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Growing the Internet 3 December 2011

Internet Society’s role in broadening Internet access

Given by Lyn St.Amour
Journée Nationale Internet de l’ISOC Morocco- 26 May 2009

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It is my pleasure to have been invited here to discuss the Internet Society’s role in broadening Internet access.

And might I also add what a privilege it is to discuss such matters in Morocco. Throughout human history, this land has been one of those special places where cultures meet. Where languages mix. A place where trade has flourished amidst diversity. And where creative explosions of art and learning have enriched the world. A land of connections and discoveries.

What better place to discuss the Internet?

Morocco, of course, has also been a land of journeys, so I ask you to forgive me as I embark on a short journey on the way to my topic…

Ladies and gentlemen, the Internet works because people want it to work, and because they voluntarily collaborate to make it work.

This statement is not, in any way, meant metaphorically. It is a statement of simple, literal fact that lies at the core of the Internet, and at the heart of the Internet Society.

There are many ways to connect computer networks together. They existed before the Internet and some are still used now. But those other methods of interconnection shared a common limitation. Because they were built to proprietary standards, they were only available on certain products. Implementation was subject to commercial restriction and development was dictated by closed, top-down decision making.

In such an environment, to connect my network to yours – indeed to even determine if that would be possible – I would need to know about your network.

This, clearly, was a major barrier.

The early pioneers of the Internet set out to break that barrier. They understood the potential of interconnecting networks and information systems. They also understood that tapping that potential required a new way of thinking. A new way of working.

And so the Internet grew from a need to collaborate and cooperate. The problems of interconnection were solved by people working together towards a common goal.

And so open standards were developed through open processes, where all those with an interest could participate. And, anybody who wanted to apply those standards could do so without having to seek permissions or pay a fee.

Nothing was mandatory and, indeed, there was no central authority to enforce any mandates. Operational responsibilities were distributed, and decisions were developed by open, documented, processes of consensus.

The early pioneers of the Internet were creating new technologies. But just as importantly, they were creating a new way of working. A new means of development.

We call this the Internet Model of development. Within this model thrives a diverse Ecosystem of stakeholders, with different roles, different expectations, different interests, but united by a common need for a global, trustable, accessible Internet.

As in any ecosystem, every component is vitally interlinked to the health and sustainability of the whole.

If all of this has seemed like a digression, please consider that these concepts explain so much about the nature of the Internet Society itself and the way in which we pursue our goals.

The Internet Society was formed in 1992. Announcing its creation, Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, and Lyman Chapin wrote “a global renaissance of scientific and technical cooperation is at hand”.

In 1992, most people, if they had even heard of the Internet, could not even begin to imagine how it would transform every aspect of their lives.

In 2009, for about a billion of us, we can barely imagine how our lives ever functioned without it. But for the other five billion of us, the Internet effectively does not yet exist, and the global renaissance is an elusive dream.

This is what drives the Internet Society. For we hold a strong belief that the Internet can help improve the lives of people everywhere.

All around the world we have seen the Internet play a concrete role in stimulating economies, providing employment opportunities, creating access to education, building health resources, protecting cultural and linguistic heritage, informing citizenry, and bringing people together in communities of common interest.

The Internet’s effect on the lives it has reached so far has been profound. The Internet Model of development has produced one of the most extraordinary periods of technological development, innovation, and creativity in human history. The Internet is much more than just a technology in its own right. It is a platform for innovation; a springboard for other technologies; a meeting place; and an incredibly powerful tool for analysis, knowledge sharing, and creativity.

But there is much work to be done.

Although we all often speak of the Internet as something that “has” developed, the reality is that it is still developing. This development, takes place everywhere and includes – among many other things – technical protocols, infrastructure, operational management and administration, and application development.

Driving this development at all levels are the people who use the Internet, and the choices they make about what they wish to use and how they wish to use it.

The Internet Society’s mission is to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world. Because of the very nature of the Internet, the openness of the Internet model, and the interdependency of all those within the Internet ecosystem, our mission requires a holistic view. And it involves technical expertise, policy work, education and capacity building, and a commitment to community networking.

Furthermore, to pursue our mission within the Internet Ecosystem, we must work globally, regionally, and locally.

As an organization, we have built a global presence. We have a truly multicultural workforce, spread across our offices in Geneva, Switzerland and Reston, Virginia, in the United States, as well as in more than a dozen other locations, including our regional Bureaus in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

We have a global membership, including more than 28,000 individual members and more than 90 organizations. Many members also form Chapters, voluntary groups with a common geographic location or special interest to carry on activities which further the Internet Society’s mission. Currently there are more than 90 Chapters worldwide, including, of course, our hosts today.

Keeping the Internet open, growing, and working unites the thousands of individuals and organizations that make up the Internet Society. This global community tackles critical issues – often at the intersection of technology, policy, and education – that don’t fit neatly into common categories.

To most effectively operate within this complex environment, we have developed three broad strategic initiatives, which guide and structure all of our work: InterNetWorks, Trust and Identity, and Enabling Access.

Briefly, the InterNetWorks initiative focuses on the continued operation of the global Internet, identifying issues and opportunities in technology development and deployment for open networking.

The Trust and Identity initiative recognizes that in order to be trusted, the Internet must provide channels for secure, reliable, private, communication between entities, and that mechanisms must to developed to allow users to securely manage and protect their own identity details.

But it is the Enabling Access Initiative I’d like to discuss in more detail today. In this initiative, the Internet Society focuses on enabling access to the Internet by addressing the fundamental impediments to Internet growth and usability.

The challenges of improving Internet growth are complex and interrelated, particularly in developing countries. They include, for example, access to technical skills and knowledge, the regulatory and policy environment for information and telecommunications services, and broader economic and market factors, language diversity, and the diffusion and reliability of basic infrastructures and services. To address these challenges, we focus on three broad areas:

Technical capacity building Enabling access for underserved communities, and Policy, regulation, and the access environment.

Technical capacity building

For the Internet to grow and be sustainable, network operators need the technical capacity necessary to build, maintain, and protect networks. They also need to able to make informed choices about new infrastructure implementations and methodologies.

With Internet technology changing rapidly, capacity building needs to be an ongoing process, and local information-sharing mechanisms must be in place to sustain knowledge transfer beyond classroom trainings.

Since 1994, the Internet Society’s INET meetings have been a fixture on the Internet calendar. Originally staged as global events, several years ago we changed their focus, aligning them with regional meetings and concentrating on the issues most relevant to those communities.

The Internet has a strong tradition of regional operators’ groups forming to collaborate in skills transfer, experience sharing, and training, and the INET meetings have become a natural fit for these communities, particularly in the Pacific, Latin America, and here in Africa.

Last week, for example, we were very pleased to again mesh in with the schedule of the African Network Operators Group (AfNOG), for the INET Cairo meeting. It was the tenth annual AfNOG meeting, and so it is an appropriate time to reflect on the tremendous role AfNOG has played in promoting Internet development on this continent.

There still exist many significant challenges to bringing the Internet to all people in the African continent, but with dedicated leadership and a passionate, dynamic community, AfNOG continues to make great progress.

The 800 or more engineers and policy influencers who have benefitted from AfNOG training sessions will be instrumental in bringing the Internet to new generations of African Internet users. The Internet Society’s support for these activities will remain one of our major priorities.

As you may know, the Internet Society is also the organizational home of the Internet Engineering Task Force – the IETF. The IETF is the global community which develops and maintains the Internet Standards. It is responsible for the Internet’s fundamental architecture and for defining the protocols, specifications, and practices which make it all work.

The IETF does its work on publically accessible mailing lists, and at the meetings that it holds three times each year.

As a global community, the IETF rotates its meetings on a regional basis. Nevertheless, the costs of travel and accommodation are prohibitive for many people. Therefore, another of the Internet Society’s key activities is the Internet Society Fellowship to the IETF.

Through this programme, we help talented engineers from developing countries participate in IETF meetings. This serves a dual purpose: it helps build critical technical capacity in developing countries; and just as important, it ensures a greater diversity of experience is represented in the standards development process. Enabling access for underserved communities

Many communities around the world face additional challenges in accessing the Internet. There can be many reasons for this.

For some, it’s the tyranny of distance. Infrastructure is expensive for small dispersed populations. When you add in other complications of geography, such as the islands of the Pacific nations; the mountains of South Asia; the jungles of Latin America; or the deserts of North Africa, the access problems are multiplied.

Other communities are underserved for different reasons. They may use non-Latin language scripts. They may come from areas with low levels of literacy. Or they may comprise individuals whose disabilities restrict their online activities.

Approaches to meeting these challenges are complex and generally involve considerations of technology choices, policy development, and education.

Often, solutions to problems of access arise from within the very communities affected, and the Internet Society is committed to promoting local solutions and local action.

Our Chapter network is a key element in this. The people who best understand the challenges of an underserved community are those who face the challenge daily. Chapters understand local conditions and local cultures. By working with their communities, they are able to develop practical solutions that meet the needs of those around them.

By building on this local experience, the Chapters energize and inform the Internet Society; and by networking among each other, they contribute to a greater pool of shared knowledge.

Beyond the Chapters, many other groups and individuals also have the skills and connections to help solve local access problems. Here, the Internet Society can help target the resources these people need.

Through several project funding programmes – the FRIDA fund in Latin America, the ISIF fund in the Asia Pacific and the global Community Grants Programme, the Internet Society and its partners can help foster projects that promote community-based developments.

The range of projects funded through these programmes is vast: training and education centres providing new opportunities to rural youth; projects using low cost equipment to bring medical services to remote mountain villages; development of character sets that will help preserve local language and culture; and community access points that connects rural farmers directly to their markets.

The creativity and innovation displayed in these projects both testifies to the potential of the Internet to improve the quality of life everywhere, and exemplifies the value of the Internet Model which allows users to create their own solutions. Policy, Regulation, and the Access Environment

The third plank in our Enabling Access initiative deals with Policy, Regulation, and the Access Environment.

Regulatory impediments to internetworking, onerous licensing requirements and other regulatory and policy factors can slow or prevent Internet growth.

Therefore, it is critical to engage with policy makers at national, regional, and international levels to encourage them to adopt ICT policies and positions that promote the expansion and reach of Internet infrastructure on a national and global basis.

While we fully respect the importance of every country having the right to develop its own framework for Internet and telecommunication regulation, we believe it is vital to stress the value of open, multistakeholder dialogues that can lead to the elimination of regulatory impediments to Internet growth.

The modern policy environment is complex. Accurate, unbiased, expert information is vital for policy makers as they navigate the maze of technical, economic, social, and cultural factors that impact Internet development.

Therefore opportunities for policy makers to meet, learn, and share experience are essential. The value of open dialogue in a multistakeholder environment really cannot be overstated.

My colleague, Frédéric Donck, will speak in more detail later of the Internet Society’s efforts to increase our engagement with regional policy makers and build strong links between the technical and policy communities.

At the global level as well, I’m sure you are all aware of the growing use of the term “Internet governance”, and the growing interests of governments and policy makers in many aspects of the Internet’s operation and management.

This of course reflects the extent to which the Internet has become central to societal and economic development at the level of the individual, as well as at national, regional, and global levels.

But I must return to the ideas I raised earlier, when discussing the Internet Model of development and the Ecosystem of stakeholders.

In enabling an unprecedented scale of human communications, the Internet has revolutionised how we express ourselves and collaborate, which has, in turn spurred its remarkable growth in applications and services.

Its utility as a tool for human development is, however, only determined by the degree to which people have unfettered, affordable access to the network and its services, and the degree to which the services and applications are trusted, reliable, and stable and the user’s identity sacrosanct.

We can see many examples around the world where the Internet has thrived in environments unencumbered by excessive governmental or private controls on technologies, infrastructure, or content, and in environments that have promoted competition and diversity in telecommunications, Internet services, products, and applications.

In this developing Internet, more work is needed to improve stability and security and to increase access. But while the temptation for regulation may be strong, the Internet’s importance to our economies, today and in the future, will only increase as we meet these challenges in ways consistent with the overall principles of the Internet model.

Multistakeholder dialogue is necessary, and should be informed by knowledge of the importance of the Internet’s design, operations, and development principles.

Again, the Internet Society’s global membership and chapters have a strong role to play.

Along similar lines to the Fellowship to the IETF programme I discussed earlier, the Internet Society also draws on its global network to appoint “ambassadors” to Internet governance events.

The programme started with the UN’s World Summit to the Information Society and now continues with the annual Internet Governance Forum.

The IGF Ambassadors are drawn from around the globe, representing a range of different communities, interests, and backgrounds. They bring the experience of their own work to the global forum. And just as importantly, they communicate the global lessons back into their own communities, contributing to more active local and regional dialogue.

This Ambassador programme and the Fellowships, along with other activities, are part of the Internet Society’s new Internet Leaders Initiative, which takes many elements from the programmes I’ve already discussed, and extends them into our efforts to help foster a new generation of Internet leaders.

Diverse, informed, motivated leaders will always be needed in the Internet Model. Identifying and advancing leaders are some of the most important contributions we can all make in ensuring a strong Internet future.

These leaders will come from everywhere. As we enable access to the Internet, we bring more potential leaders online. As we extend the Internet to more communities, these communities will enrich the online experience. And as we engage in open dialogue, we strengthen the Internet and build a more equitable, sustainable future for all of us.

Thank you.

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