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Keeping the Internet free and open

03 December 2009

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The success of Internet lies precisely in its openness, transparency and decentralisation, says Lynn St. Amour, president and CEO, Internet Society. Its unique evolution process and the principles that guide it have made it a rich source of unending innovation, benefiting businesses and individual users alike.

Broadband Internet providers must never be allowed to discriminate against particular content and applications, says Genachowsk. As a result, the FCC has begun taking steps toward implementing rules aimed at keeping the Internet free and open.

Image credits/ Forbes: Lynn St. Amour

This is crucially important. Here's why.

It is happening in the context of a debate over the concept of "network neutrality." Network neutrality means that the businesses and organisations that provide Internet service should not care how people use it, or what applications they run.

Net neutrality has various implications for the business relationships between companies like Google (GOOG - news - people) and Hulu, and for companies that provide Internet service, such as AT&T (T - news - people), Comcast (CMCSA - news - people) and Verizon (VZ - news - people).

Chairman Genachowki's statement correctly recognises the overarching value of a truly open Internet, and of the principles that have guided the Internet's evolution and development.

Internet – dominant online vehicle

With the Internet an increasingly big part of everyday life, we can easily forget that its huge growth was never a given.

Over the past 40 years, while there have been many other networks and networking standards used or under development, the Internet has risen from a relatively small US-based research project into the dominant global vehicle for business and social interaction.

At the heart of that amazing growth – and what distinguishes the Internet from other technologies – is the Internet's continued evolution. Its success lies precisely in its openness, transparency and decentralisation, in the fact that everyone can participate in its development.

This openness has allowed its underlying technologies to continuously draw on – and benefit from – the input of end users, network engineers and businesses around the world.

A small group of individuals involved in the Internet's early technical design led the way in this regard. As Stephen D. Crocker, an early Internet leader, stated, "We deliberately exposed the internal architecture to make it easy for others to gain a foothold."

This approach was institutionalised by the creation of the Internet Engineering Task Force, which continues to lead in the development of Internet standards.

The success of this model isn't limited to highly technical aspects on the Internet. In fact, the same distributed, bottom-up processes drive popular applications such as Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. Those businesses don't assume they have the final answers about the services and capabilities their customers want. Instead, they provide open development platforms and encourage user innovation.

As we admire the Internet technology that now connects more than a billion and a half people around the world, we need to recognise the unique nature of its evolution and the principles that have guided it.

In an open letter to the FCC, Crocker, Vinton Cerf and a number of other Internet pioneers have said, "We believe that the vast numbers of innovative Internet applications over the last decade are a direct consequence of an open and freely accessible Internet."

During the last 40 years the Internet has evolved and grown in ways nobody foresaw at its inception. We must all work to keep that happening by keeping it free and open. That is what makes it such a rich source of unending innovation, for the benefit of businesses and individual users alike.

Lynn St. Amour is the president and chief executive officer of the Internet Society, an international nonprofit organisation founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet-related standards, education and policy.

Source : Forbes

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