Internet Governance Public Policy

Plenipot 2018 – What’s Up for the Internet?

Two weeks ago, the Editorial Board of the New York Times published a piece predicting that the Internet is heading for a breakup.

Based on the comments made by Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt during a private event the Times set out to paint a picture of a world with three Internets.

The timing is understandable. We’re in a world where things like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is met with an equal measure of acceptance, annoyance, and confusion around the world.

And, just last week, my colleague Konstantinos Komaitis warned about what could happen as decision-makers are imposing rules that spill over onto the Internet, hamper innovation, deter investment in their own countries, and risk creating new digital divides.

These events set the stage for the Plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

And, in today’s climate, there are many who believe the Internet could be failing us.

So, we need to speak loudly about the fact that the Internet is not failing.

So far, I think the Internet has been a force for good.

The Internet allows us to do things like expand our access to education, build businesses, and grow our economy.

The Internet connects people because of its open, distributed, and interoperable design. Each network that joins the Internet becomes part of the Internet. A network of networks cannot be centrally controlled because it has no center. This is not some accidental design choice we can alter. It is an essential feature. A feature that has allowed for permissionless innovation and for technological scale beyond the dreams of its early creators.

The Internet was not designed to recognize national boundaries. It just wasn’t relevant to the technical design. Resiliency is achieved through diversity of infrastructure. Having multiple connections and different routes between key points ensures that traffic can “route around” network problems.

It is this design that makes it an Internet for everyone, and this is what makes it such a powerful tool for our global economy. The very nature of its design also has driven global technical collaboration between and among experts and stakeholders.

The Internet works through collaboration; singular control weakens it at every step.

For the new challenges of the twenty-first century, we need new models of collaboration. The way the Internet infrastructure was operated and managed by the community over the last 25 years is a novel model of successful global self-regulated collaboration. And, the truth is that nobody has a magical cure for global challenges. The world is still struggling to apply the old national and international governance models to solve today’s global challenges such as climate change, human migration, wars, and occupations. Perhaps the story of the Internet will inspire us to work together even more.

So over these next three weeks, let’s be loud and tell our story – a story of collaboration. If you are part of the community who are creating the Internet of tomorrow tell the world about it by using the hashtags #Plenipot18 and #DontBreakTheInternet.

By sharing our stories, we also can inspire others to join us in our cause and remind the world that the Internet is for everyone because only everyone can make a better tomorrow.

Image ©Internet Society/Nyani Quarmyne/Panos Pictures

Internet Governance

ICT Diplomacy: A Change in the Dynamics

12 October to 6 November 1998, Minneapolis, United States: a point in time that cannot be forgotten. The ITU Plenipotentiary conference (PP-98) took place, recognizing perhaps for the first time points that impacted the future of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) diplomacy.

The conference acknowledged the need to have the private sector as part of the union membership, together with the “associates category” for some of its study groups. Furthermore, the resolution calling for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) first emerged, introducing ITU’s role in the “evolution of Internet as a means of global communication.”

The scene prior to this was an intense discussion on digital evolution. Governments were starting to understand how ICTs could help solve many issues and contribute to economic growth. The “divide” that was once prevailing between the north and the south economically, or between the developing and developed world, quickly started to shift to a “digital divide,” not only between different countries and regions, but among one country and its own boundaries and cities.

In 2001, the ITU Council approved the WSIS Summit in two phases (2003 in Geneva and 2005 in Tunisia). Later, the UN General Assembly approved the Summit and requested that it look into the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration and how ICTs could facilitate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It also emphasized the multistakeholder approach to engage everyone, including the technical community, civil society, and the private sector, in addition to governments. The resolution gave ITU the leading managerial role to organize the event in cooperation with other UN bodies as well as other international organizations.

All the terms mentioned in those few paragraphs were new to the diplomatic fronts. When the preparatory process started in 2002, the term “multistakeholder,” whenever mentioned, brought huge concerns to the different groups. Government officials were divided into two categories: the politicians and diplomats from one side, and ICT experts from the other side. Diplomats were devastated to have participation from civil society and the private sector on equal footing and fought fiercely to lessen or narrow their role. ICT experts were trying to mediate the views within their own country between what they believed right for the community, what matched international trends, and what their politicians wanted. The foundation grounds were different; diplomats originated from sectors such as G77 and China, “like minded groups,” BRICS, and others. While the ICT experts, at least in some countries, wanted to guarantee the best policy and legal environment to their societies – and for that they wanted to follow the industrial world in their success stories. Many challenges and concerns were raised from the other side of the table as each constituency struggled to make their voice loud and well heard; human rights dimensions were introduced by civil society, politicizing the discussion in a very clear way.

This scene got more intense towards the end of the preparatory meetings of phase one of the summit. The 2003 summit failed to agree on two very important issues. The first was the future of Internet Governance and, as a rescue notion, the working group on Internet Governance (WGIG) was created to discuss how to move forward. The second failure related to the establishment of the “Digital Solidarity Fund” and a task force on Financing Mechanisms (TFFM) considering ICT infrastructure finance was established.

One final important point is that the WSIS was handled by the ITU, which is a technical agency within the UN family. This itself caused friction on the UN fronts, as the term “information society” brought a diversified range of issues, such as cultural, human rights, ethical, media, and openness, that fall within the mandate of other UN agencies (UNESCO, UNDP, UNIDO, ECOSOC). This friction has continued as the ITU has been accused more and more of trying to assume a more authoritative role on the issues of information society on top of Internet public policy issues.

What Followed?

The WSIS+10 review phase, was another important milestone in the sequence. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was mandated to look after the implementation of the output documents of the two phases of the summit.

To this end, ECOSOC, at its substantive session of 2006, reviewed the mandate, agenda, and composition of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) taking into account the multistakeholder approach.

Being personally involved in the process of the review, as the vice chair of the ITU WSIS+10 High-Level Event held in 2014, I can confidently say that it was tough. The lack of trust among participants prevailed and shadowed every other aspect. The simple term “WSIS review” during the early discussion of how and what event should be held in the first place, brought only bad memories to ALL participants: governments, private sector, academia, UN agencies, civil society, etc. The reasons I think are obvious given the history.

It is also due to the fact that after the WSIS, countries and stakeholders became more aware of the international impact and, more importantly, “their rights” and how to voice and defend their views.

Thus, the so-mentioned high level ITU event was at risk for failure, given that the Egyptian administration (initially a proposed host for the event before it moved to Geneva) took on the responsibility of coming up with “compromised text” incorporating all views in a balanced way. The preparatory process was painful and tiring, the event itself was full of last minute surprises yet it was concluded successfully after long hours of negotiating before the event started and a high level of tension and backdoor politics during the event.

The output document of this event in my opinion provides a very balanced, delicate, and very critical text that set the foundation for ICT policy in the following era as a “continuous referral” during the different meetings that followed.

The year 2012 saw yet another milestone while reviewing the ITRs during WCIT – the very starting point of a real change in dynamics and somehow a clear failure on the multilateral front. Internet, applications, cyber security, and over the top services were among the main characteristics of the era from the technology side. Governments and their incumbents with their persistent monopolies at the time were fighting over voice versus data, or in better words, fighting to regulate what was originally established as a free, open, and robust medium to interact: the Internet.

The Arab Spring was overshadowing the scene in the Middle East. The balance of leading power was changing, and many unheard voices started to level up. The issue of cyber terrorism and the misuse of social media and related cybersecurity were key among the substantial motives of the Arab group position during WCIT. They did not want to compromise and it was not until very late in the event that backdoor politics pushed to conclude what was an unsuccessful event, with about 45 countries not signing the treaty.

Parallel to the above, the UN governmental experts groups had been established in order to create a platform for mediation and find common ground between the different opinions prevailing.

Unfortunately, what happened was the contrary, raising signals that the blocs of stakeholders was stiffening instead of relaxing. Simply, what happened during the last UNGGE (2016/2017) is rather alarming: the negotiation failed. These signs of failure had started back in 2012/2013 when the group could not even settle on the “statement that international law is applicable to cyberspace.” The following GGE in 2014/2015 made very modest progress on international law, reflecting huge differences in views. The final language of that round’s report noted the “inherent right of a state to take measures consistent with international law and the UN Charter without expressly mentioning the right to self-defense or Article 51 of the Charter.” In the last GGE, they continued to discuss the same unresolved issues, but it was not possible to achieve any kind of compromise.

Where Does This Leave Us? 

This maturity in the level of debate we have been witnessing lately has its own results. We see more emerging and developing countries with rather loud voices around the UN platforms where they feel strong, equal, and confident. Now, very easily, we can expect a negotiation on a certain topic to fail simply because the partners involved are not ready nor willing to compromise what they believe they should have. It is a way of pressuring the other side of the table to get what they want. It is becoming more and more a risky situation.

There are quite a number of technical areas where I personally believe there is a lack of comprehensive understanding by involved parties, especially from developing countries. They seem to be stuck in the past and cannot follow what is going on the ground. Hence there is a remarkable gap between the policy aspect exercised by governments and the practice and usage of technology by the citizens themselves. This is a race that any emerging market is observing now.

Many unresolved international legal debates are still open, where the viewpoints seem to be diverging rather than converging, especially in areas such as cybersecurity. This is coupled with increased interest from countries – especially the developing – to participate in groups similar to GGE or any other international fora where they can feel their strength and power in negotiating what they assume right. From the other side, the developed world is rather reluctant with almost no appetite for being engaged in such discussions.

Back to the Future

“The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased.” — Leonardo da Vinci

The ITU-PP18 coming in Dubai next month is reflected in that quote. We are heading to Dubai with all the past shadows accompanying us. Whether or not we will be actually seeing the light remains to be seen. Nevertheless, analyzing the past is always good to remember from where the problem originates. Perhaps then we can find innovative solutions.

Download the Plenipotentiary 2018 Matrix.

Internet Governance

Push for Greater Control Over the Internet Coming Back Around

A group of countries will likely try to resurrect old battles on international control of Internet in the coming months, during upcoming meetings related to Internet Governance, some experts say.

The effort to relitigate unresolved debates on government control over the Internet will likely come up during the International Telecommunication Union’s Plenipotentiary Conference starting Oct. 29 in Dubai, said Robert Morgus, senior policy director focused on cybersecurity at U.S. think tank New America.

Morgus expects Russia, China, and other countries to renew their push for new internationally sanctioned controls over the Internet during the ITU meeting, he said Thursday at an Internet governance discussion hosted by New America and co-sponsored by the Internet Society’s Washington Chapter.

While the ITU has traditionally stayed away from Internet policy decisions, the group of authoritarian countries will likely push for a new World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) meeting, Morgus said, where Internet control and governance issues have been hot topics.

The last WCIT meeting, in December 2012, ended with the United States, the U.K., Japan, and a handful of other countries declining to sign an agreement supported by 89 nations that called for international cooperation in fighting security problems and spam. Critics of the agreement said it opened the door to countries adopting restrictive content-filtering regulations.

Some countries may also push for the ITU to begin regulating the Internet, Morgus said. “Many in the developing world look to the ITU for guidance in navigating public policy challenges associated with every new digital technology,” he added. “Parts of the world, including the likes of Russia and China, often try to use the ITU to as a means to consolidate or legitimize state control over telecommunications technology.”

Even as some countries push for more international control over the Internet, some have begun to “do their own thing,” with some countries emboldened to filter out political speech they don’t approve of and other countries trying to block “bad traffic” before it hits their borders, Morgus said.

“States will begin to choose their own governance models…and those will eventually start to trickle up to the international governance model, rather than from the international level down to the state level,” he said.

As a result, the Internet now feels less like a global network than the last generation of Internet users may have envisioned, he added. “Today, it’s hard for me to say…that we have a global network that shares values,” he said. “We have a series of interconnected [national] networks.”

Meanwhile, policymakers and Internet advocates are struggling to figure out how to deal with fake news and propaganda, said Shane Tews, co-chair of the Internet Governance Forum USA. While the Internet Governance Forum isn’t a policymaking organization, the issue of fake news is likely to be a topic during the IGF’s upcoming November meeting in Paris, she said.

New concerns about the “trust and truth” of online content may spur efforts to regulate the Internet, she added. The “weaponization” of information is not a new tactic, but the Internet is a recent tool in those efforts, Tews said.

In some countries, the issue of fake news is a freedom discussion, and in other countries, it’s a discussion about control and sovereignty, she added. “What do you do about the people who are getting paid to send out misinformation?” Tews said.

Even with some renewed pushes for top-down control of the Internet, there is also great momentum toward a free and open Internet, said Becky Burr, deputy general counsel at Neustar and a member of the board of directors at ICANN.

Better citizen education can help with the problem of fake news, as can studying history to see when the balance between misinformation and freedom of speech was better balanced than it is now, she added.

“There’s a part of me that thinks that trying to put the free-and-open Internet genie back into the bottle is going to fail every time,” Burr said.

Read the matrix of issues that will be discussed at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Plenipotentiary treaty conference (PP-18) in Dubai next month.

Internet Governance Public Policy

What’s Ahead at the 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference

Today the Internet Society published a matrix of issues that will be discussed at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Plenipotentiary treaty conference (PP-18) in Dubai next month.  The matrix reflects common proposals adopted recently at some of the ITU’s regional preparatory meetings. It is intended to aid our community in preparations and serve as a useful guide on where governments stand on some of the issues that are important to the Internet Society community. Note that the matrix will be updated periodically as individual country proposals are submitted closer to the conference date. Based on the input from governments so far, Internet Governance, emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Over-the-Top (OTT) applications and services will rank high on the agenda at the Plenipotentiary.

While the Plenipotentiary happens every four years, it comes at a time when Internet Governance stakes are particularly high, as governments’ response to the borderless nature of Internet issues such as cybersecurity and data privacy is intensifying, and support for multilateral solutions to deal with them grows. Those that favor a multilateral governance approach might view the ITU’s international cooperation framework for global telecommunications as the natural vector into Internet policy issues, and could be seeking a firm role for the ITU in the Internet Governance realm.

The Internet Society sees the Internet’s success as the result of open, inclusive, and collaborative processes that allow a wide range of people with expertise and interest to contribute to its development and find collaborative solutions.

As a Sector Member of the ITU, the Internet Society will be at PP-18 as an observer. We support the technical evolution of the Internet and are committed to making sure that everyone has access to it. We will work with our partners and community to raise awareness amongst delegates on the importance of a distributed model of governance, encourage more open and inclusive processes within the ITU to enable development, and provide our expertise on Internet technical and development aspects so that delegates can be better informed in the discussions.

Please see our PP-18 page for more information about the conference:

Suggestions and comments on the matrix are welcome and should be sent to

Internet Governance

Observations from ISOC Chapter Fellows on the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference

(Photo credit: veni markovski, cc by-nc)

For the ITU Plenipotentiary, the Internet Society launched a new Fellowship program to support individuals from several ISOC Chapter Members to participate in the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference. Our goal was to encourage Chapter Member engagement with their national delegations and to advance the principles of the Internet Society community – to preserve an open, reliable and secure Internet. We were delighted with the level of interest from the community and by the quality of applications that we received. Clearly, this is an area of interest for our Chapters and an opportunity to develop policy relationships around the world.

We were honored to have the following Chapter members participate:

Each of these individuals showed tremendous dedication to the process, to the issues and to the ISOC mission. I, personally, am grateful for the opportunity to work more closely with these individuals as well as a large number of ISOC members who participated at the meeting in Busan.

Following the Plenipotentiary Conference, weasked our Chapter Fellows to share their impressions and observations of the Conference and of the program. We have captured some of their views below.

What was your overall impression of PP-14?

Anupam: I landed in Busan when people were settling down for election results and preparing for a hectic week ahead. However, one common apprehension was the WCIT fallout in Dubai, which knowingly or unknowingly, all involved did not want to happen for PP-14 and were ready to go an extra mile to avoid. It created a scenario wherein PP-14 saw some amazing workmanship between countries to negotiate and agree to a compromise much earlier than expected. I think a fabulous job was also done by the host country, Korea, wherein they involved themselves heavily in all the discussions to see there were no difficult situations created.

Avri: It was an eye opener, and I was impressed by the spirit of PP-14. Many people take their country’s needs seriously and attempt to represent those needs to the best of their understanding. It appeared to be a successful meeting. Not only did the Member States give the Secretary General the gift he asked for — a peaceful consensus-based set of final acts — but they did nothing injurious to the Internet.

Yrjö: Over the last three Plenipots, ITU has, step-by-step, come closer to recognizing the realities of the Internet, even in its official documents. My overall impression was that the ITU is making steady progress in this area, and hopefully this progress will continue.

Grigori: It was an exciting opportunity to attend and I was anxious to hear the discussions, learn more about the processes, and understand how to use this knowledge in our national strategy. At PP-14, there was no sharp atmosphere as we had seen in December 2012 during WCIT in Dubai. Most problems were resolved through consensus; there was no extraordinary voting procedure. All radical proposals were mitigated, sometimes – rejected. Fortunately, there were no serious issues for the Internet and its future during Plenipot.

What was the biggest surprise?

Avri: I was somewhat astonished by the lack of understanding many of the delegates had about the Internet, how it is architected and what is actually possible now or within the next decade. Some of the proposals and solutions expressed displayed confusion on what was currently possible on the Internet. This is one of the roles that was filled by ISOC staff. In the most gentle of ways, they often managed to impart information where information was desperately missing. I watched the ISOC representatives work their magic with fascination and great respect.

Interesting observations on the processes?

Yrjö: The Ad Hoc Working Group on Internet-related Issues spent over forty hours of arduous negotiations discussing proposals from Member States on IP address registries and allocation mechanisms, including proposals to revise the intergovernmental “mechanism” for membership in the ITU’s Council Working Group on International Internet Public Policy. Ultimately Member States determined that the group should remain closed to only Member States discussion with a means to conduct public consultations for expert input but not participation. There was another proposal that raised concerns that it was an attempt to “re-engineer the Internet.” However this proposal met with strong opposition and with little support so it was not adopted.

Over the long hours of the Ad Hoc drafting exercise, one could not help thinking, why do we need to have this quadrennial battle? It is puzzling why some countries, that on the practical level cooperate smoothly with “relevant organizations,” deem it necessary to present proposals that they know are both politically and technically incorrect.

How do you look back on your PP-14 experience?

Anupam: This program benefitted me immensely. It gave me an opportunity to participate in ITU, allowed me to understand the functioning of ITU through the wisdom of very learned fellow members of the ISOC community and also presented an opportunity to work with the government stakeholders. Being a participant in the ITU process for the first time, the volume of documents floating around with their versions and revisions required help and I think one of the most helpful documents was the matrix created by Internet Society on various resolutions.

How can this Chapter Fellows programme be improved?

Grigori: It seems a very effective tactic to invite ISOC members to participate, especially to ITU Plenipot conferences. It should be guided by the following criteria, in addition to existing criteria:

  1. Does the Chapter’s country play a strong role in the ITU either at the global or regional level?
  2. Is this Chapter representative technically qualified enough to participate in the debate on the resolutions pertaining to the Internet?
  3. Can this representative act as an adviser for its Member State delegation?

From ISOC’s perspective, we were very happy to have our Chapter Members working with us in Busan, and we deeply appreciate their support and important regional perspectives. The Fellows program is another example of our commitment to encourage and empower Chapter members to engage in local discussions on policy matters that are shaping the future of the Internet.

Thank you Anupam, Avri, Yrjö, and Grigori for your most welcomed participation.

Internet Governance

Final Reflections on Plenipot 14

By now, we have all received news of the outcomes of PP-14 and breathed a collective sigh of relief. The meeting was, in many respects, just as Secretary General Toure wished it to be – an election of its officers, an opportunity to set its agenda going forward, a budget exercise and a forum for the ITU Member States to share concerns and test policy responses. There were, to be sure, proposals relating to the Internet by some Member States that, with a different leadership approach, could have fractured the meeting. But, aided by the congenial and efficient leadership of the Conference Chair, Wonki Min of South Korea, and the hard work of meeting facilitators, there was a mostly calm discussion of sometimes widely divergent views of how the Internet should be governed. At the close of the meeting, those proposals were tabled, limited in scope or moved to “appropriate fora.”

That said, there were a number of issues that were decided and a number left undecided that will have an impact going forward (note Sally Wentworth’s blog.)

  • The Conference did not reach consensus on the definition of ICTs; this may be an ongoing discussion point within the ITU.
  • There was a lengthy debate about the WSIS and the role of the ITU in WSIS+10. We anticipate this discussion will continue at the UN General Assembly. I believe that a number of Member States may use the WSIS to once again seek a broader mandate, or the ITU and the UN at large with respect to Internet issues.
  • Inclusiveness and transparency in ITU processes and meetings remains a major challenge.
  • The so-called India proposal was not accepted; we should be prepared to see elements of this at the ITU and elsewhere. See again the comments of New Zealand warning of the far-reaching consequences of this proposal for the network.

Having noted the challenges that still remain post-Plenipot, I acknowledge, with appreciation to all parties involved, the progress made in the dialogue since the 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference. In a range of modifications to existing Resolutions, the emphasis in the documents coming out of the Conference is on collaborating with relevant organizations and stakeholders, raising awareness, collecting best practices, strengthening regional and international cooperation, and providing capacity building for developing countries. In fact, there seemed to be an underlying, sincere recognition by many governments that the ITU is working in a broader context of organizations and stakeholders and that collaboration is increasingly necessary. We should not underestimate the progress that this represents.

Additionally, I applaud the actions taken in Busan that support the social fiber of the Internet Community. It is for the greater community, of course, that we so passionately advocate for the protection and expansion of the Internet everywhere. The benefits of a connected world are real and sometimes urgent. One key example is the political support that emerged from the Plenipot for using ICTs to fight Ebola. To be sure, this is a complex health challenge that no single political Resolution will address – but the call from the ITU community, alongside the GSMA and the Internet Society, to facilitate the use of ICTs for the exchange of critical information was timely and important. See Resolution on using ICTs to fight Ebola.

My final observation: at the heart of the compromises reached was an acknowledgement that the ITU is not the only and, in a number of instances, not the appropriate forum for resolution of Internet related matters. As we wrote in our information submission to the Conference:

“Nor is there a single, global platform that can serve to coordinate, organize or govern all the issues that may arise….At its heart, the Internet is a decentralized, distributed system that allows policies to be defined by those who require them for their operations and that ensures that issues can be resolved at a level closest to their origin. The ecosystem draws its strength from the involvement of a broad range of actors working through open, transparent, and collaborative processes to innovate and build the network of networks that is the cornerstone of the global economy.”

I was privileged to be in Busan for the final week of the meeting and was struck, as always, by the smart, dedicated work of the Internet Society staff, Chapter and Org Members, and I* partners at the Conference and around the world. The Internet Society’s diligence and collaborative tone together with our principled and firm advocacy on behalf of the Internet and the Internet community was surely a factor in the success of the meeting. I have a hopeful sense, leaving Busan, that we may have taken some important steps in sorting the respective roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders in the Internet ecosystem.

As we look ahead to the WSIS, the IGF and numerous other fora in which debates on governing the technical, social and political issues related to the Internet will continue, the Internet Society is committed to the same level of collaboration, diligence and firm resolve to protect and advance an open, globally connected Internet everywhere, for everyone.

You can also get our reports from the ground from this year’s ITU 2014 Plenipotentiary

Internet Governance Open Internet Standards Public Policy

The “Ubernet” is Not a Fait Accompli

The Economist ran an article recently that concluded the open Internet is on life support and may soon transform into something frightening:

“…[the decentralised, open-internet model of today] is looking less and less likely. Indeed, it now seems inevitable that the internet of tomorrow will rely on more top-down command and control than the bottom-up freedom of yesterday…

More than likely, people going online could find themselves spending most of their time within the confines of one or two mega-sites. Instead of visiting a multitude of different websites for different things, users could be confronted with a series of “walled gardens” built around app stores and proprietary services that offer everything from streaming video to holidays and household goods. As such, they will satisfy the visitors’ every need and whim, save one-the ease of venturing far and wide in the scary wilderness beyond the garden walls. Welcome to the Ubernet.”

The article cites a planning exercise conducted by Internet Society staff in 2009, detailing events that could impact the health of the Internet in the future. This ‘walled garden scenario’ (or ‘Porous Garden scenario’ as we refer to it) was only one of the Internet Society’s four potential future scenarios. Despite the fatalism of The Economist article, and the fact that we ourselves identified it as a possible outcome for what the Internet could look like in 2015, we don’t believe it to be inevitable.

When we embarked on this planning exercise, the process began with two questions: “Will the world embrace or resist the open Internet model?” and “What model will be more successful? Command and control? Or, distributed and decentralized?”

This exercise identified four potential future scenarios. In the Moats & Drawbridges Scenario , the Internet would become heavily centralized and dominated by a small number of big players, raising barriers to entry and limiting innovation at the edges. The Boutique Networks Scenario showed the Internet becoming fractionalized as separate, self-interested factions to optimize control in small sectors. In the Porous Garden Scenario, networks would remain global but access to content and services would be tied to the use of specific networks and associated information appliances. And finally, the Common Pool Scenario highlighted the growth of the open Internet with no insurmountable barriers to entry and innovation.

After more than five years since the initial identification of these potential outcomes, and as we anticipated in the scenario document itself, we have seen developments related to each. Government censorship of the Internet could support arguments that the ‘Moats and Drawbridges Scenario’ is a likely outcome in some countries. The use of proprietary single sign-on implementations that tie users to specific services could support arguments that the ‘Boutique Networks Scenario’ is on the horizon. Alternatively, the growth of certain online destinations for content and the coupling of applications to specific appliances could support a claim that the ‘Porous Garden Scenario’ is most likely.

Indeed, there have been a range of developments across the technical, economic, and political spheres that lay challenge to the open Internet. Over the years, however, the most constant characteristic of the Internet has been the pace of change. And looking through the lens of the scenarios, there is significant evidence that the “Ubernet” is not a fait accompli – but rather the open Internet, the ‘Common Pool’ Scenario, continues to thrive and provide benefits to the nearly three billion users today.

Fostering the ‘Common Pool’ Scenario

In the light of the dynamic change and generative possibilities the Internet itself brings, the reality is that the Internet will continue to evolve. For our part, the Internet Society believes that there are key properties that need to be preserved as part of its ongoing evolution (including openness, interoperability, open standards, and its multistakeholder model of development) which will enable the Internet to continue to serve as a platform for seemingly limitless innovation. And we work tirelessly with a range of stakeholders including government, business, civil society, individuals and technologists to ensure that the Internet continues to evolve as an open platform, one that serves the economic, social and educational needs of individuals throughout the world.

Over the past several weeks, for example, we’ve participated in the ITU Plenipotentiary conference in Busan, South Korea, an international treaty conference where ITU Member States (i.e., Governments) have the opportunity to revise and adopt plans for ITU activities and international recommendations relating to telecommunications and information technologies, including, and of greatest importance to us, matters that could impact the broader Internet ecosystem.

Throughout the conference, we have worked to ensure that this intergovernmental body as a whole and its Member States understand and uphold key attributes of the Internet that make it the engine for innovation, creativity, and communications we enjoy today. As we noted in our submission to the Plenipotentiary, we can not afford to stymie growth by returning to top-down policy and regulatory models of the past that are inappropriate for and inadequate to meet the promise of tomorrow’s Internet – as doing so would surely set the Internet on a path towards the negative outcomes identified in our alternative scenarios.

Despite the push at the Plenipotentiary by some countries toward a more top-down, government-controlled model, such proposals were largely averted due to a growing appreciation by many governments that the benefits derived from the Internet would be impeded by that approach – good news for the future of an open Internet and the “Common Pool.”

While there are many ongoing discussions about the broad future of the Internet and who, if anyone, should control it, no single entity owns the Internet today and there is no preordained outcome for its evolution. Only through the advancement of key Internet principles and broad collaboration amongst stakeholders in a manner that recognizes the roles, responsibilities, and expertise of different organizations and interests, can we can guide a positive future for the open Internet that will provide benefits for generations to come.

The Internet Society and many, many others across the Internet community work hard to promote and ensure a free, open and accessible Internet for all – one that is not walled, not censored, not fractured. We have to keep working. We must continue to be vigilant in defending the Internet’s principles of openness that has so clearly contributed to its growth to date. The “Ubernet” is not fait accompli and the Internet Society calls for everyone who supports the ‘Common Pool’ scenario to join with us to ensure these attributes of openness remain a central part of the Internet’s evolution.

Internet Governance

ITU Plenipotentiary Conference Is Coming To a Close

After three long weeks, the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference is finally coming to a close.  The remaining hours will be spent on official statements, submitting reservations and the legal formalities of signing a treaty.  So now is the time to step back and reflect on the results.

You may recall that the Internet Society submitted an information paper to the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference that outlined our perspectives on the Conference and the work of the ITU.   In our view, the ITU has important work to do within its existing mandate and there was no need to expand the mandate of the ITU in order for the Union to carry out work in the areas of development, spectrum, and standards.   Specifically, we said:

“Based on its current remit, the ITU has an important role in the Internet ecosystem; promoting core infrastructure development and cross-border connectivity, allocating spectrum to enable the deployment of new technologies and services, and providing technical assistance and capacity building in developing countries.  We believe that the current ITU mandate is sufficient to carry out the critical tasks outlined above both today and into the future.

So we were pleased that a consensus emerged early on not to change the Constitution and Convention (the treaty) in order to expand the legal scope of the ITU’s mandate.  And, just yesterday, Member States agreed not to agree on a definition of ICT.  This may seem like a detail but a formal definition at the Plenipotentiary Conference could have substantially changed the purpose, remit and meaning of a range of ITU Resolutions.

Having generally agreed not to change the treaty, most of the Internet-related debate focused on the role of the ITU and/or Member States in various topics – IP addressing, cybersecurity, Internationalized Domain Names, IP-based networks, privacy, data protection, WSIS, human rights, routing, Internet exchange points (IXPs), and Internet policy.

The Conference agreed that issues of privacy, surveillance and human rights are important but largely out of scope for the ITU’s work.  In the areas of IP addressing, IDNs, IXPs, IP-based networks and Internet policy, the ITU’s role is appropriately scoped to capacity building, awareness raising and, in some cases, providing assistance to Members.    For the WSIS, the meeting acknowledged the multistakeholder experience in WSIS+10 High Level Event and expectations for future ITU’s role are directed to next UNGA WSIS Review in 2015. On issues of transparency and inclusive engagement, some small steps were made regarding consultation and access to documents and meetings but there is still much more work to be done.

We were also very pleased to be able to find opportunities for collaboration with the ITU in the fight against Ebola and in our initiatives to address spam.  We are hopeful that this lays the groundwork for greater cooperation in areas where we have shared objectives.

These were not easy discussions, but for those of us who attended the 2012 WCIT, the dialogue here in Busan was much more positive and focused on finding consensus.   There are many reasons for this but I think it’s fair to say that widespread efforts by many parties for dialogue and outreach since 2012 have paid off.

And now it is time to look ahead.  Each of these big international policy events is an opportunity to reflect on the key Internet policy issues that governments are focusing on and other practical work we can undertake with the Internet community and stakeholders.  For example, we know that the surveillance revelations have intensified policy concerns about online privacy and security.  It is also clear that affordability and access are still major challenges for many developing countries. And, many countries remain uncomfortable with the notion of multistakeholder Internet governance.

In sum, as we pack our bags and head back home, we leave the Plenipotentiary Conference on a positive note but with plenty of important work left to do.

Internet Governance

Plenipot Update: A Good Direction!

It’s the 11th official day of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, and, following a long weekend of negotiations, things appear to be moving in a good direction. [if we count weekend work, then I think I’ve lost track of the days!].

As I wrote last week, much of the work moved into ad hoc groups or drafting groups in order to enable some of the thornier issues to be discussed and negotiated. The main Internet Resolutions were allocated to a rather large ad hoc group that, according to the Chairman from Italy, met for over 40 hours last week! It’s fair to say that by Saturday evening, the key Resolutions were covered in [square brackets]! But, delegates worked hard to find common ground and, slowly but surely, managed to address the most controversial issues.

Sam Dickinson has been doing some great reporting on the meeting and rather than duplicate her work, I’d point you to a summary of the weekend’s discussions and suggest that you follow her on Twitter: @sgdickinson.

As it stands right now, we are cautiously optimistic that the Conference will not adopt new Internet Resolutions and that changes to the existing Resolutions are largely in line with the ITU’s core mandate. Following lengthy discussions on the cybersecurity front, it appears that the most troubling proposals that would have given the ITU a role with regards to privacy, surveillance and data protection issues will not be accepted. Also of note, the suggestion by the RCC that the ITU explore becoming an Internet Registry was not adopted.

And with a bit of drama (as these things go), the ad hoc group did not accept the so-called “Indian proposal” (which essentially called for a redesign of the network) once many countries, including New Zealand, expressed deep concerns about both its principles and implementation. You can read New Zealand’s statement here.

That’s not to say it’s been an easy discussion. The reluctance to acknowledge the work by the Internet technical community or to reference the importance of the multistakeholder model is discouraging. Having said that, the debate has made progress and we can see that more countries are taking steps to recognize the collaborative nature of Internet development.

For the remaining days, the last few issues will be worked out in the smaller groups and then all the work will go back into Plenary for final approval. The Conference still needs to address the important issue of the definition of ICT (a key issue for the scope of ITU work) and as well as a few important lingering economic issues. Also, the issue of access to ITU documents and access to the ITU Council Working Group on Internet issues remains unresolved – the decisions here will be key to whether or not the concerns about transparency and inclusiveness in ITU processes are addressed by PP-14. So, more work to be done!

Four more days to go [but who’s counting?]!

Internet Governance Open Internet Standards

Making Progress on Internationalized Domain Names

By Sally Wentworth, Vice President, Global Policy Development, Internet Society and Nigel Hickson, Vice President, IGO Engagement, ICANN

This week, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, South Korea revisited the Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names, which is formally known as ITU Resolution 133 (Guadalajara, 2010). The discussion primarily focused on how to update Resolution 133 and evaluate the progress made since 2010.

This examination provides us with a timely opportunity to share data about the considerable progress made to deploy Internationalized Domain Names in the Domain Name System (DNS) root zone file.

Beginning of 2010, most top-level domain names were limited to the 128 American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), which is a character-encoding method. This meant that domain names consisting exclusively of non-Latin characters could not generally be used to navigate the Internet. However, at the same time, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and others were hard at work creating a robust, globally implementable Internationalized Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) standard that would enable billions of new users to access the Internet in their local language script. In 2008, the IETF released a revised version of the IDNA standard. Russ Housley, Chairman of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and former Chairman of IETF, wrote about the IETF IDNA standards process here.

Once the IDNA standard was released, the world’s focus turned to deployment and use of IDNs. So, what has been achieved since then?

This simple answer is, quite a lot!

  • Today, 43 IDN country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) and 35 IDN generic top-level domains (gTLDs) are listed in the root.
  • Through ICANN’s new gTLD program, an additional 50 or more names are expected to be delegated in the next 12 months.
  • This growth includes over 800, 000 Cyrillic script IDNs registered under рф; 750,000 Han script IDNs under 中国/中國, and 台湾/台灣 and 12,000 under Arabic top-level domains (TLDs). More examples can be found in the World Report on Internationalized Domain Names 2014 (PDF)
  • ICANN is also working hard to seek participation from the community in so-called Generation Panels for each script represented in the Root Zone. Generation Panels still need to be formed for many scripts including: Cyrillic, Greek, Gujarati, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Sinhala, Tamil, Thai and others.

But what do these improvements mean in practice? By December 2013, there were over 6 million IDN domain names; which represents over 2% of the total number of domain names. This translates into a 215% growth in the last 5 years, an impressive increase in a short period of time.

While these numbers represent significant progress, there is still more work to be done to ensure people around the world can access the Internet in their local script. As the Internet continues to grow and more local content is created, the use of IDNs will also grow. It is crucially important users have choices in their language and we are committed to making that a reality.

Help set the standards for script in your language by volunteering to establish and participate in a generation panel now. Email ICANN at to learn more.

[Edited for minor technical clarifications on Nov 4th, 2014]

Internet Governance Public Policy

Plenipot Update: 28 October 2014 – The Real Work Begins

Week 2 of the ITU Plenipotentiary began last week by concluding on elections of the Radio Regulations Board and the ITU Council.   This means that the parties and receptions come to an end and the long, hard and sometimes tedious work of negotiating the text begins.    The good news is that they gave us Sunday off so, in theory, people are rested and ready for a long week!

If you’ve been to an ITU meeting, you’ll know that at this stage of a 3-week conference, countries are still introducing their ideas and staking out their ground on various topics.  Small group conversations explore opportunities for compromise, but in the main sessions, more and more text goes into square brackets to reflect that there is no consensus.

On the issue of Internationalized Domain Names (Res 133), countries are looking to update the 2010 Resolution in light of progress made in this area since then.  There is a debate on whether to include references to work outside the ITU by the technical community and other multistakeholder processes where the work has taken place.  The room was also divided on what work the ITU should do on this issue going forward.

With regard to IP networks (Res 101), there are numerous proposals to update the existing Resolution, including adding economic language on international interconnection costs, security, and “unlawful international surveillance”.   There was very little progress made and most language is in square brackets. After a late-night debate over this Resolution, no agreement was reached and we’ll be back at it again either today or tomorrow.

A separate ad hoc group considered the ITRs, in particular how to review the ITRs and, if so, on what schedule.  Countries disagree on the starting point for a review – should it be 2012 (when the WCIT happened) or 2015 (when the new ITRs come into force for those who signed)?  The scope, nature and outcome of a possible ITR review has not yet been agreed and we expect another ad hoc meeting.  A proposal that the ITU should host the next World Telecom Policy Forum (WTPF) on review of the ITRs is still under discussion.

Finally, another evening ad hoc meeting took up the issue of illicit use of ICTs (Res 174).  A host of proposals from countries would include references to various UNGA Resolutions on cybersecurity, privacy and other topics related to national security matters.  Other countries expressed concern that additions of these references would, in effect, expand the scope of the resolution to include topics that are outside the ITU mandate. In addition, there is a proposal to consider a global charter on ICT Security but this has not been agreed.

So, we’re on to another day.

For Wednesday, 28 October, the meeting will turn its focus to the following topics:

  • ITU role in the High Level Review of WSIS;
  • Alternative calling procedures (Res 21)
  • Apportionment of revenues (Res 22)
  • Confidence and security (Res 130)

You can find out more by visiting our page on Plenipot14 or by reading our Issues Matrix.

About Internet Society

The Internet Society Joins the Fight Against Ebola

By Dawit Bekele and Sofie Maddens

The spread of Ebola and the ravages that it is leaving behind is imprinting its mark on all of us and has a very personal impact on people in the affected countries and around the world. Like others, the ISOC community of staff, volunteers, and members want to help. We have therefore come together to establish the Ebola Tech Response Group.

Through this “Ebola Tech Response”, we are challenging all of us in the Internet and ICT communities and beyond to collaborate to help fight this outbreak by using the Internet and other communications technologies. Please join us by visiting our community platform.

The “Ebola Tech Response” is a first step so we can brainstorm how the ISOC community can contribute to the global response, including by quickly identifying a small number of technology based projects that can be implemented in the affected countries using our collective expertise and by sharing expertise, knowledge and information with other experts.

We were pleased that, during his opening remarks at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference opening ceremony in Busan on Monday, 20 October, Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun Touré told participants that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked UN agencies around the world to help, and called upon participants attending the Conference to discuss how to harness the power of ICTs to find solutions to the outbreak and get important health-related messages straight to people on the ground.  We look forward to contributing.

We hope that you will join us to seek ways to leverage the use of the Internet and other communications technologies to help facilitate solutions for saving lives, particularly as we face this outbreak of Ebola.