Today the Internet Society, a global non-profit organization that promotes the development and use of an open, globally connected and secure Internet, has launched the first-ever regulatory assessment toolkit that defines the critical properties needed to protect and enhance the future of the Internet.

The Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit will help policymakers, technologists and Internet users protect the foundation that underpins the Internet, the organisation says in a media statement.

Up until this point, there has been no tool to assess how proposed regulation and technology trends affect the Internet’s architecture. The Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit is based on the newly-published paper, Internet Way of Networking (IWN): Defining the Critical Properties of the Internet, that explains how the Internet’s unique foundation is responsible for its strength and success. It also identifies the critical properties that must be protected to enable the Internet to reach its full potential.

“From the news of Belarus cutting off civilian access to parts of the Internet during protests over the disputed election, to the Trump administration introducing the ‘Clean Network program’ and banning Chinese apps, TikTok and WeChat, a raft of proposals to control the Internet has left it at increasing risk of becoming the “Splinternet,” a less resilient, efficient, dynamic and open network,” the organisation says.

“The fact that governments sometimes disagree, or have conflicting interests with regards to how the Internet should operate and evolve, is not new.

The Internet Society has participated in these type of discussions for many years,” says Carl Gahnberg, Senior Policy Advisor for the Internet Society.

From issues like control over critical Internet resources to current discussions around norms for international cyber security, we always seek to inform the debate to ensure that the Internet and its open, globally connected, and decentralized nature is protected, he says.

He adds that the toolkit is for the Internet community to better articulate what could be lost if short-sighted national politics replaces collaboration.

“While cables and computers have come to symbolize the digital era, it’s easy to forget that the Internet is built on the idea of how you interconnect networks. And that is what we are hoping to bring to the forefront with our work.”

An Optimal Internet

According to the Internet Society, the Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit is a guide to help ensure regulation, technology trends and decisions don’t harm the infrastructure of the Internet. It describes the Internet at its optimal state - a network of networks that is universally accessible, decentralized and open; facilitating the free and efficient flow of knowledge, ideas and information.

The five critical properties identified by the IWN are:

1.     an accessible infrastructure with a common protocol

2.     an open architecture of interoperable and reusable building blocks

3.     decentralized management and a single distributed routing system

4.     common global identifiers

5.     a technology neutral, general-purpose network.

When combined, these properties form the unique foundation that underpins the Internet’s success and are essential for its healthy evolution, the organisation says. “The closer the Internet aligns with the IWN, the more open and agile it is for future innovation and the broader benefits of collaboration, resiliency, global reach and economic growth.”

“The Internet’s ability to support the world through a global pandemic is a good example of the Internet Way of Networking at its finest,” explains Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Senior Vice President for a Strong Internet, Internet Society. “Governments didn’t need to do anything to facilitate this massive global pivot in how humanity works, learns and socializes. The Internet just works – and it works thanks to the principles that underpin its success.”

Important Resource For Policymakers

The Internet Impact Assessment Toolkit will serve as an important resource to help policymakers and technologists ensure trends in regulatory and technical proposals don’t harm the unique architecture of the Internet, the organisation says. The toolkit explains why each property of the IWN is crucial to the Internet and the social and economic consequences that can arise when any of these properties are damaged.

“The toolkit is intended to establish a point of reference, and to provide a guide for how to protect and promote the fundamentals of the Internet. It won’t solve all the challenges that ICT policymakers are facing, but the toolkit can form the basis of a technical impact assessment as new policies or regulations emerge,” Gahnberg says.  

Governments across the world are dealing with rapid change in light of digitalization, and our hope is that toolkit supports policy makers in their important job of addressing both challenges, while also helping them to seize the opportunities that the Internet brings, he says.

We’re seeing a trend of governments encroaching on parts of the Internet’s infrastructure to try and solve social and political problems through technical means. Ill-informed regulation can drastically alter the Internet’s fundamental architecture and harm the ecosystem that supports it, adds Hall.

“We’re giving both policymakers and Internet users the information and tools to make sure they don’t break this resource that brings connectivity, innovation, and empowerment to everyone.”

“A key strength of the Internet is its community of stakeholders. Sometimes the interest of those stakeholders diverge, but they tend to share the idea that the Internet is fundamentally something that is important to protect,” concludes Gahnberg.

“The toolkit helps in this regard by articulating the essence of what makes the Internet. In other words, there are many of us that care about the Internet, and this toolkit will strengthen our collective ability to promote and protect it going forward.”

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