Categories
Development Internet Governance

From Inspiration to Innovation on the Open Internet

Recently a young engineer in Togo, Kodjo Afate Gnikou, had an inspiration.  Surveying the electronic waste being deposited across West Africa, he designed and built a 3D printer using discarded parts from computers and scanners, which costs $100 and is named the W.Afate, combining the name of the incubator where he works, WoeLab, and his own name.  

In many ways this is a typical story of turning inspiration into innovation, an inventor seeing opportunity where others see challenges.  However, what is remarkable is how this was made possible by the open Internet, in ways not possible even ten years ago.  

For instance, Mr. Gnikou was able to leverage the following benefits from Internet access: 

  • online collaboration between enthusiasts on projects such as 3D printers, whose plans were freely available for the W.Afate printer
  • sharing of resources, enabling Mr. Gnikou to raise EUR 4,313 from 112 supporters around the world on the crowdfunding site Ulule
  • global markets for the results of innovation; for instance, the W.Afate printer was submitted to the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, for consideration for a future mission to Mars.

The original high-tech startups largely produced physical things – computers, chips, peripherals, and software to control those things – and their founders in turn benefitted from physical presence.  A good university education, direct access to computers for training and development, and availability of venture capital to fund their companies.  These factors quickly coalesced around Silicon Valley, nurturing startups and housing many of the successful results. 

It is no surprise that the first large Internet startups of the 1990s – Netscape, eBay, Yahoo!, Amazon, and Google – all started in the USA, many also in Silicon Valley.  These companies all benefited from the same conditions that promoted earlier tech startups, and came about at a time when the US had an early, historical, lead in Internet access and usage.

However, the Internet changes the prospects for startups considerably, and favorably for those outside the USA. Physical presence is not needed for access to the ingredients, and the outputs can be sold online.  Not surprisingly, as the Internet spread quickly spread from the USA through the developed world, the 2000s saw new innovative startups emerging outside the USA, notably in Europe, including Skype (Estonia) and Spotify (Sweden).  

More recently, the center of Internet gravity has shifted towards developing countries, with a number of developments.  

  • According to the ITU, the number of Internet users in the developing world passed those of the developed world in early 2008
  • The iPhone was launched in 2007, and by late 2011 more than 50% of users around the world had a mobile broadband connection
  • Combining the first two trends, by late 2012 more than 50% of the world’s mobile broadband subscribers are in developing countries

As a result, why should the next big innovation not come from an emerging market?

Already M-Pesa, arguably the most successful mobile payment systems in the world, began in Kenya.   This is no surprise, as mobile payment fills a critical gap in much of the developing world – lack of access to banking services. Another successful Kenyan application, Ushahidi, also developed to meet a local challenge – in this case to track violence that followed an election in 2007, and subsequently has been adopted around the world, for instance to track earthquake relief efforts in Haiti and Japan, and even to track the progress of snowplows in Washington DC.

However, while the Internet is a fully interoperable network of networks, not all networks are created alike, and not all countries are likely to foster innovation equally.  Innovators and potential customers alike must have access to high quality and affordable broadband Internet access; the network itself must be resilient to promote investments; there should be as few restrictions as possible on access to content and applications; and a government policy to maintain an open Internet.

Kenya has very favorable conditions for startups – good mobile access, resilient international connections, two efficient Internet Exchange Points, and a government the both promotes, and leverages, the open Internet.  Other countries sharing favorable conditions include Jordan, Indonesia, and Argentina, and demonstrate how success can help to breed success.  In Argentina, MercadoLibre, the largest ecommerce provider in Latin America, has been hosting developer conferences; a number of incubators including ideosource have emerged in Indonesia, and the 2009 sale of Jordanian startup Maktoob to Yahoo for USD 175 million has spurred the startup scene there.

Given the interconnection of the Internet, creating a global market for innovation, it is important that the open Internet be promoted and preserved internationally, through vibrant multistakeholder participation in standard setting and Internet governance.  This will enable anyone to turn inspiration into innovation and innovation into income in order succeed in the new Internet-enabled global marketplace.

Categories
Internet Governance Technology

Introducing the Global Internet Report

In 2012, the life of Battushig Myanganbayar, a 15 year old in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, took an unexpected turn. Where ten years earlier, his destiny would have been limited by circumstances, his genius was revealed through his performance on a free online course offered by MIT. As a result, he was admitted to MIT and, at 17, was hired there to provide his insights on edX, an online education consortium of Harvard and MIT, to help make sure that others like him are identified.

The key to opening his future – and that of those like him – began with open access to the Internet.  While many of us take it for granted today, not everyone is online today, and not everyone online today has full access to the benefits of the Internet.  We must ensure that we do what we can to develop the open Internet around the world, because what yesterday was a dream, could tomorrow be a memory.

To this end, the Internet Society, today at the WSIS +10 High-Level Event, launched the first in what will become an annual series of Global Internet Reports to provide a detailed snapshot of Internet progress. Each report will follow a theme; this year’s being “Open and Sustainable Access for All.”  While we celebrate success, we are also mindful, particularly following the tumultuous revelations of 2013, that we must address urgent challenges.

The report first highlights a number of the benefits of open Internet access – the daily occurrences that would have been a pipe dream ten years ago, and have become almost routine today.  

  • The engineer in Togo who raised money on a European crowd-funding site to create a cheap 3D printer using discarded electronics;
  • The ability of a million sellers of handmade and vintage items to use Etsy to sell to customers in 200 countries with minimal investment; and
  • The ability of a comedian in Italy to start an online party that in four years captured the most seats of any party in the general election of 2013.

However, while the number of Internet users online is set to pass three billion early next year, we have work to do – those online do not all have access to the same benefits, and the majority of the world’s population is not yet online.  Many factors – such as geography, economics, language, cultural attitudes, regulations, and government policy – combine to hamper open and sustainable access to the Internet in many parts of the world, restricting the universality of its benefits.The Internet model is unique in many ways – in particular, since its founding days, it has been governed and developed by its users, for its users.  Together, all stakeholders work to develop new standards, govern shared resources, and develop critical infrastructure.  This first Global Internet Report is dedicated to the users, not least our 60,000 members, who in turn are dedicated to promoting and preserving the Internet model worldwide.

So, I hope you enjoy our first Global Internet Report, and I welcome your suggestions to help this new annual publication develop as an important resource for future Internet development.

Categories
Growing the Internet Internet Governance Open Internet Standards

Open Internet for All

The Internet is set to pass 3 billion users early next year, and already passed 1 billion hosts late last year. The result is a mind-boggling set of numbers representing the opportunities available for education, entertainment, and innovation, to name just a few of the activities made possible by access to the open Internet.

  • Over 2 billion edits in Wikimedia Projects, including Wikipedia
  • 2,150 courses available online through MIT OpenCourseWare
  • 1.2 million mobile apps available in Google Play
  • Over USD 1.1 billion pledged for Kickstarter projects
  • 7,034 tweets sent per second on average
  • 9,509 movies available on Netflix in the USA
  • 4.5 billion hours of music streamed using Spotify in 2013

However, these benefits are not yet available to everyone, everywhere.

Creating a global network of networks based on a standard platform is a foundational success of the Internet. However, while the Internet is often called the ‘network of networks,’ all networks are not created alike. While it is true that the Internet standards are the same across countries and networks, that is not to say, however, that the overall user experience will be the same regardless of the country.

Differences in user experience do not originate from technical standards, but rather from government policy and economic reality. In particular, these differences can arise at two layers of the Internet.

  • Infrastructure: Some countries have better access networks with more resilient international connections than other countries, based on economic factors and policy and regulatory choices.
  • Content and applications: Some countries filter content or block applications, using political or legal justifications. In other cases, content that is available in one country is not readily accessible in other countries.

Although the open Internet is an unparalleled positive force for advancement, it is not immune from economic and political influences that occasionally have the impact of limiting its true benefits. Broadly speaking, three sets of issues may impact access and affordability of the Internet:

  1. An affordable and reliable Internet is not yet a reality for the majority of people in the world, and thus the digital divide must continue to be addressed to provide everyone with Internet access.
  2. Where access is available it is not always taken, even when it is affordable, as the locally available content and services may not yet create a compelling case for users.
  3. The mere fact of being connected does not guarantee one will be able to innovate or freely share information and ideas; these abilities require an enabling Internet environment, one that is based on unrestricted openness.

As a result, it is important to differentiate those who could afford to go online, but choose not to, from those who do not have access or could not afford it anyway. It is also important to consider the issues that impact those already online, such filtering or blocking. Addressing those concerns will not just impact those already online, but improve the experience for those considering going online.

Many of the benefits and challenges of delivering the Internet to everyone are highlighted in the Internet Society’s new Global Internet Report, which will be launched June 9 at the WSIS +10 High-Level event. The first in an annual series, this year’s report focuses on why it’s important to maintain and strengthen the open and sustainable Internet.

Working together, all stakeholders can help make the Internet yet more essential to end-users lives as citizens, consumers, and innovators. At the same time, we can address the digital divide that separates regions and people, and make sure that once online, users have the same opportunities over the open Internet. With universal and uniform online access, anything is possible.

Categories
Internet Governance

Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom.fm

A recent misunderstanding at the NETMundial Internet Governance conference in Brazil focused on the meaning of the phrase ‘permissionless innovation’.

‘Permissionless innovation’ is a key technical principle that has guided the Internet’s development and evolution ever since its inception. As Jari Arkko, chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has argued: “Most of the applications in the Internet are the results of grass-roots innovation, start-ups, and research labs. No permit had to be applied, no new network had to be built, and no commercial negotiation with other parties was needed […]”.

At NETMundial, some chose to interpret this long-standing phrase to advocate innovation without any form of permission – imagine some sort of digital anarchy — for instance, without regards for existing intellectual property rights to recorded music or movies. As the Internet Society’s Chief Technology Office, Leslie Daigle pointed out at the time: “[Permissionless innovation] is about fostering innovation, not prompting anarchy”.

This is a significant detail.

Because, the fact is that ‘permissionless innovation’ is about the freedom to experiment and test the limits of human imagination. As Konstantinos Komaitis, Policy Advisor at the Internet Society suggested on another blog post: “It is about allowing people to think, to create, to build, to construct, to structure and to assemble any idea, thought or theory and turn it into the new Google, Facebook, Spotify or Netflix.”

While the immediate issue was resolved at NETMundial, a more recent announcement raises the more profound question of what does ‘permissioned innovation’ look like. On 1 May 2014, the Guardian reported that Bloom.fm, a streaming music service in the UK, shut down after its main investor pulled the plug. The services had accumulated more than 1.1 million users in the UK in just over a year, and licensing deals with major record labels, but could not cover the resulting payments. The CEO noted in particular that ‘massive scale’ is required to justify a business case.

Thus, even with permission from the record labels, the resulting economies of scale led to entry barriers that Bloom.fm could not surmount, and its main investor could not countenance. While Bloom.fm had what, in almost any commercial pursuit would be considered an excellent start – an impressive 1.1 million customers in 16 months – other innovative startups never even reach the launch stage.

In “Copyright and Innovation: The Untold Story”, US scholar Michael Carrier argued that extensive litigation – whether threatened or pursued – focused on companies using digital content has been detrimental to investment and entrepreneurship. The result is that investors are not willing to invest in this area due to legal and economic uncertainty, which in turns reduces the number of startups and innovation.

As described in the term ‘permissionless innovation’, the Internet removes barriers to entry – technical or otherwise – allowing Jeff Bezos to start Amazon in his garage in Washington, Mark Zuckerberg to start Facebook in his dorm at Harvard, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin to start Google in their lab at Stanford. ‘Permissionless innovation’ produces a significant economic effect and creates the conditions for additional points of entry and access.

Digital music – whether streamed or downloaded – requires no physical inventory like Amazon books; no network of friends and family like Facebook; and no ‘secret sauce’ like the PageRank algorithm that propelled Google. Why should permission to sell digital bits not scale with the size of the seller?

In 2012, global revenues of recorded music increased for the first time since 1998, based on the increase in online distributed music. Thus, there is a market for online music, and no reason to restrict the market to just a few large players. With innovative new business models, the industry should be able to bloom.

Categories
IETF Open Internet Standards Technology

Enhancing Video Over Mobile – Predicting the Future is Key

Trying to conduct a videoconference over a cellular network in a moving car “wasn’t working very well” for Keith Winstein, so he started trying to find a solution to the problem. The result was a new transport protocol called “Sprout” and the paper he and his co-authors wrote earned Winstein the second Applied Networking Research Prize for 2014.

Winstein won the 2014 ANRP for designing a transport protocol for interactive applications that desire high throughput and low delay. In their paper, “Stochastic Forecasts Achieve High Throughput and Low Delay over Cellular Networks” (Proc. 10th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI), Lombard, IL, USA, April 2013.), Keith and his co-authors Anirudh Sivaraman and Hari Balakrishnan describe Sprout, a transport protocol that works well over cellular wireless networks, where link speeds change dramatically with time, and current protocols build up multi-second queues in network gateways.

Motivated by his sub-par videoconferencing experience, Keith and his team developed a novel end-to-end transport protocol that tries to maximise throughput whilst simultaneously bounding the risk of delay by modelling the variation in link speed based on observations of packet arrival times. The model is then used to predict the future link speed.

The results are compelling: experiments conducted on traces from four commercial cellular networks show many-fold reductions in delay, and increases in throughput, over Skype, Facetime, and Hangout, as well as over Cubic, Compound TCP, Vegas, and LEDBAT. Although Sprout is an end-to-end scheme, in this setting it matched or exceeded the performance of Cubic-over-CoDel, which requires modifications to network infrastructure to be deployed.

Keith received his award at the recent Internet Research Task Force open meeting at IETF 89 in London, where he also presented his results. Keith’s slides are available and audio from the presentation is also available (starting at 01:22:35).

The next ANRP nomination period for prizes to be awarded in 2015 will start later this year – stay tuned for more information on the nomination process.

Categories
IETF IPv6

NBCUniversal and Comcast Sign Strategic Sponsorship Agreement for Internet Society and Internet Engineering Task Force

By Leslie Daigle, Internet Society Chief Internet Technology Officer

I am very pleased to share the news that NBCUniversal and Comcast have announced today a new strategic sponsorship agreement, including a commitment to jointly host three Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meetings over the next nine years. In addition, the companies have agreed to maintain a platinum-level organizational sponsorship, the highest level of support available, for the next nine years as well. The agreement also gives the companies a framework for providing additional sponsorship for Internet Society and IETF activities as the organizations and relationships evolve over that time.

The IETF is the Internet’s premier technical standards body, responsible for developing the standards that are foundational to the global Internet. These include email, instant messaging, VoIP, and IPv6, as well as standards related to the next steps of the Internet’s evolution such as the Internet of Things, WebRTC and improved security protocols. The Internet Society is proud to be the organizational home of the IETF.

This sponsorship agreement is yet another example of a long history of commitment these organizations have shown the IETF and the Internet Society. In fact, the two organizations have provided significant sponsorship for 12 of the last 19 IETF meetings. Both are also Platinum sponsors of the Internet Society and have provided significant and varied additional support to the organization—from sponsorship to committee membership.

We are also greatly appreciative of their continued encouragement of others in their industry to join and support the Internet Society financially and to participate in the IETF. Participation in the IETF by network operators like Comcast is especially important, as their perspectives and contributions ensure the development of successful protocols—which inline with the IETF’s mantra of “running code” is measured by breadth of deployment. Comcast, for example, has become a leader in the deployment of IPv6 with over 24% of their customers having IPv6 service.

The long-term support by both Comcast and NBCUniversal is a significant addition to the support of open standards, which are key to the continued growth and evolution of Internet, and a foundation for the future of the IETF and the Internet Society.

Categories
Open Internet Standards

Celebrating 25 Years of the World Wide Web – What’s Next for the Internet?

Twenty-five years ago, when the World Wide Web was on the drafting board, I had a tough time trying to explain to friends and relatives what the Internet was and why I was working with it. “Global network” meant nothing to the average citizen. Now, at least, most people understand that the Internet is the thing they need in order to use the World Wide Web, and they know they want (or need) that to carry out many of their personal and professional activities (and to get cat videos). As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, it’s worth reflecting on the ways in which the Web’s transformation of our lives, in such a short timeframe, really demonstrates how Internet technology matters!

The Web is the poster child for the “permission-free innovation” that the Internet has enabled. Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not have to ask a central authority whether or not he could write a client-server hypertext system. He wrote it; others who found the possibilities interesting downloaded clients and servers and started using it.

It also highlights the value of a global fabric for the Internet. While the WWW was created in Switzerland, it didn’t remain circumscribed by any nation’s borders. Soon, servers were cropping up all over the globe, and clients could connect from anywhere to any server. You can’t have that sort of effect without a single naming system (the domain name system) and globally accessible server addresses. 

And, it has flourished, beyond the original imaginings of its creator, because the specifications for its technologies have been established and advanced through open standards processes — HTML at the W3C (turning 20 this year!) and HTTP through the IETF. These open standards have allowed diversity of implementations and harnessed the technical expertise of engineers around the world to improve and extend the standards and the software implementations of them.

That’s a lot of impact from one Internet application. The real question for the Internet of today is:  can we still, today, develop and deploy such an impactful technology on the Internet, such that we’ll look back in 25 years with similar amazement? I am confident that the world’s developers have the imagination to create such an application – what can we do to ensure the Internet remains a platform for ensuring the results can flourish?

Categories
Community Projects Human Rights Identity Internet Governance Technology

The Internet as a Catalyst for Change in Yemen

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Yemen_protest2.jpg