Before you know it, internet governance will be irrelevant

13 Nov 2018 16:45h - 18:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]

Internet Governance related to policies, the best practices, and standards that shape cyberspace, will not be irrelevant because of the Internet traffic consolidation in the hands of a dozen major players. However, people see the consolidation of Internet traffic as a problem, and there should a proper venue besides IGF to discuss it.

Mr Christian Kaufmann, AKAMAI Technologies, set the agenda and shared the trend among the technical community that there is a consolidation of players operating the content.  It is especially true for social media networks. Content and traffic then is controlled by  very few players, just around 10 of them.  He further reminded participants about past models of traffic exchange: classical transit from a supplier, peering, and IXPs. But today a lot of traffic goes from content owner straight into a cloud. Then it is in one of several big cloud providers that deliver through their own content delivery network (CDN), or give it to a third-party CDN who delivers it.  Instead of traffic flowing through the public Internet or Internet exchanges, it now bounces between big enterprise networks.

The moderator, Ms Farzaneh Badii, Internet Governance Project, defined  Internet governance to set the discussion context. IG means policies, best practices, and the standards that shape cyberspace. Traffic consolidation might affect any of these aspects of the Internet governance.

Mr Ted Egan, Internet Architecture Board, narrowed the question for discussion. He said that traffic patterns are changing and this implies an evolution of tasks for the IAB to keep the Internet open, interoperable, and globally connected. 

Mr Geoff Huston, ARIN, continued to explain how the Internet has changed in terms of packet routing and network configurations, replication of servers around the world, and the emergence of cheap computers. He went on to state that ‘Now instead of the network bringing the user to the service, the client to the service, the service is coming and knocking on the door of the client.’ The transit to deliver the services through CDNs has been privatized.  All the world’s submarine cables being built these days, are run by private distribution networks. He raised a rhetoric question: ‘What do we mean when we talk about governance of the Internet?  The Internet is now the shrinking incredibly and becoming almost nothing.’ The Internet is dominated by a small number of private players who have moved so quickly in advance of our normal world that the regulatory structures, the frameworks of control, and  participation seem to have been ripped up.

Mr Pablo Hinojosa, Strategic Engagement Director, APNIC, tried to contextualise the discussion saying that the notion of Internet governance has very strict operational sense, and it is not about community policy development process.

Mr Michael Kende, Chief Economist,  Internet Society, provided  an economic perspective on the issue. He spoke about the value of locally hosted content, stating that ‘It lowers the cost because you don’t have to bring it across the ocean’. In contrast, he mentioned two concepts of network effects and economies of scale. The first supposes consolidation and concentration of manufacturing, for example, while the last provides more benefits if it is dispersed and includes more participants. ‘In terms of the clouds, there is clearly economies of scale. And the Internet itself has a lot of network effects and economies of scale the way that we are used to working through it.’

Wrapping up the session, the moderator asked the audience to vote on two choices: whether Internet governance would indeed prove irrelevant in the near future, or if it would remain relevant. There were no raised hands for the statement that Internet governance will be irrelevant because of the traffic consolidation and the issues that it brought up. However, the majority of people present in the room agreed that we should pay attention to the traffic consolidation and we should bring this issue to the right venue for discussion.


By Ilona Stadnik