet has to have five ‘everythings’ – every port, every protocol, every content, every origin, every destination must be available,” he said. “People will react quite badly as soon as they look beyond walled gardens or poorly provisioned networks in developing countries and find that they don’t have these five ‘everythings’ available.”
Later in the conversation Pisanty passionately spoke, saying that there is the technical Internet and the human Internet. “What is the Internet for which people are ready to kill or die?” he asked.
“What is the Internet for which people are ready to go out on the streets, to write letters to their legislators, to form a barricade, to come in and put out ten million tweets and then go marching on the streets. That is the Internet which allows us to communicate, to produce content – and content at that level can be two-way communications, real-time.
“We meet at the corner. We meet at the corner for love. We meet at the corner for a demonstration. We meet at the corner for freedom of speech. We meet at the corner for freedom of association. That is the Internet people will fight for. For people the Internet is where they can set up Web pages to make money, for medical management, for store fronts, whatever. That is the Internet they will fight for. What they care about is that it is interoperable and it’s open. What they want is an Internet that can be used to communicate, to have access to knowledge, which is not managed by an over-wise deus ex machina forcing the Net to make decisions for the users.”
Of the Internet distinguished from on the Internet
Eric Burger, a professor at Georgetown University, emphasized the difference between tools of the Internet versus those on the Internet. While the infrastructure of the Internet has long been established he said, the next level is resources built on the Internet.
“How do we encourage people to make content available to a more global audience and have different global regions generate their own content in their own languages, character sets and cultures?” he asked. He noted that the game Tetris was invented and dispersed by innovators in Russia, and innovators from Estonia created Skype. “Why wouldn’t the next killer application come from Sierra Leone?” he asked.
“That is the difference that the Internet has made, it really has made the potential for the flat world. Is it here yet? The potential is here. There are many places where we can have many efficiencies brought in, but we would offer that we would not have that at the cost of innovation, and particularly let’s not optimize the network for the current Western network, but instead have a network that is open and flexible where people from anywhere in the globe can create the next killer application.”
The participation by citizens on the Internet is global and local
The question of “global” and “local” content on the Internet, where geography can be irrelevant, was a point brought up throughout the discussion. People want relevant content they can relate to, content that shares and extends their cultures,
It was also pointed out that for people with no Internet connection or poor connectivity content can be irrelevant. Ndeye Maimouna Diop Diagne and Ernest Ndukwe said the implementation of the Internet and its use within Africa has been limited. While the infrastructure exists and Internet users have increased in number within recent decades, the affordability has not kept pace.
“There is a need for more people to participate in the creation of global content, especially content that serves the need of local Internet users,” Ndukwe said. “It hasn’t been as good as one would wish in the African region and there is definitely a need for something to be done about that. Such communities cannot be discussing local content generation when even basic access does not exist.”
Access issues must still be dealt with, but there has been good news in Africa for connectivity and local content development over the last year or so, and both leaders predicted Africa has the capacity to join the ranks of other global Internet leaders.
Later on in the conversation audience member Vint Cerf, a vice president with Google, said a new satellite network will be expanding service to hard-to-reach areas of the world. “There is a new system which is scheduled to be launched in 2013,” he said. “It’s called called O3B, which stands for ‘other three billion.’ Google is one of the investors, so I’m an interested party. It is planned to have a dozen satellites in equatorial orbit at 8,000 kilometers, which is below what would normally be synchronous height. The roundtrip delay is 15 milliseconds. The data rate in the multiple spots operate at one gigabit per second. It is intended to be accessible 40 degrees north and south of the equator, which covers a substantial portion of the Pacific. It also covers sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world, South America, for example, where interior access may be difficult. It isn’t a solution to everything, but it may turn out to be a very important way of bringing high-speed and relatively low delay to otherwise inaccessible parts of the world.”
Panelist Grace Chng said in the case of Asia much of the content currently available in the United States is not accessible because of complications in rights and contracts due to protections under intellectual property laws. She said this is the primary factor leading to the high reported numbers of illegal downloads in Asia.
“I believe that if there is content that is available, and at a reasonable price, while those who want to download illegally will continue to do so, I think the majority of people will switch to paying for content that they want to view,” she said.
Interactivity leads the way for youth
Younger users play a vital role in the future of the global Internet, Peter Bruck said, noting that “interactivity” has become the buzz word of the day.
He added, “What we have found with the World Summit Youth Award – where we are getting young people to use the Internet, mobile and fixed-line, to get action on the Millennium Development Goals – we found that one of the most characteristic aspects is that the Internet for them means a space of adventure, but also a space which is a room for free action; so it’s not just a room to move, not just a room actually to engage and to entertain, but it is a place where they want to act.
“This shows that the technology has an enabling factor beyond what we, the people who have built the infrastructure, have envisioned.
“The Internet is not a technology for them, the Internet is for them interactivity and for that, it means a completely new space in which to move both in terms of interactivity on a global level where you can reach out to people irrespective where they are, when they are and how you meet them. Interactive nature is the real cultural thing which the Internet brought about.”
Bruck said constraints of distance have been wiped out. “In 1966 Marshall McLuhan coined the term of the ‘global village,'” he said. “His notion of the global village was a global village of the passive recipient of broadcast signals distributed electronically through television and radio. Now what we are talking about through the Internet is a global village of people who produce, who can actually generate something.”
‘Paying’ for the Internet requires new models
Bruck added that he sees two realms in regard to “paying” for Internet. “When the user pays for access, that is the telco model,” he said. “You have flat rates and you have metered rates in that world of light and darkness. You come into the other realm and that is the realm of say the “over-the-top,” it is not the user who pays, but the advertiser pays.
“You have completely different kinds of economies, and also you have a different kind of situation in terms of the production costs. When you are putting infrastructure in, you scale slowly. When you are going into now something like Instagram, you know that it scaled within three months to ten million users and then more and more. And you have a buyout of $1 billion [when Facebook bought Instagram] for something which does not create a single cent of revenue. When you are asking about the ways of investment and where one should look at it, one needs to basically look at those completely different kinds of business models and scenarios. The Internet content providers sit somewhere in between, and that is why content providers struggle.”
Many ‘Internet’ issues are really about the people, not the technology
Victor Ndonnang, an audience member who introduced himself as part of ISOC’s Next Generation Leader Program and an Internet entrepreneur from Cameroon, said there can be some difficulties in global access to the Internet due to uneven distribution of human connections and opportunities. “As you know, there are few Internet registrars in Africa, so when I need a domain name I have to deal with a company in the US.”
Christopher Wilkinson, leader of the ISOC-Europe chapters, another member of the audience, responded, “The question we got from Cameroon does imply that still after all these years ICANN doesn’t have an accredited registrar in Cameroon. That really won’t do. I ask the panel to pass that message on to ICANN.”
Ndonnang said, “People don’t have enough money – they want a generic name that is cheaper, but they can’t easily get access to that. That is the concern.”
Pisanty chimed in to say he wanted to address the fact that often when people talk about Internet issues what they are really talking about is human issues that should not be categorized as Internet-specific. “One would expect for someone in Cameroon to identify this need of having a local registrar for generic top-level domain names, and start a business,” he said. “Maybe it’s complicated. I don’t want to trivialize this. It is very complicated to establish a company, to get your capital, to get registered with the government, to be allowed to operate, to get your labor and occupational safety permits, even if it’s a one-person office only. It is a bit surprising that an ISP or a telco has not done that. But the situation is local.”
He added that if iCANN tried to get involved in this situation it would be “mission creep,” something that people have been warning against. “Many of the problems that we face when we face the expansion of the Internet are problems that exist for things that are not the Internet,” he said. “If it’s hard to establish a registrar in Cameroon, is it because it’s hard to establish a company in Cameroon?”
Ndonnang explained it is difficult for a company in Cameroon to get insurance and “take care of the global-national situation.”
Pisanty said if you have that problem you also have it with a car dealership, with a company that sells tires or a company that sells railroad steel. “These difficulties are not specific to the Internet,” he explained. “They are more general. What happens with the Internet is that they become more stark. They become more urgent, because the Internet allows us to do things that we would want to do real fast in order to compete globally, and the obstacles are local. If a registrar is important for the development of the Internet in Cameroon, we should help you, but it’s a local thing to find a way for the government to subsidize, for larger companies to cooperate and so forth.”
The Internet paradigm is built around permissionless innovation
Pisanty added that as the session was coming to a close he wanted to comment about some earlier discussion. “Network neutrality is vital,” he said. “Where these things come together is in national integral plans to help the expansion of the information society, which includes the Internet but there are also more telecommunications agendas, or information technology industry or software-development industry agendas that leave aside society and leave aside the Internet itself. They are not built on an Internet paradigm of horizontality, of creativity, of permissionless innovation.
“There is a great temptation – many governments are involved in projects of writing up something called a ‘digital agenda,’ which is a current name for information society national programs. Many of these are doomed to failure because they are not based on the Internet paradigm and they are not based on major societal inclusion including multistakeholder governance. If you don’t include society, you are doomed. So we have to look at the very few examples that have already been successful, instead of looking at the digital agenda national plans, which look good on paper but have not yet been implemented.”
Patrice Lyons mentioned the fact that people talk about challenges of cybersafety for children when they come together at global events, and in many parts of the world such concerns may negatively influence the future of local and global content online.
“Some are willing to sacrifice basic freedoms and privacy to protect the weakest among us,” she said, “but having an elaborate system of filtering and managing information at that level, I think most people would be very uncomfortable with. One of the things that has emerged from global discussions of these issues is that we should be teaching people how to teach their children proper use of Internet capabilities and to be able to think critically about their choices.
“The Internet has within its architecture the ability to bring in new applications that would allow parents and the community at large to have this learning environment where we share our notions and allow different experiences in different parts of the world, different communities of interest to be able to learn from one another and solve problems.”
Lyons also argued that the discussion of global versus local content could be replaced with focus on communities of interest around the world.
“The Internet is open architecture and enables communities of interest,” she said. “They could be physically local, but they could also be communities that are throughout the world, or particular parts of it. I don’t think it’s an either/or – global/local. I tend not to look at it that way.”
Allowing different experiences and access to all
Chng said it is important to teach children to think critically.
She added that, overall, the Internet “at the end of the day should allow different experiences for all of us and access to all of them.”
Diagne said there should be more work to expand economic opportunity online outside the G20 countries and she emphasized that an equal infrastructure is necessary for creativity and sharing to take place. “Supply creates its own demand,” she said.
“That is what is happening in Africa. Infrastructure is moving forward. We are happy the World Bank changed its mind because years ago it did not allow governments to invest in telco infrastructure. This is important.”
Bruck said it is vital to look at the economic dimension and finding ways for creating resources so individuals globally can produce high-quality content, whether it is meant to be “global” or “local.”
“It does not make a difference if you are Accra or if you are in Oakland or where you are, you have the same issue,” he said.
“It is important that we see the Internet not just purely from a functional and also from a technological point of view, but also as an economic space where critical cultural generation of high-quality content needs separate models other than just the university model of interlinking books in the library. I think that this brings me to the final point. I think with 20 years of ISOC, we need to put in much more creativity in those issues.”
It will be the next generation of users that bridges the gap, Ndukwe said, as more local content feeds into the community and conversations are started. “The Internet should be able to provide both sides of the coin,” he added. “It should provide a local capacity when you need to go local and provide a global capacity when you need to go global. The flexibility of that is what is critical.”
But, above all else, Internet accessibility and the equal ability to create and share local and global content must be improved before that dream can be realized.
“At the beginning of ISOC we talked about the Internet as being a passport, I think now most of the people have a passport,” Diagne said. “My hope, after 20 years of ISOC and being part of ISOC from the beginning – I think that what most people need now is a visa, to be able to play the same game.”
– Reporters: Janna Anderson and Caitlin O’Donnell
A selection of Twitter Reports from this ISOC 20th event:
Robert Pepper, of Cisco is an expert on Internet growth. See global mobile data estimates #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Peter Bruck of Research Studios Austria is a research on innovation and markets #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Georgetown U Professor Eric Burger active in IETF, RFC author #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Senior technology correspondent Grance Chng reports for Straits Times #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Ndeye Maimouna Diop Diagne, Senegal ICT leader, active in many global future discussions #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Patrice Lyons of CNRI, expert on legal and regulatory issues of the Internet #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Ernest Ndukwe of Openmedia in Nigeria, in charge of NCC for decade #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
Alx Pisanty @apisanty is a longtime ISOC and ICANN leader; his blog: #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET
The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at the Internet Society’s 20th Anniversary Global INET Conference included the following Elon University students, faculty, staff and friends: Jacquie Adams, Dan Anderson, Janna Anderson, Kacie Anderson, Nicole Chadwick, Jeff Flitter, Addie Haney, Brandon Marshall, Brian Meyer, Caitlin O’Donnell, Rachel Southmayd and Rebecca Smith.