Internet Society open forum 2021

9 Dec 2021 08:30h - 09:30h

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The open internet is a topic appearing very frequently on this year’s agenda of the Internet Governance Forum, a topic very close to the concerns of the  Internet Society (ISOC), an organiser of this session.

This year, ISOC has embedded the open internet discussion in the concept entitled the internet way of networking, as explained by Mr Carl Gahnberg (Senior Policy Advisor) and Ms Rinalia Abdul Rahim (Senior Vice-President, Strategy, Communications, and Engagement). They urged other stakeholders to join ISOC in its cause, alerting stakeholders to the global voices who do not want the internet to be open and safe. These voices and actions undermine the original vision and roots of the internet – something Ms Mirja Kuehlewind (Chair of the Internet Architecture Board; Master Researcher at Ericsson) also addressed. However, ISOC continues to support and mobilise internet champions working on protecting the internet against threats.

Mr Andrei Robachevsky (Senior Director, Technology Programmes, ISOC) presented an example of the environmental assessments undertaken when a new development is proposed. He then asked, What if we were to do similar assessment for the internet ecosystem? For this purpose, ISOC developed an Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit. This assessment has two underlying perspectives: first, it assesses what the internet needs to exist, and second, what the internet needs to thrive.

Robachevsky also elaborated on five critical properties of an open internet way of networking:

  • It must have an accessible infrastructure with a common protocol
  • It must use an open architecture of interoperable and reusable building blocks
  • It must have a decentralised management and a distributed routing system
  • It must utilise common global identifiers
  • It must be a technologically neutral, general-purpose network
Hence, an open internet is an accessible internet. Connection must be easy; that is, it must be easy to become part of the internet and use its services. An open network allows easy and unrestricted access; it provides unrestricted use and deployment of internet technologies, and permits collaborative development, management, and governance.

Further characteristics of an open internet were discussed. Competition as a critical challenge was stressed by Ms Mehwish Ansari (Head of Digital, Article 19) as well as by Mr Nick Pickles (Senior Director, Global Public Policy Strategy, Development and Partnerships, Twitter). Kuehlewind and Ansari added that interoperability remains an issue, which is also closely connected to competition. Pickles shared a recent White Paper published by his company. He stated that the more competitive the internet is, the more open it can become. Big companies have an advantage because of their large datasets and more sophisticated algorithms.

Meaningful multistakeholder decision making, participation and inclusion, were stressed by Ms Maimouna Diop (Senior Technical Advisor, Ministry of Digital Economy and Telecommunications, Senegal) as well as by Ansari, who mentioned the limited opportunities of the Global South and the voices of smaller providers and civil society. If we really want the internet open, these technologies must be developed with local context in mind.

On the policy and regulation level, Pickles, along with other speakers, stressed that policies that adopt blocking of access are absolutely incompatible with an open internet. The internet will continue to grow, generated content will continue to grow, and technology must be there to support it through smart regulation. Kuehlewind stressed the importance of the work of the Internet Engineering Task Force, but made it clear that an open internet is not only about technical components; regulation is needed, and not in the hands of protocol designers.

By Tereza Horejsova

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