As the IEEE Internet Initiative completes its five-year tenure, it is an opportune time to take stock of what we have been able to accomplish, and chart out the path ahead. The IEEE Board of Directors set up the IEEE Internet Initiative in 2014 with the objective of greater involvement by technologists in shaping Internet policy. As I often say, while technology is global, policy more often tends to be local.
Various programs and activities under the aegis of the initiative have established IEEE as an informed, reasoned, and neutral voice of the technical community in the areas of Internet governance, cybersecurity, privacy, and inclusion. The program also supports the organization’s mission to provide a collaborative platform for advancing solutions and informing public policy formulations around the globe through a consensus of sound technical and scientific knowledge.
Through its work, the Initiative increased IEEE’s standing with government agencies, inter-governmental bodies, and international organizations to help connect the half of the world that is not yet connected to the Internet.
The initiative’s activities address issues such as privacy by design, public access and community networks, strong encryption, and universal access. The supporting documents for these activities can be accessed for free from the website’s resources library.
LEAVING A LEGACY
From its beginnings, the Internet Initiative participants looked closely at what was needed, region by region, and discovered common areas as well as differences to be addressed. It discussed the issues at events it hosted such as IEEE Experts in Technology and Policy Forums and IEEE Internet Inclusion events in China, India, Israel, Namibia, and the United States. IEEE also collaborated with other organizations to help reach the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at global events like the Internet Governance Forum and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum.
“By engaging in Internet governance processes, IEEE has increased its value to the public and to policy institutions,” said 2017 IEEE president Karen Bartleson, who helped launch the Initiative and was its first ad hoc committee chair. “It represented values that are common to engineering practice and that are vital to the industrialized world such as transparency, privacy protection, transnational cooperation, and consensus standards. In addition to these values, IEEE strengthened the Internet governance environment by bringing its technical competency, organizational strength, international perspective, and proven ability to respond to global issues.”
IEEE Senior Member Maike Luiken, chair of the IEEE Internet Initiative Policy Track and IEEE Region 7 director, adds, “The IEEE Internet Initiative has been well aligned with the IEEE strategic plan and has contributed significantly to its goals, especially to goal four: Leverage IEEE’s technology-related insight to provide governments, non-governmental organizations, other organizations, and the public with innovative and practical recommendations to address public policy issues.”
Karen McCabe, senior director, public affairs and marketing communications, said, “The initiative built bridges between other IEEE activities such as its humanitarian activities, the Internet of Things Initiative, and other groups, enabling a network-of-networks effect. In short, it paved the path for many of IEEE’s technology policy activities.”
The initiative’s 2018 annual report to the IEEE Board of Directors included observations from key participants about the impact the group had inside and outside of IEEE. Managing Director of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) Konstantinos Karachalios, said, “To understand the level and depth of the initiative’s achievements, we should recall that the original purpose was to engage through IEEE the technical communities in order to establish more trustworthy foundations for the Internet.” Karochalios is one of the initiators of the initiative, and a member of its ad hoc committee.
“Working toward reclaiming our digital identity and our digital personal data thus became our main drive. Another goal we set was to contribute to connecting the unconnected half of earth’s population while enhancing the level of digital literacy for the newcomers.”
Karachalios adds that the initiative’s programs have started to create the technical tools and assets such as standards, guides, codes, white papers, and more that are necessary to address the issues. “Because of the overall success of this large-scale initiative, we are now in a different much better place, and that much of the work is now being continued by other groups,” he said.
Programs that have emerged from the initiative include the IEEE-SA Industry Connections Program on Digital Skills and Intelligence and the IEEE Digital Inclusion through Trust and Agency Industry Connections Program. This program is working to standardize a framework for digital literacy as an IEEE standard, as well as work streams on Internet affordability and access. This program was behind the establishment of the IEEE Foundation Fund on Internet Connectivity.
The initiative also fostered greater awareness and significant tangible efforts to address the gender digital divide, and enabled the formation of the Connectivity Coalition, which is dedicated to building deep technical and other kinds of talent within the local communities.
Overall, as a multi-stakeholder platform for dialog, development, and deployment of pragmatic solutions the IEEE Internet Initiative supports IEEE’s mission of “Advancing Technology for Humanity.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
It would also not be possible to do all this without our excellent partners who share our mission and passion. These include, the Inter-American Development Bank, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers , the Internet Society, the World Bank, USAID, and the World Economic Forum.
Because an estimated 4 billion people remain unconnected to the Internet, many of the Initiative’s efforts will continue to advance solutions by contributing technology expertise and resources to the policy ecosystem and collaboration among community members to produce action-oriented and implementable outputs.
The IEEE Internet Initiative website will continue to exist as an archive of resources such as white papers, event reports, recorded webinars, articles, and videos. The IEEE Collabratec Internet Technology Policy Community, which has more than 7,400 members, will continue to operate and grow to help participants stay informed and engage in discussions about important developments impacting Internet technologies and policy globally.
Deepak Maheshwari is chair of the IEEE Internet Initiative and is the Director, Government Affairs – India, ASEAN and China in Symantec. A public policy and regulatory affairs professional with more than two decades of experience, he has a keen interest in the interplay of technological innovation and socio-economic development.