|Issue:||Asia-Pacific II 2013|
|Topic:||Working for Asia’s Internet future|
|Title:||Regional Director, Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau|
Rajnesh Singh is Regional Director of the Internet Society’s Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau in Singapore; he oversees the society’s projects, initiatives and activities throughout the Asia – Pacific region. In the past, Mr Singh has consulted on communications and power infrastructure, project management and business strategy for medium to large companies and organisations in the Asia-Pacific region. He has also held advisory roles in multiple sectors ranging from governmental organisations, to sporting organisations and the private sector. Mr. Singh has worked extensively with the Asia-Pacific Internet community, and has held several leadership roles, including Founding Chair of ICANN’s Asia Pacific Regional At-Large Organisation (APRALO) and Chair of the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society. He has worked extensively on ICT policy, training and capacity building in the region, including delivering programmes for UN agencies.
Rajnesh Singh holds a B.Eng (Hons), MIEAust MIEEE MSCS
Asia’s Internet presence has grown dramatically in recent years. Asia already has the largest single base of Internet users globally and the number of Asian users continues to increase exponentially. Asia, though, still needs to address such major issues as policy, security, standards, tariffs, access and interoperability. As the Internet has always been at its the best when multiple stakeholders are involved, the way forward is, as it has been since the birth of the Internet – participation, collaboration and consensus.
History often celebrates the genius of single innovator or inventor – Edison, Watt, Bell, Babbage and many more. The truth is that their breakthroughs were very rarely made in isolation – they were built upon foundations laid by others, whose discoveries from all parts of the world were later brought together in unexpected and innovative ways. Moreover, the end results we know today – from video to power to telephony to the computer – were often the result of multiple iterations and improvements created by people all over the world.
In fact, one could say that almost every technological innovation we enjoy today is the result of collaborative effort, and the Internet is no different. Initially a small test project between researchers, our current hyperconnected world of status updates, rapid file transfers, mobile access and ubiquitous messaging was not the design of initial experimenters in the 1960s. Rather, it is the result of literally millions of incremental improvements and developments along the way, from household names like Page, Brin and Zuckerberg to unheralded innovators and entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe, including many from Asia. All of whom helped created something very different and incredibly more complex than its originators could have ever dreamed.
However, despite all the changes, the Internet still does what it was originally created to do – it brings together different people from different places and allows them to share and interact with each other. And it is that spirit and that wide base of participation that will enable it to continue to grow and develop for years to come.
More than 40 per cent of the world’s more than two billion Internet users, according to recent surveys, are in Asia. The enormous markets such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have yet to reach full maturity in terms of access and penetration levels, but it is a sure bet that the majority of the next billion people to come online will come from our region. Asia’s Internet is also good for business – PayPal and MasterCard estimate that 32 per cent of all online sales come from Asia. Current global e-commerce estimates are well north of US$1 trillion, so it is clear that the region’s financial importance online is beginning to match its penetration rate. In short, the Internet’s value to Asia is immense, and it is only going to grow over the next decade.
However impressive this growth is, though, it also comes with a sobering reality – that given the Internet’s complexity and our increasing dependence upon it, we will need to address several key issues to ensure that the Internet’s extraordinary expansion doesn’t derail this narrative of amazing growth and benefit that has typified Asia for the past decade.
One of these areas is the very inconsistent tariff structure in the region. It’s only natural that an area as vast as Asia – 45 million square kilometres, or about 30 per cent of the Earth’s land mass – and as heterogeneous as it is, would have a number of regulatory differences, particularly in comparison to regions such as Europe or even North America; especially given Asia’s very wide differences in levels of economic development and growth.
There are equally wide differences in tariff structure throughout the region. These have the potential to negatively impact regional and international trade, particularly as Asia is making the transition from simply being an e-commerce participant to becoming an e-commerce provider, not just regionally, but to the world. Intra-Asian trade is an essential feature of e-commerce development in the region, and given the head start that regions such as North America and Europe have had in this arena, governments in Asia need to work together and not just in isolation or on a country-by-country basis to ensure that tariff policies help, not hinder, our e-commerce growth. The Internet knows no borders, and it requires policies developed in a collaborative manner, not just from a top-down perspective.
Similarly, billing is also a becoming a larger issue in the region, given the incredibly different costs of access from place to place and even within many countries themselves. Increasing access is one of the key tenets of the Internet Society; we strongly believe that everyone has the right to participate online.
Rationalizing billing practices by all Internet stakeholders will help preserve and increase this access. Though to be fair, providers and other involved companies have had to deal with a rapidly changing landscape over the past decade, from simple single fixed access to massive mobile networks and exponential increases in devices, not to mention the hundreds-fold increase in bandwidth demands. So the solution will not be an easy one to find. Despite the complexity, though, we still need to find a shared solution that will ensure that providers and networks can still maintain operations while at the same time removing as many barriers to access as possible.
Another area that requires serious attention is online authentication, given the number of online financial transactions, e-governance systems and personal information shared, particularly in this region. As many of our public and private institutions have used technology to make rapid leaps forward in the past five years, it is of vital importance that we likewise continue to make strides in ensuring online privacy and security of information. Continually improving authentication mechanisms will allow institutions to continue to grow their range of services and capabilities, which will continue to improve the lives of millions of people in the region. And it will allow them much wider reach than has ever been possible in Asia’s history.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder approach to Internet security. Asia is the home to many of the world’s Internet security threats, and also home to its largest number of first time or recently online Internet users – and this has real potential for danger if not addressed. Education is one of the greatest weapons against security threats, and the vast network of providers, governments, portals, services and other stakeholders will all need to work together to ensure user education reaches as many users as possible. Concurrently, these same groups will all need to break down silos to ensure they can work together to combat threats on a network and technological level and share information among each other to reduce vulnerabilities on a regional level.
Asia is also quickly learning the value of data and, with a very young mobile online population, data is proving to be both essential and worrisome to business. Data privacy is still not fully mature in the region, and issues with regard to data storage and data safety are quite important; these must be addressed in the near term if data is to be an asset for Asia and not a burden.
However, despite these challenges, there are still plenty of reasons for optimism. Over the past few years, Asia as a whole has made great strides in technical standardization and alignment, and we have seen many more key stakeholders come to the table to participate in the discussion and ensure the progress continues. For example, last year’s successful regional IPv6 rollout was a great demonstration of collaboration amongst public, private and non-profit sectors to improve Internet access, scalability and stability, and a great model for future efforts.
Ongoing collaboration is the key to solving the current challenges, and the more stakeholders who participate in the process, the more likely that the solutions created will be lasting, inclusive and effective. This should not be just limited to corporations and government, but rather should be wide enough to include academia, entrepreneurs, developers and most importantly, users. The Internet we know today as an irreplaceable part of our personal and professional lives did not come about because of a single person, group or even country. The Internet came from the interaction of millions of people from many different places, backgrounds and perspectives – all willingly participating to try to make it better for everyone. Much as Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Lawrence Roberts, J.R. Licklider and their Asian counterparts like Kilnam Chon, Toru Takahashi and Tan Tin Wee had no idea exactly what shape their contributions would take, so too our current generation of innovators and developers cannot predict what happens next. But as long as they continue to hold to the core principles of what helped create today’s Internet – openness, transparency and collaboration – then the future of Asia’s Internet will be in good hands.