What will the Internet look like in 2025? That was a question put to 2,558 experts and technologists by the Pew Research Centre's Internet Project recently.
One theme that emerged was the expectation that accessing the Internet would be as effortless as turning on a tap, it would flow through people’s lives “like electricity”.
There are fewer barriers to Internet access today: via smartphones you have search engines at your fingertips that guide you to where you want to go, and online services like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that allow you to communicate and share the best the Net has to offer.
For all this to work, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, administers the Internet’s unique identifiers: names, IP numbers and protocol parameters so that your device, be it a laptop, smartphone or tablet is able to connect you with the desired online destination. ICANN’s role allows us to communicate, transact and learn through a single, unified and interoperable Internet.
ICANN was committed to this role through a contract with the United States government. The latter envisioned that its stewardship would one day become the responsibility of all Internet stakeholders. These stakeholders would represent not just governments, but also businesses, non-commercial interests, technical and academic communities and independent Internet users around the world. This week marks a highly significant shift in the governance model behind the Internet as the United States government announced its intention to transfer the stewardship of the Internet’s technical functions from the control of the US government to the broader global Internet community – people like you.
That transition won’t alter the role that ICANN plays; there will be no other entity administering the Domain Name System (DNS) or the authoritative root zone file – the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains. That all stays the same.
Starting this month we begin a process – participatory, open, and transparent – to define a framework before the current contract with the US government expires in September 2015. As one of the most advanced Internet regions in the world Asia-Pacific has a huge role to play in this discussion, and it is an opportunity to be seized.
As an online stakeholder the region has been an outlier: a hugely influential Internet player that has, for too long in my view, been under-represented. More than half of the world’s mobile subscriptions came from Asia-Pacific last year – 3.5 billion out of 6.8 billion. Half of all Internet users are now in this region and well over a third of all global commerce comes from Asia.
These are more than just numbers – it suggests this region has much to offer on how the Internet is governed.
In this respect, South Korea has exercised considerable thought leadership. In its official submission to Net Mundial, the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the future of Internet Governance that is taking place in Sao Paulo next month, South Korea proposes that the private sector, civil society and governments come together to decide the Internet’s future.
“Discussions on Internet governance need to involve the participation of all interested stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, technical community, civil society, academia and international organisations in a democratic manner. The multi-stakeholder process must be truly inclusive and equitable. Further efforts are needed to fully embrace the global community, particularly the stakeholders lacking sufficient representation in the current Internet governance discussion.”
It is time for the Asia-Pacific Internet community in all its forms to be heard. As perhaps the most diverse Internet region in the world, and certainly the fastest growing, there is a lot at stake and much to be said.
From tomorrow these conversations and debates will kick off in earnest in Singapore as part of ICANN’s 49th public meeting. All are welcome and there are a variety of ways to get involved and be heard, either in person or online. Registration and remote access are available at the ICANN website.
This is a momentous occasion and a chance to be involved in shaping the future of your Internet. The region needs to be aware and engage while the opportunity exists. ICANN is looking for the global community to be a part of this transitional process.
ICANN 49 runs from tomorrow to Thursday in Singapore. Attendance is free and remote participation for many sessions is available. Registration details are at singapore49.icann.org/en.
Kuek Yu-Chuang is vice-president and managing director for Asia Pacific, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.