Technologists Weigh In on Internet Governance Policy Debate

IEEE holds first meeting where experts discuss key issues

20 April 2015

Photo: Simon Pugh

Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf spoke about the design of the Internet and whether it would be able to address the main challenges of its infrastructure going forward at IEEE's summit on Internet governance, in Brussels.
IEEE organized its first major summit on 3 December in Europe around the issue of Internet governance. Held in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and home to the European Union, the program featured 13 prominent speakers with various backgrounds and an audience of 200 people.

Roberto de Marca, 2014 IEEE President and CEO, and Marko Delimar, chair of the IEEE European Public Policy Initiative, opened the meeting. The keynote speaker was IEEE Fellow Vinton Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. Known as one of the “fathers of the Internet” for helping to design and develop protocols for the Web, Cerf talked about the design of the Internet and whether it would be able to address the main challenges of its infrastructure going forward.

He also talked about the challenges for network management, and safeguarding the net’s neutrality in light of the increasing amount of applications that have the access and capacity to communicate directly with other machines. Addressing the governance issues facing the net today might lead to the net’s breakup tomorrow, he noted. However, he was optimistic about its future and had great faith that the net’s architecture can successfully address the immediate challenges. He did, however, question whether the net as we know it today would be around in the future. As with all infrastructures based on technology, the net might one day simply become obsolete. Because machines are increasingly capable of talking to each other directly, the current physical infrastructure of dedicated wires, cables, and server farms might not be necessary in the years to come, he explained.

After this memorable keynote presentation, the scene was set for the rest of the day’s proceedings. There were three panel sessions addressing different themes related to Internet governance: net neutrality, security versus privacy, and the future of Internet governance. Each featured three to four experts on the topic, who after a short opening statement, were encouraged by the moderator to enter into a lively discussion with the other panelists and then the audience. Building on the feedback received from the conference participants, the result was an open atmosphere of debate that has rarely been seen in previous such events. Said one attendee who participates in many events on Internet governance, “I finally understood the different approaches to net neutrality taken by Telefonica and Cisco from discussions that took place in the first panel. This summit has really made their differences that apparent.”

Because the summit was timed from the outset to coincide with the new EU Parliament and Commission Legislature, IEEE succeeded in further solidifying its presence in the EU policy arena. Our driving motivation for this event was our determination to ensure that input from technologists to the important Internet governance discussions would be heard. Our aim is to be able to assist in shaping that policy going forward. This ambition is one step closer to become reality by the creation of the IEEE Information and Communications Technology Working Group formed last September, a development I will expand on in an upcoming blog submission. In other words, stay tuned because the best is yet to come.

For a detailed reporting of the day’s discussions and proceedings please find the conference report and video files here.

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