Titanic battle for the future of the Internet

Susan Crawford, member of the ICANN board speaks on the titanic battle of two groups of people, two competing mindsets on how the Internet should further evolve.

  • Date of recording: Mon, 2008-06-09
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00:07 Hello everybody, I’m Susan Crawford, I’m a member of the board of ICANN [The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] and I’m a founder of OneWebDay, and I have deep concerns about the future of the Internet.

00:18 We are engaged in a titanic battle for that future; two competing mindsets, two groups of people who can hardly communicate with each other - one coming from the manage network side, the telephone side of the world, strongly believes that the Internet that we love is broken, that it can’t possibly work, and that they’re not making enough money on it so they have to push it back into a managed box. On the other side the people who have fallen in love, enraptured with the Internet over the last ten years, and understand the great social change you can bring about and the empowerment it creates for everybody around the world.
So I have gift for you and I give it to you absolutely, I give it to you with all my heart; and this gift is OneWebDay, which is a platform for all of us to actually do something about making sure that the world hears about our concerns.

01:14 Last night in New York I was lucky enough to have dinner with a bunch of mainstream journalists, and it’s sad being a mainstream journalist these days, they were a little glum, there are lots of lay-offs, and a couple of them were from The New York Times and two people climbed the outside of the New York Times building yesterday in Manhattan without any equipment, just scaling up the walls - and these guys had no jokes about it, they thought it was terrifying.
And so we’re talking about our lay-offs and all the problems, and I say something soft about well, you know, the Internet as a disruptive media, and this guy next to me, with his drink in his hand and his horned rimmed glasses on, leans back and says “The Internet is a miracle!”, he says, ’cause even he, he’s lost his job actually from the impact of the Internet but he’s found another one and he’s got a brand out there, and he thinks it’s a “miracle”.
It is a miracle. It’s everywhere, it’s changed all of our lifes, it is increasingly mobile as we’re hearing from people around the world – mobile access is the way we’re going to get on-line, and it’s premiating our lives in a way that makes us almost take it for granted. We are at a deep risk of taking it for granted, which is why I wanted to call us all to action today.
02:30 This telephone model for the Internet - just to remind you - is that you always have a man in the middle of the network - and by the way, that man could be closely connected with the U.S. government - looking at communications across that network; somebody managing what’s going on to make sure that you have “quality of service” they’ll call it, the ability to deliver a movie on a platform that is assured, in a sense optimizing the network on billing. That’s the telephony view.
And there are lots of worries coming from the telephony view about improper uses of technology. Every time there are one of these scare stories, they all begin with ‘P’ – pornography, peer-to-peer, piracy – bad things out there about the Internet, lots of bad news, some of them I think engendered by network operators who want to assure us that if they were only in charge, if things were a little bit more under control, life would be better for all of us.

03:25 The Internet is under pressure, this isn’t just an issue for the United States, this is happening all over the world, this “Titanic” battle between these two people: the controlled network people, and the rest of us, who haven’t really gotten to interact together to speak to power.
03:42 There are risks to free speech around the world - Tim already mentioned the censorship issue - not just in China, there are forty countries around the world who are censoring the Internet using their physical control over ISPs in their country, to limit what their citizens can see. And our own governments  would like to be doing things like that: increasing government surveillance - an enormous issue around the world.

In the U.K. and Ireland recently a suggestion was made that all data from all Internet transactions, web searches, phone calls, e-mail, be saved into a giant pool, and access to that pool be given to any old traffic cop who wanted to do some data mining to find out if the person that he stalked was someone of interest for another purpose for the government. Very surprisingly, there hasn’t been all that much uproar about this pool of data, and I assure you that those kinds of plans are coming to the United States - if they are not already here. 04:45 We have a long tradition of telephone companies being very carefully allied with the government in terms of looking for information and making sure that everything’s extraordinarily easily trappable. The NSA scandal that you all heard about (where a mirror of the Internet was being sent to the NSA from San Francisco) is just the tip of the iceberg. So lots of surveillance derives from manage networks out there and many threats to open this net neutrality, as Tim has foreshadowed.

05:11 I want to give you a new acronym to take home with you to the next cocktail party: it’s IMS, which stands for Interactive Media Subsystem. Sounds innocuous? Well the idea here is that all of the network operators around the world get together maybe a dozen times a year – it’s not a “black-helicopter” story but it does happen, there are lots of conferences – and what they’re doing is planning what they call “next generation networks”. That means putting on the open Internet a cell phone-like overlay so that they can perfectly bill for different kinds of uses of the Internet. And so video would be charged for one way, text messaging - another, and all of that requires an awful lot of surveillance. D-PAK inspection, investigation of what’s going on, so IMS as an issue puts net neutrality in the shade. We’re really heading into a giant move towards fully-managed networks in this country and all over the world.

06:09 So, I started an Earth Day for the Internet - it’s called OneWebDay. This year, 2008, it’s the third OneWebDay. It’s always held on September 22nd, which is an echo of Earth Day (a sort of odd echo, it’s five months off, Earth Day is always April 22nd), and the idea behind OneWebDay is threefold: first, we pick a theme each year.
This year our theme is the way that the Internet makes possible participation in democracy - not just the election, the very exciting election we’re going through this year in the United States, but governments longterm being able to see what’s going on behind government walls, the wonderful things that Lawrence Lessig is doing with Change Congress, being able to actually have some impact on policy-making – all of that, we want people to raise consciousness about the importance of an open Internet to that democratic function.

So that’s one function of OneWebDay, - remember this is a global event, so it’s a platform that I’m giving to everybody I can talk to about it, which is to be used by local communities to focus media attention, you know, non-tech-y attention on issues of local concern, like inadequate COP connectivity, the digital divide, censorship, inadequate skills, teaching people how to edit Wikis, how to post them on web pages – so issues of local concern around the world focused on three good works on OneWebDay.

And third, the overreaching goal of this entire effort, is to create a global constituency that cares about the future of the Internet and will rise up when stupid policies are coming down the pipe towards us backed by very powerful incumbents - Hollywood, law enforcement, and network operators, all have shared interest in this point in their vision of what the future of the Internet should be.

07:59 So that’s the point of OneWebDay, and here’s my call to action: I am not leaving this room unless I have ten ambassadors who are willing to spread the news about OneWebDay to their networks, to the people they know, who may have never heard of this. This is unfunded. All grassroots, very much through word of mouth and I’m looking for ten people who will help me spread the word. I have a hundred ambassadors, each of the hundred… Thank you very much! Well okay, come down and talk to me, okay? I am not leaving the room until I have ten of you… and the next thing I’m going to ask you to do is to organize a OneWebDay event in your community. We’re focusing on several cities in the United States, but it’s very simple: have a meet-up, have people get together on the 22nd, use it as a teaching opportunity, use it as a press opportunity to, again, focus attention on the wireless issues that Jeff was talking about, on the mentality issues that Tim has brought to us, and on the digital divide concerns that Eloise’s community is so focused on.

08:58 So that’s why I’m here, I want us to rise up. The Internet looks like it’s made up of machines but there are a lot of people involved in the Internet, and OneWebDay is an opportunity to make that all visible to each of us. We need to reach everyone, not just techies, and make this a mainstream news story.
09:12 OneWebDay didn’t take off until we had enough problems in the world to make it needed. I think we need a OneWebDay, and Earth Day - its analogue - started when we first saw a picture of the Earth from space; seeing it as a blue marble floating in a black void, really quite fragile. The problem with Internet policy is that we can’t see it, we can’t visualize all the people around the world who care about it, and how fragile the Internet really is. So the purpose of OneWebDay is to prompt all of us to see each other around the world, it’s yours, it’s my gift to you, I give it to you absolutely, and I hope to see lots of you involved, come September 22nd. Thanks.