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Growing the Internet 2 June 2014

Open Internet for All

Michael Kende
By Michael KendeSenior Fellow and Visiting Lecturer, Graduate Institute, Geneva

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.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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