[AfrICANN-discuss] The Tech Lab: Paul Twomey

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Tue May 26 21:54:26 SAST 2009

 [image: BBC NEWS]
The Tech Lab: Paul Twomey

  * Dr Paul Twomey, president of the internet admin body Icann, talks about
the net's potential for change. *

In a time of gloom I am an optimist. There is a tide of innovation sweeping
the world. Those concerned about how to counter recession and poor financial
system transparency should look at how the rapidly globalising internet is
changing how our world works.

While the web has changed our lives, we are but on the edge of a
transformative revolution which will change both developed and developing

The mobile global internet is growing quickly to connect billions of people,
devices and things. It offers much greater productivity and lower barriers
to entry for users and businesses.

In my travels I see "suits" in Manhattan, shop owners in Hyderabad, tour
guides in Luxor, students in Santiago del Chile, Aboriginal artists in Alice
Springs, fisherman in Hoi An; all glued to their handsets and the net.

This empowerment of individuals, especially in the developing world, is
transforming social, economic, and political relationships.

 * * “ * The implications of the rapid penetration of the internet are
staggering * ”
Paul Twomey

At a time of financial crisis, when all are calling for transparency and
good governance, the internet economy's feedback loops should be grasped,
transforming the way we think of currency and accuracy of information and to
change how we develop policy and make decisions.

But we also need to stay alert to the forces that may contribute to the
fragmentation of the global web.

Most internet users today will have had their first interaction with this
phenomenal communications platform in the mid 90's, following the advent of
the HTML and the World Wide Web.

My first encounter with the internet was in a crowded network operations
centre, at the Australian National University, in 1991. I remember thinking,
someone is going to turn this into a tool for average people and unleash all
sorts of economic opportunities.

The next year Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau developed the Web and did
just that.

Despite the obvious promise then, few would have envisaged that in such a
short time, the internet would come to play a crucial role in international
commerce, communications, government, education entertainment, and delivery
of services.

And this is only the beginning.

While we are offered glimpses of how the internet might evolve in the coming
years, the last 30 years has taught us that we probably haven't yet imagined
the long-term impact of the global internet on society.

* New worlds *

Having said that, it's already clear where the next wave of internet growth
and innovation will come from. It will come from the world's developing
economies, and it won't even be reliant on access to personal computers.

Worldwide, we're seeing an unprecedented expansion of internet networks,
driven most recently by convergence with mobile communications.

This represents a revolutionary shift in the provision of information and
empowerment to individuals throughout the world. Ten years ago, 100 million
people used the internet. Today it is 1.4 billion.

By the end of 2010, 5 billion people will have a mobile phone. Many of these
will be internet enabled.

The consequence of this growth and convergence is an enormous
democratisation and devolution of decision-making throughout the globe,
especially within the developing world. India alone has a handset uptake of
9 million per month.

The expansion of mobile networks, combined with the latest smartphone and
other internet enabled devices, are enabling developing economies to
leapfrog traditional technologies and remove barriers to entry to the global
economy for their citizens and businesses.

Married to the introduction of new generation operating systems, like
Google's Android and the IPhone, this mobile internet revolution is going to
greatly expand the commercial, social, and political feedback loops which
the internet enables and fosters.

This is transformative for the way governments and companies need to
consider how information is gathered, analyzed, and acted on. In a truly
networked world, decisions need to be made on real time data, reflecting
network effects of complex "eco-systems". Imagine Facebook meets the
national bureaus of statistics.

This revolution is particularly important for the services sector of the
global economy. As Alan Greenspan noted in the 1990s, the first major impact
of the internet in the US economy was in helping to drive down inventories
across the supply chain in goods.

The manufacturing and retail sectors have continued to use these networks to
enable greater transparency of information across global trading networks;
hence, spurring continued globalization, lower costs, and economic growth.

The services sector has not been as agile. Indeed, in major parts of the
professional service sectors, health care, and government services, the full
promise of information flows across fully networked sectors has not yet been
achieved. This should be a major focus for policy makers considering about
how to get the full economic benefits from the growth in data networks.

* Growth pains *

The implications of the rapid penetration of the internet are staggering. If
current industry estimates prove correct, there will be 1.5 billion new
internet users in the next two to three years - just over double the number
of current users.

And these networked ecosystems will not just be human. We are moving into a
realm of the machine-to-machine internet.

The introduction of Internet Protocol (IP) version 6 into common usage means
that the address space available to connect devices to the net is growing
from 4.2 billion with IPv4 to 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses.
With pervasive wireless connectivity, this means everything can talk to

Car and aircraft manufacturers are already preparing for components to be
tracked and provide performance reporting through the Net. Such a pervasive
public internet will also support private trading networks, using Radio
Frequency ID technology, for tracking physical objects through the supply
chains of the world.

While the internet unites people, the very nature of its rapid expansion has
produced stresses that threaten to fragment it. One force for fragmentation
could be political, whether motivated by cultural norms or fear of dissent;
it is essential not to confuse the content debates with the underlying
global addressing and routing system.

Another stress could be linguistic fragmentation. Here the role of
Internationalized Domain Names is essential to ensure a globally unified
Domain Name System, while enabling linguistic localization. There are also
technical and business drivers.

The boundary between the traditional PC-based internet enjoyed by 1.3bn
people (largely in the developed world) and the mobile communications (used
by billions in developed and less-developed countries) is still somewhat

We need to ensure that carriers or device manufacturers do not impose
"walled gardens" that block users from the benefits of the "innovation at
the edge" model of the internet.

Despite these concerns, I remain hopeful that with appropriate attention by
leading governments, business and civil society these forces can be managed.

In the coming years, it is going to be vital that we avoid fragmentation and
maintain a single interoperable internet. To achieve this, network expansion
must continue in order to spread the benefits more widely, and the
internet's tradition of coordination of technical evolution among multiple
stakeholders needs to be maintained.

Corporate or governmental attempts to control will stifle innovation and
entrepreneurialism and risk fragmentation.

The internet has proven to be a deeply transformative technology in the
developed world, as so it will be for the developing world.

It will be an economically important tool that will provide a mechanism for
the development of new business models, previously unknown ways connecting
people and communities, new possibilities for the delivery of services, and
a feedback loop for the population.

In the midst of economic crisis, companies and governments should not
underestimate the formational impact of a globally ubiquitous internet will
have on the post-recession world. Their agile competitors will not.
 Imagining the future of technology
 Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/05/26 09:02:02 GMT


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