The Internet Society India Chennai Chapter organized a virtual roundtable in March, a few days after the Indian government announced a three-week nationwide lockdown. The virtual roundtable was a conversation on the importance of keeping the Internet open, and on the ways in which the Internet community could contribute to COVID-19 response and recovery in India and around the globe.
The virtual roundtable brought together a wide range of Internet stakeholders, including Andrew Sullivan, Jane Coffin, Mike Godwin, Yrjö Länsipuro, Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Olivier Crepin-Leblond, Sébastien Bachollet, Samiran Gupta, and Glen McKnight, as well as members of the Chapter from civil society and the private sector.
Some key highlights and takeaways from the virtual roundtable include the following:
The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of the Internet. Without access, people are unable to communicate with family members and health workers, and participate in online learning and remote work.
The pandemic has clearly exposed the inequalities in Internet access and affordability – the digital divide across the region. Connecting the billions of people who are not yet connected must be a priority. At the same time, their privacy and autonomy must be protected.
Internet technologies can help us fight against the pandemic. The flip side is the surveillance system, which, if not placed under control, and if not removed after the crisis, will have deep negative consequences for societies. For example, some countries have developed apps for contact tracing and movement control that have raised privacy and security concerns. The pandemic has also resulted in a rise in DNS abuse, cybersquatting, hacking, and malware attacks.
ICANN has been studying the impact of increased traffic on the networks, and it appears that this increased traffic is well within the capacity of the DNS and root server ecosystem, but there could be issues related to the resilience of locally-deployed infrastructure. Investment in building a resilient last- and middle-mile access infrastructure is critical.
There are excessive assumptions about the importance of telecom technologies for the Internet, and a certain regulatory thinking that 5G technologies denote progress. 5G, by extensive advertising campaigns and by privileged lobbying, is touted as the new magic technology. But 5G creates a barrier by way of disproportionate spectrum appropriation. There is a need to urge regulators, in particular, to open up for changes in licensing policies and funding, and in spectrum allocation. Internet growth is building the Internet infrastructure, and working with communities to help support the building of that infrastructure, to accelerate access to the Internet.
The way to evolve connectivity technologies is by good old fashioned network engineering, including proper deployment of Internet Exchange Points. In various parts of the world, especially in Asia-Pacific and the Americas, local people form communities to create localized solutions by building community networks that offer complementary solutions to connectivity issues. Through these initiatives, it is important to work with regulators in changing policies related to licensing, spectrum allocation (in the 6Ghz band for WiFi and in the 2.4 and 5Ghz bands), and infrastructure funding to connect the unconnected.
Image of Chennai by Karl Janisse via Unsplash