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Community Projects Internet Governance

Going Mobile in Barcelona

Photo: android – google space CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Next week, in Barcelona, a number of us at the Internet Society, led by our CEO Kathy Brown, will travel to Barcelona for this year’s GSMA Mobile World Congress, taking place from 2 – 5 March. There we will join Ministers and CEOs, vendors and operators, to speak at events, to listen at others, and to join thousands marveling at the latest in smart phones, tablets, and other devices. What draws us there can be summarised in a few key milestones, and their link to our mission.

Ten years ago, there were less than 1 billion Internet users, and broadband had just surpassed dial-up as the main form of access. The number of Internet users now stands at or near 3 billion users, and broadband is the predominant form of access. While driven by a constant pace of rapid growth, the growth in the number of users has been marked by two overwhelming trends in the expansion and evolution of the Internet.

  • First, as of early 2008 there were more users in developing countries than developed countries.
  • Second, by early 2010 there were more mobile broadband users than fixed broadband users.

Combining these two trends, the number of mobile broadband users in developing countries overtook the number in developed countries in 2012.

The rapid increase in take-up of mobile broadband is significant, as it is increasingly the means by which people access the Internet. Our interest, however, is focused on the evolution of the resulting mobile Internet, as users increasingly access new mobile services from anywhere, over increasingly powerful smart devices.

Looking forward, it is clear that the mobile Internet will play a key role in bringing the next billion users online. The mobile Internet is therefore central to realising our mission that ‘The Internet is for everyone’. We wish to make sure that the mobile Internet remains open and that its nature remains collaborative and inclusive, regardless of changing means of access.

Each new user benefits from being connected, as they can write and read blogs, join social networks, interact with government, innovate new services and buy from others. As the Internet grows, so do the benefits, as there are more potential buyers and sellers, more blogs to read, and more possibility for social interaction. So the 3 billionth user certainly enjoys more benefits from the impact of the Internet than the 2 millionth did before. These benefits should not be taken for granted though, as they result from the Internet remaining open, allowing for the permission-less innovation that has driven this growth.

On Wednesday, Kathy will give the keynote for the panel on the Economics of Internet Governance at which she will discuss how the multi-stakeholder governance model for the distributed Internet will enhance the social and economic benefits of the mobile Internet world-wide. I will moderate a panel on the regulatory enablers and obstacles to innovation of and for the mobile Internet.

The central theme is the economic opportunity of the Internet, and the role that we must all play to ensure that, as the Internet grows and develops and that as access to the Internet becomes increasingly based on mobile, it remains open and true to the founding principles that led to its success.

As the 4 billionth new user is likely to be using some form of mobile Internet, using some version of the smart devices on display in Barcelona, we are going to Barcelona to play our part to ensure that the 4 billionth user enjoys even more opportunities from the open Internet than the 3 billionth.