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Internet's Future 7 May 2020

Internet Society-Chatham House Collaboration: How Is Consolidation Changing the Internet?

By Carl GahnbergDirector, Policy Development & Research

For the past couple of years, here, at the Internet Society, we have been thinking about Internet consolidation. After releasing the 2019 Global Internet Report: Consolidation in the Internet Economy, we understood our limitations and the complexity of the issue. To this end, we decided to partner with Chatham House and reach out to the community of researchers and academics, seeking their input to learn more. This resulted in a long process to create a special issue of the Journal of Cyber Policy, including more than 40 proposals for articles, various peer-review cycles and many edits from the authors.

The selection process was tough. We had to weigh in a broad range of ideas and perspectives, which touched virtually all aspects of the Internet economy. And while hard choices had to be made, we are also confident we made the right ones. The level of quality, creativity, and interest that is incorporated in each and every research paper is truly outstanding. For this we are also grateful for the amazing support we have received from our community in spreading the word, for submitting proposals, and to the broad range of experts who have participated in the review of the final articles.

What this process has confirmed, and which we hope to reflect in the diversity of the articles in the journal, is that the topic of Internet consolidation is not a straightforward issue. In fact, it spans across many issues, making it impossible to see it as a single thing. This is consistent with the Internet – it is not a monolith, but a compilation of technologies, services, and actors – all contributing their part to the larger whole.

In this light, Internet consolidation can be seen as a phenomenon that is best described, as Jari Arkko expresses it in his article, as “…the process of the increasing control over Internet infrastructure and services by a small set of organisations.” But to the extent this constitutes a concern will vary depending on where you sit, where you look, and the nature of the service in question. For example, and which you can read more about in the special issue, concentration and consolidation in parts of the infrastructure like Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) have vastly different implications than consolidation in the run-time supply chains of applications.

As the Internet Society’s CEO, Andrew Sullivan, discusses in his guest editorial to the special issue, it seems clear that “while consolidation presents serious legal and social issues, it only sometimes presents an issue for the Internet itself.” And while a few hypotheses emerge as to when that may be the case, it’s also evident that consolidation as a trend requires a much closer look on a case-by-case basis. Recognizing these nuances has never been more important as policymakers and others are grappling to understand how the Internet is evolving. The decisions we make today, or the lack thereof, will inevitably have consequences for the Internet’s success in the future.

We hope that this special issue will illustrate a breadth of perspectives, both in terms of consolidation trends in different parts of the Internet, with regards to possible ways forward, and as a catalyst for an interdisciplinary research agenda.

We urge you to go read the papers, whether you are an academic, policymaker, or just interested in keeping the Internet open for everyone. The Internet Society has secured open access to this special issue. We hope they inspire you to continue asking the difficult questions.

Read the Journal of Cyber Policy Special Issue: Consolidation of the Internet.

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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