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Internet Standards, Internet Policy, and Internet Governance: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Date & Time:
12:30:00 - 14:00:00,
Wednesday 22 June, 2005


Over the last fifteen years, the Internet has evolved from a tool used primarily by the research community in the United States and Europe into a critical infrastructure used by approximately a billion people located in every corner of the globe. In the early days of the Internet, the technical community determined the standards that defined the Internet, managed the allocation of IP addresses and domain names, and determined which applications would be available over the Internet. Because of the Internet’s inherently decentralized nature, there was (and is) very little need for top-down management of the network. Indeed, the Internet, a ‘network of networks’, was designed to be almost unmanageable. However, today, more and more governments are concerned that their citizens, more and more of their businesses, and key government functions are critically dependent upon the Internet infrastructure–and they want more control over that infrastructure–or at least assurance that someone somewhere will ensure that the Internet is secure, reliable, and able to meet their needs.

This has led to debates over ‘Internet governance’ at the United Nations and elsewhere. At the first phase of the UN’s World Summit onthe Information Society, held in Geneva in December, 2003, a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) was established to examine whether new international structures or mechanisms were needed to define Internet standards, allocate Internet addresses and domain names, set the price of international Internet connections, and control the content delivered over the Internet. Some governments called for a larger role for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), while most in the business community and the Internet technical community supported the current, decentralized approach to Internet governance, which has given users, Internet Service Providers, and providers of hardware and software the freedom to innovate, develop and adopt new standards, and deploy new products and services.

As we enter the next phase of the Internet, as the Internet becomes a platform for collaboration, new policy issues will arise. The growth of the Grid, peer-to-peer applications, and Web Services will link together systems, databases, and software located in different companies and organizations in a variety of countries. This could unleash a new wave of innovation. It could also raise new government concerns about intellectual property, liability security, privacy, taxation, authentication, etc. We are at a critical point in the development of the Internet, since today’s debates about Internet governance will affect not only today’s Internet, but the next generation of the Internet as well.

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  • Name: Michael R. Nelson
  • Affiliation: Director, Internet Technology and Strategy IBM Corporation
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