Community Networks 23 October 2018

Andrew Sullivan’s Remarks at the ICANN 63 Panel “Global Digital Agenda and Internet Policies”

22 October 2018

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Distinguished members. One one of the things that is always important to me when we come together to talk, particularly in this environment where the multistakeholder model discussed so much over the last hours, and in fact yesterday as well, is the critical piece that we sometimes miss in discussing that.

We talk about it as though it is an important decision that we make about how we want to govern ourselves, but it’s important to remember that we don’t really have a choice, because the Internet is a network of networks. And each one of those networks operates according to its own needs, its own desires, its own agenda. And then they interconnect to one another. And when you interconnect to somebody else, you have to get them to agree as well. It’s voluntary. So you have to have a multistakeholder system because everybody has a stake, and if you don’t get them to come along with you, they just disconnect and you don’t get the Internet. You get a bunch of disconnected networks.

So this also, though, reminds us of another really super important fact, and that is that there’s no one solution to how we’re going to achieve the development goals that we want for all of the people in the world. At the Internet Society, we like to say the Internet is for everyone, and everyone is part of everyone. And so you have to find how you’re going to connect different parts of the world in different ways.

This illustrates two very nice things. One is that not everything is done by everyone. Some things, for instance, are outside ICANN’s remit. We heard David Conrad speaking a little bit ago, and he was talking about how ICANN’s remit is fairly narrow, and there are parts of it that are really important, and they’re important for the Internet, and there are parts of it that are just beyond ICANN’s’ remit. One, for instance, is one that we work at the Internet Society. And that’s why I have this map up, because if I tried to name all of the countries, I would inevitably forget one, and in this room in particular, that seems like a really bad idea. So I have this map to show you something that we work on, which are these community networks.

Community networks are a way of connecting to the network, to the Internet, in a way that is perhaps useful in environments that are otherwise not very well served. And interestingly, we’re in a country where Guifi has been extraordinarily successful with this model. But they started working in locations where other models were not going to work. It was not commercially feasible for somebody to go in or the geography was very challenging for more traditional ways of working. And so community networks are a means of giving the power to fix that networking problem back to the community that needs it. And we collaborate with various organizations throughout the world, as you can see here on the map. I suppose I should point to it as opposed to the monitor. As you can see on the map. We cooperate with these various groups in order to connect people who otherwise won’t get that connection.

Last week – I’m from Canada – and last week I was at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit which was in Inuvik in the very far north of Canada. We went to Tuktoyaktuk, which is a community of about 900 people, and you can imagine there are not a lot of telcos who want to run a fiber line into a community of 900 people, but there are other opportunities there for other technology to be useful.

And this is something that many different stakeholders working together can achieve in a way that no one group can do on their own.

And this is something that is super important.

Another example just came up a moment ago having to do with the internationalization of the Internet. And this is a different example of where multiple people have a role. And this is an example of something where ICANN’s role is quite important, because they have been promoting this technology, the standards-based technology that allows multiple writing systems to be used in the Domain Name System. It’s not a perfect technology. Over time, you know, we have run into some bumps, but it is a technology which enables this. And I think this is another example of using this distributed system.

So what is the role of governments in these cases? Well, actually, there’s an important role in the case of community networks because many of the community networks use wireless spectrum in order to satisfy many of these issues. And governments are really the only people who are in a position to influence the allocation of wireless spectrum within their geographies, and in collaboration of course with one another through the international telecommunication union. But there are unlicensed portions of the spectrum which are sometimes tightly controlled, and we find if the spectrum allocation rules in countries are altered a little bit you suddenly have capabilities you wouldn’t otherwise have and you can reach populations that are otherwise unconnected.

Similarly in the case of internationalization. There are policies that governments can adopt. This doesn’t require a heavy handed participation. It doesn’t require a global answer to these problems, but instead requires local action by governments in order to support the development needs that are relevant within those geographic areas.

So I urge everyone to remember that the only way that we get the Internet is by collaborating on this goal that the Internet is for everyone, and then figuring out how we can hook people up, how we can give them the development tools that they themselves can use to empower themselves, and use this remarkable tool for growth and innovation.

Thank you very much.

Session description:

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