Key-note speeches on the future of the internet

13 Jul 2017 02:00h

Event report

This session presented the European Commission and the Internet Society’s respective perspectives on the Internet of tomorrow.

The first keynote speech was given by Mr Pearse O’Donohue (Acting Director for the Future Networks Directorate of DG CONNECT, European Commission) on the vision and projects of the European Commission with regard to the Next Generation Internet. O’Donohue started by acknowledging that the future of the Internet has become central to international discussions on Internet governance and requires the inclusion of all stakeholders.

He introduced the work of the European Commission on the future of the Internet. The European Commission recently conducted a public consultation on the Next Generation Internet to engage with all stakeholders on this issue. The results of this consultation highlight the widely shared concerns among stakeholders regarding the online world. Users increasingly limit their online activities due to challenges in terms of security, inclusiveness, and overall trust. O’Donohue argued that there needs to be an acknowledgment of these issues in order to prevent the digital divide further widening and becoming a permanent reality.

At the level of the European Union (EU), several initiatives and legislative proposals have been recently launched to strengthen the digital single market. In May, the European Commission conducted a mid-term review and its results show that more needs to be done. With regard to privacy for instance, many non-regulatory steps still need to be taken, so that the regulation of privacy becomes systematically embedded in the way businesses operate. More generally, the EU, when addressing the future of the Internet, needs to build more on its core values, such as inclusiveness and solidarity.

To do so, the European Commission recently launched its Next Generation Internet Initiative to rebuild trust in the Internet by identifying key areas of future developments. This initiative adopts a human-centric approach to address the growing disconnect between individuals and technology. At the same time, this initiative acknowledges that European Commission cannot act alone in the Internet ecosystem and strongly relies on the multistakeholder model. This is why this new initiative also aims to engage with more stakeholders, including start-ups and groups that are usually less represented in Internet governance debates.

Ms Sally Shipman Wentworth (Vice President of Global Policy Development, Internet Society) then presented the recent work conducted by the Internet Society on the future of the Internet. If it is impossible to predict the future, she argued that studying several patterns and trends at the community level could allow us to better imagine the Internet of tomorrow. Therefore, the main goals of this research are to understand the current forces of change in order to make recommendations on how to shape the future of the Internet.

Though this research project is still ongoing,Wentworth presented its preliminary findings. They build on 2500 survey responses from over 160 countries, 130 expert interviews conducted across the world, as well as 15 roundtable discussions. The final outcome of this research will be presented as part of the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report in September 2017.

Overall, the Internet Society’s community identified six areas as driving forces for the future of the Internet: the interaction of the Internet and the physical role, the evolution of the Internet economy, the role of governments in the online world, cyber-threats, artificial intelligence, networks standards and operability. The community also looked at the interactions between these drivers by focusing on three topics: personal rights and freedoms; the digital divide; and issues related to media, culture, and society. In terms of recommendations, interviews from the community indicated the strong need for amplifying civil society and end-user voices as part of the multistakeholder model.