The recently announced Declaration for the Future of the Internet aims to ensure that the Internet remains open, accessible, and free to all. Recent geopolitical developments and Huawei’s New IP likely created the foundation for this declaration to materialize, but its development will likely be a long and complex process.
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The Declaration for the Future of the Internet
On April 28, the United States and 60 countries announced the Declaration for the Future of the Internet, a political commitment to ensure that the Internet and digital technologies remain open, free, and part of a single, global community. The vision of this declaration includes commitment for the following key points:
- Protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all
- Global Internet with free flow of information
- Affordable and inclusive connectivity for everyone
- Promote trust in global digital ecosystem, including protection of privacy
- Protect and strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to governance for the Internet
Notable country exceptions to the declaration were the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China. According to the declaration, both authoritarian governments and online platforms are culprits in attacking the points listed above, while digital tools are increasingly being used to deny human rights and fundamental freedoms, including spreading of disinformation and condoning malicious behavior. It is not yet clear how this declaration will materialize, but there have been several market trends and activities that point to the creation of such a measure by the Western world.
In Response to Geopolitical Activities and New IP
Recent geopolitical activities, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the purported activities of China to harm the Western technology ecosystem have increased concerns about the future of the Internet and whether certain countries or even companies will be able to restrict free speech and access to information. This is also not limited to censorship instigated by governments only, but also companies. Facebook and other global social media platforms have the power the restrict or propagate information in line with their interests, contrary to the decentralized approach the early Internet promised. Recent developments in blockchain are promising to improve this, but they are a long way from becoming mainstream. Τhere are some upcoming regulatory developments in the European Union (EU), notably the Digital Services Act, which is concerned with creating safe digital spaces and protecting users. It aims to bring to account those digital service providers that threaten fundamental rights, either by enabling harmful and illegal content or through unscrupulous corporate tactics that may breach privacy or anti-discrimination laws. This is, however, a regional regulation for companies operating in the EU. The declaration echoes this goal, but the focus here is on sovereign nation states. The declaration will likely promote these ideas while protecting existing Internet infrastructure.
ABI Research also considers that Huawei’s New IP was a key activity that resulted in this declaration. The New IP concept presented a radical new approach for the design of the Internet, even replacing Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)/Internet Protocol (IP) with a newer, backward-compatible protocol stack. This was brought to the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) as a proposal, but was neither approved nor sanctioned by the group. Nevertheless, the New IP raised global concerns—perhaps unsubstantiated—and was considered as an attempt by the Chinese government to “hijack” the Internet. ABI Research studies have concluded that even if the New IP were approved by the ITU-T (which it was not), it would then have to be accepted by national standards bodies (e.g., the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the ETSI) and then also accepted by the market to have any impact. Given that IPv6 has taken 10 years to be implemented, and that the New IP is far more complex that IPv6, it would be nearly impossible for it to affect the global Internet technology ecosystem. Regardless, policy makers were very concerned and have likely used the New IP as a reason to launch the new declaration.
The role of the ITU
The ITU was mentioned specifically during the announcement of the declaration and is a suitable Standards Development Organization (SDO) that is relevant for the work described in it. Member states (governments) are driving developments and have the power to approve a proposal, whereas the role of the industry is secondary. This is in contrast with other SDOs, including The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) where the industry is driving developments. However, the ITU-T, which is responsible for creating technology-related recommendations that can later become standards, is dominated by Chinese delegates. This issue will need to be addressed before the ITU can effectively become the SDO that hosts discussions related to the declaration. Despite this, ABI Research expects that the ITU will indeed become the SDO, especially when the frontrunner in the next Secretary General (SG) elections is a candidate from the United States, which will replace the current SG from China.
ABI Research regards the announcement of the declaration as a very positive development that can truly guarantee the openness of the Internet and reduce the influence of specific companies in the global landscape. It will likely take many years and significant effort for this to materialize, but ABI Research expects that the whole world will eventually group together behind this declaration to ensure the future of the Internet.