I’m writing this on the first leg of a day-long journey to the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT). I’m breaking a self-imposed writing moratorium on the subject to set down some thoughts regarding the WCIT, and the road beyond.
Prior to the WCIT, the ITU hosted what has been praised as a successful World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA). Closely following the WCIT will be the ITU’s World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) in May with preparations already well underway. In parallel, the United Nations is ramping up efforts to conduct a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) review in 2014/2105 with a set of open preparatory consultations in 2013.
While the WCIT will not be about Internet Governance, the WTPF is designed to discuss the Internet and its Governance. A quick review of WSIS documents and the Tunis Agenda reveals the same. Many of the same the actors that will participate in the WTPF and WSIS review are gathering at the WCIT and I suspect there will be informal discussions on the topic. From my perspective, this is a good thing and Dubai is where next year’s journey begins. It is one I look forward to and have great hopes for.
The coming year will be a telling time for the Internet and its Community – and by that I mean everyone that uses or is touched by it. Decisions will be made that will impact the world that we and future generations live in. Will history be kind to us? Time will tell.
The Internet is a conundrum when viewed in the large. Some define it simply as a network of networks; an excellent and useful definition. Others define it by a set of ideals and principles; open, transparent, and generative. Yet others might refer to it as a big telegraph. And there are other definitions and perceptions of just what this thing we call the Internet is.
From my perspective, each is in some way right, not all can be simultaneously true, and therein lies the conundrum. How can everyone’s view of the Internet be correct when not all can coexist? Welcome to the real world, the world of individual perception. The challenge for us all as we enter into discussions is to make ourselves not only heard, but understood while listening to and understanding others.
Guiding our discussions on the road to Dubai and beyond, I hope we weigh our actions against a simple maxim, “Will our children and grandchildren be better off as a result?” Keeping that in mind should help us focus on the future without losing sight of the present, enabling us to provide an Internet worth inheriting. It should also signal to our children, the responsibility they and future generations have.
The Internet exists as a consequence of the diligent efforts of untold volunteers who believe in a set of principles and ideals. They did and do yeoman’s work and deserve not only our appreciation for their effort, but respect for their motivation. Knowingly or not, they have placed the Internet into a kind of trust and we, the Community, are both beneficiary and steward.
This Internet Trust is an unusual non-entity that exists to ensure that the ideals and principles that are the foundation of the Internet are maintained and observed. In addition to simultaneously existing and not existing, this Trust operates without any documentation; its structure is amorphous. No one, yet everyone is responsible for the principles and ideals with each member of the Community having a different perception of them.
One of the marvelous things gained by not explicitly defining the Internet or documenting the Trust through which it is governed, is the ability to adapt and change as needed. These changes are made by stewards, each of us, who are obligated to act in the best interest of the Trust and its beneficiaries. If we act responsibly, our children, grandchildren, and the Internet will be better off.
While I believe this to be true, I’m at a loss to suggest a way forward other than to trust each other to recognize the responsibility we each have as a steward of the Internet. If we understand stewardship and act accordingly, we will have a successful year. If instead we act on our own behalf, we may fail to preserve the Internet Trust, and will have failed our children, their children, and the world.
Less is More
The research that led to the Internet had as its hypothesis that a reliable network could be constructed with unreliable components. Reliability came through the resilience of numbers. It has proven not only workable, but a phenomenal success and we are well-served to keep this in mind in the coming year.
As an after-the-fact corollary, we have found that value can be rapidly derived through application of the end-to-end principle. Adherence to this principle has unleashed creative genius on a scale not seen before. Services have been and can be developed and deployed rapidly, some with minimal uptake, others with exponential growth.
We have also found that distributed, decentralized, perhaps unrecognizable governance structures work surprisingly well. Two billion people enjoy the benefits of the Internet on little more than a handshake, a non-existent trust, and loose collaboration. Is more required? Is more desirable? Is change necessary or are current mechanisms sufficient?
These questions and others will be the subject of the coming year. In order to answer them we need to listen to each other, learn from each other, and trust each other to work for the good of the Community. I see no other way, and Dubai is the first step on our path.
While I write these musings; I’m reminded by the captain to stow my laptop, buckle-up and await a smooth landing in Dubai. Stay tuned for some on-the-ground reports and hopefully a smooth two weeks of WCIT.