The Future of the Internet - Part I

Yesterday I attended the event "Towards the digital world in 2025” at the European Parliament, an European Internet Foundation meeting in the European Parliament with Commissioner of Information Society and Media Viviane Reding and a bunch of Parliamentarians. MEP Erika Mann, the EIF chair masterfully led us through the agenda and there were interventions by Hans-Gert Pöttering, the EP President by video message, Malcolm Harbour and others. What Viviane Reding said, I will get back to.

You Are what you Share says The Lisbon Council

I also attended the Lisbon Council event where I heard Charlie Leadbeater, author of the best-selling book We-Think: Mass Innovation, Not Mass Production speak about how innovation is driven by curiosity, crisis and challenge, and hampered by complacency (he has got his acronyms down).

Is Disruption more Important Than Collaboration?

While all of this was quite inspiring and the speeches tended to be good, I have one reflection at this point. I fear the open standards discussion is not sexy enough for many of these speakers. All they want to talk about is disruption, how great Google is, and how they discovered YouTube and Twitter. Yesterday's news. I am a believer in a more balanced scenario where disruption and collaboration go hand in hand. The only reason there is disruptive innovation on the Internet is because there simultaneously is significant a amount of stepwise, incremental innovation by the collective that help create, maintain and develop the Internet as a platform. This is tomorrow's news. Europe should look towards tomorrow.

Actually, the best speech yesterday might have been from a brilliant, soft spoken Lynn St. Amour, President of the Internet Society (ISOC). I am not sure the audience fully appreciated her important message on openness of the Internet, which is why I asked a question in plenary: in terms of the future of the Internet, is not collaboration equally important as disruption? She confirmed and spoke passionately about open standards. The three major benefits of open standards are innovation, avoiding lock-in and reducing costs. All are needed in the next ten years (2008-2018) – where a new Internet revolution will happen.

ISOC was created by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn and has taken an important role in bridging the gap between technology, policy, and business, or “provide leadership in Internet related standards, education, and policy” as the about section on their web says. I find nothing is more important right now.

Can Europe Save the Internet?

Europe has had a leading role in the Internet – ensuring it is open, thriving. Now, with convergence, vigilance is again needed to keep it open as new and old actors try to get a piece of the Internet. However, important to note that new business models are not a problem unless they restrict users or future business models. Europe, however, must make sure to only fuel sustainable innovation. Incidentally, towards the end of her speech, Reding said we need to save the Internet from the current threats of foreclosure. Yes, just like houses, the Internet could foreclose. Incredible, but true. She is referring to attempts by some vendors to launch ubiquitous Internet applications that few could avoid – essentially creating a predatory platform monopoly on the previously open Internet. All other companies oppose closure. While one company's strategy would provide short term gain for one player, it may cause permanent damage, and potentially destroy the Internet. This is a longer discussion, but one we will need to have throughout the coming year. Does anybody out there want to comment on this?

What Parliament Can Do

Some of the things Parliament can do is:
- support MEP David Hammerstein's motion for an inquiry to make sure the European Parliament's own technology follows open standards (Petition committee).

- Discuss the open standards imperative from the European Commission Communication on Future Networks & the Internet.

- Instruct the Parliament's own IT people to begin to procure only technology supporting open standards and complete their migration project towards open platforms (which is tricky, according to the Parliament IT staffer who responded to my last blog post).

- Speak out in defense of the Open Internet and Open standards.

- Arrange a public debate on Standards on the Internet in the Spring.

- Shape forthcoming and new legislation, revise old legislation. After all, the IMCO committee has mandate for standardization. The Parliament could, in fact, influence the Commission and (a) push Vice-President Verheugen to act on revising Council Decision 87/95 on standards to recognize fora/consortia on equal footing with European Standards Organizations if they satisfy WTO openness criteria.

- Push Comissioner Kallas for a roadmap to migrate to open standards in all of eCommission.

- Safeguard the European strength which is the Internet. It, or rather the World Wide Web, was created by Englishman Tim Berners-Lee. Tim is now concerned about its future and has created the World Wide Web Foundation to protect it, which Parliament could support.

They could perhaps start by a Spring 2009 Hearing on the threats to the future of the Internet? Free advice is wonderful.

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Trond Undheim, Ph.D, Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at the Oracle Corporation, speaker, entrepreneur, blogger, and author, is one of the world’s leading experts on technology and society. LinkedIn profile

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