Lynne St Armour Issue: Global-ICT 2009
Article no.: 6
Topic: The Internet model – A visionary development platform
Author: Lynn St Amour
Title: President and CEO
Organisation: The Internet Society
PDF size: 180KB

About author

Lynn St. Amour is President and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC). She joined ISOC as Executive Director of its Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) division, and has been responsible for ISOC’s international expansion. She later became ISOC’s global Executive Director and COO and held that position until her current appointment. Ms St. Amour has extensive experience in global IT and international business, including positions in international sales and marketing, strategic planning, partner management and manufacturing, corporate restructuring and start-up management. Prior to joining ISOC, she was director of Business Development and Joint Venture Operations for AT&T’s Europe, Middle East and Africa division. She managed the AT&T Unisource Communications Services joint venture – an alliance between AT&T, and the Swiss, Swedish and Dutch PTTs. Before joining AT&T, she held a number of management positions with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) including as Director of Pricing for European Sales and Marketing, and as Digital’s Corporate Strategic Alliance Director. Ms St. Amour began her career in information technology with General Electric. Lynn St. Amour is a graduate of the University of Vermont.


Article abstract

Forty years ago, the RFC 1 – Host Software memo started the series of memos, which until today documents and defines the Internet. The founders of the Internet, though, created more than a technical specification. They created a vibrant platform for collaboration and cooperation open to all. The openness of the Internet model is still, 40 years later, at the heart of an ongoing transformation of the world. The visionary Internet Model of development has taken us far and must be preserved.


Full Article

November 2009 will be the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a work of staggering insight and vision, which transformed society and overturned conventional wisdom. Around the world, throughout the year, myriad events, programmes, and articles rightly celebrate the significance of Darwin’s work. However, April 6 this year also marked the 40th anniversary of another important – albeit less famous – origins document. Though the date did not capture the attention of many, the memorandum titled ‘Request for Comments’ (now known as ‘RFC 1 – Host Software’) is significant, not so much now for its content, as for its place as the first in a living series which continues to document and define another of the world’s most transformative phenomena – the Internet. Steve Crocker, author of RFC 1, recalled its background for the New York Times explaining that even as early as 1969 a “great deal of deliberation and planning had gone into the network’s underlying technology, but no one had given a lot of thought to what we would actually do with it”1. The RFCs were a way of involving others, and soliciting inputs, ideas, and feedback. Crocker also described the concerns he and his colleagues shared about being perceived as “making official decisions or asserting authority”2. For observers looking back now, the start of the RFC document series was an important early step on a remarkable quest. It is apparent that the Internet’s pioneers were guided by a vision, not of an end technology itself, but of an unbounded platform of possibility – a platform where the future creativity, inspiration, and vision of others could thrive. Clearly, they understood that others would build on their work, bringing new ideas and applications that had not yet been conceived. They knew that computer technologies and infrastructures would improve and they knew that future visionaries would arise. To ensure that these possibilities remained open, and that the Internet provided the maximum potential for as yet unknown future applications, the Internet’s pioneers had to challenge existing orthodoxies. To accommodate technologies that had not yet been conceived, they developed a layered network architecture and design principles such as end-to-end transparency for data communications, which meant that innovation in applications and services could be achieved at the edges of the network. The exciting new technologies being deployed today – and the as yet unknown new services of tomorrow – arise specifically from the Internet’s intrinsic design principles and development model, which, though conceived four decades ago, continue to foster a vibrant environment of innovation and creativity. Emergence of the Internet development model There are many ways to connect computer networks together. They existed before the Internet and some are still used now, but those other methods of interconnection shared a common limitation. Because they were built to proprietary standards, they were only available on certain products. Implementation was subject to commercial restriction and development was dictated by closed, top-down decision making. In such an environment, to connect my network to yours – indeed to even determine if that would be possible – I would need to know a great deal about your network. This, clearly, was a major barrier. The early pioneers of the Internet set out to break that barrier. They understood the potential of interconnecting networks and information systems. They also understood that tapping such potential required a new way of thinking – a new way of working. So the Internet grew from a need to collaborate and cooperate. People working together towards a common goal solved the problems of interconnection. Open standards were developed through open processes, where all those with an interest could participate. Anybody who wanted to apply those standards could do so without having to seek permissions or pay a fee. Nothing was mandatory and, indeed, there was no central authority to enforce any mandates. Operational responsibilities were distributed, and decisions were developed by open, documented, processes of consensus. The early pioneers of the Internet were creating new technologies, but just as importantly, they were creating a new way of working – a new means of development. We now call this the Internet Model of development. This term embodies a common set of operating values shared among many of the key communities and organizations that have been central to the development and ongoing evolution of the Internet. These values include: • open technical standards; • freely accessible processes for technology and policy development; • transparent and collaborative governance; and • distributed responsibility for technical, management, and administrative functions. These values are embodied in, and shape the actions of, many organizations and individuals engaged in the Internet’s ongoing development, operation and use. The stakeholders within the Internet ecosystem have different roles, different expectations, different interests, but remain united by a common need for a global, trustable, accessible Internet. As in any ecosystem, every component is vitally interlinked to the health and sustainability of the whole. The Internet works because people want it to work and because they collaborate to make it work. No single entity can be said to own or control the Internet. Indeed, because it is able to adapt to both diversity and rapid change, the Internet Model truly is intrinsic to the Internet’s success and, indeed, its very existence. The global renaissance of scientific and technical cooperation In 1992, announcing the creation of the Internet Society, three of the leading Internet pioneers, Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, and Lyman Chapin wrote “a global renaissance of scientific and technical cooperation is at hand”3. Amid the cacophonous squeal of telephone modems and gear-grinding dot matrix printers, watching a green cursor track out simple text on a black screen, talk of a global renaissance would have seemed idealistic to many. In 1992, most people, if they had even heard of the Internet, could not even begin to imagine how it would transform every aspect of their lives, but the engineers and scientists developing the Internet were right. As with other renaissance thinkers of the past, the visions driving the Internet’s developers far exceeded the technical elements of their work, embracing also the interdependency of technical, social, and cultural factors within the Internet Model of development. Since then, all around the world we have seen the Internet play a concrete role in stimulating economies, providing employment opportunities, creating access to education, building health resources, protecting cultural and linguistic heritage, informing citizenry, and bringing people together in communities of common interest. The Internet’s effect on the lives it has reached so far has been profound. The Internet Model of development has produced one of the most extraordinary periods of technological development, innovation, creativity, and social change in human history. This is because the Internet is much more than just a technology in its own right. It is a platform for innovation, a springboard for other technologies, a meeting place, and an incredibly powerful tool for analysis, knowledge sharing, and creativity. But much work remains to be done. Although we all often speak of the Internet as something that ‘has’ developed, in reality, it is still developing. This development takes place everywhere and includes – among many other things – technical protocols, infrastructure, operational management and administration, and application development. Driving this development at all levels are the people who use the Internet and the choices they make about what they wish to use and how they wish to use it. A case in point is the World Wide Web. Frequently, yet incorrectly, considered as synonymous with the Internet, the Web is actually a set of standards and applications that run upon it. When Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues at CERN sought to deploy their solution to a common problem, they simply did so, without needing to seek permission. Furthermore, by developing their own work in ways consistent with the Internet Model of development, the Web was soon within public reach and itself became a powerful platform for innovation. To ensure the Internet continues to expand and evolve, it is now more important than ever to promote its open development and use for the benefit of all people throughout the world. Because of the very nature of the Internet, the openness of the Internet model, and the interdependency of all those within the Internet ecosystem, preserving the vision of the Internet’s founders requires a holistic view, involving technical expertise, policy work, education, capacity building, and a commitment to community networking. By enabling an unprecedented scale of human communications, the Internet has revolutionized how we express ourselves and collaborate, which has, in turn, spurred its remarkable growth in applications and services. Its utility as a tool for human development is, however, determined by the degree to which people have unfettered, affordable access to the Internet and its services, and the degree to which services and applications are trusted, reliable, and stable, and users can safely control their own online identities. We can see many examples around the world where the Internet has thrived in environments where it is free from excessive governmental or private controls on technologies, infrastructure, or content, and in environments that promote competition and diversity in telecommunications, Internet services, products, and applications. In this ever-developing Internet, more work is needed to improve stability and security and to increase access. Although the temptation to regulate may be strong, the Internet’s importance to our societies and economies will only increase as we meet these challenges in ways consistent with the overall principles of the Internet Model. Multi-stakeholder dialogue is necessary, and should be informed by knowledge of the importance of the Internet’s design, operations, and development principles. Above all, to continue the global renaissance the Internet enables, we must defend and preserve the visionary Internet Model of development that has taken us so far.