Over the last two decades, the Internet has radically changed our lives. Today, billions of people around the world have access to information and are connected to one another in ways that are more and more innovative. And this is just the beginning: wireless connectivity now links objects like GPS devices, vehicles and even street lights to the Internet. This is leading to entire interconnected systems that can help countries achieve important economic and social goals. Some expect the “Internet of Things” to connect 50 billion mobile wireless devices by 2020.
The Internet benefits individuals with a larger variety of digital goods and services, lower prices, higher productivity, a more efficient labour market, and improvements in the environment, health and education. It benefits businesses with improved efficiencies in everything from commercial services to industrial manufacturing and expands global markets. And it benefits governments, making it easier to consult and communicate with citizens and deliver services more cheaply.
The Internet is also a platform for inclusive social and cultural development, spurring the development and distribution of local content. The Internet provides an easy means for individuals to become content creators, to develop “crowd–sourced” knowledge bases, and to open cultural heritage and knowledge to a global audience. The Internet generates considerable consumer surplus, bringing positive benefits to all.
Despite these benefits, policymaking in this area is not easy. Since mid-2013, pressures on Internet policy-making have dramatically increased with the on-going revelations regarding the scale and scope of national security activities involving the Internet. These revelations have triggered an international debate about the trustworthiness of the Internet as a platform for social and economic activity and have raised the stakes in terms of getting the policy environment right. This also comes at a time when the Internet’s technical functions are moving away from U.S. stewardship, towards a privatized model supporting a “multistakeholder” model of governance. Questions around the digital divide and the winners and losers in the digital economy also remain.
Are we at a turning point in the evolution of the Internet?
- The current Internet governance architecture has delivered a relatively smooth ride for the Internet, given its scale and complexity. Global Internet Governance is in flux, but will modifying tried and tested systems and processes of governance risk the future stability, openness and freedom of the Internet? Who should own the internet? What are the challenges for different stakeholder constituencies?
- Is the internet benefitting everyone? Who is being left behind? How can we address the digital divide, so that we’re not creating a two tier digital economy and society? The narrative of the internet, in economic terms, is generally a positive one, but what are the potential implications for employment and jobs? And how can we use the Internet as a means to increase inclusiveness in our society, democratically and culturally speaking?
- The rise of the Internet with its novel characteristics has created a number of hopes amongst citizens towards a better future. However, many of these expectations have only partially been realized. To what extent can the Internet be considered an “unfinished revolution”? What kinds of illusions has the Internet created and what can we, as a society, do to move that revolution forward into the right direction?
- There have been recent high profile calls for the establishment of an online “Magna Carta”. Do we have the right frameworks and standards in place to ensure trust in the Internet, in the age of Big Data? What more can be done to ensure that the Internet economy promotes innovation, social value and democracy whilst also safeguarding security, privacy and human rights? Failing international solutions, what are the implications of a fragmented internet?