Andrew Sullivan – Keynote 05 2023

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20 June 2023 | 14:30 EEST | Main auditorium | Video recording | Transcript
Consolidated programme 2023 overview / Andrew Sullivan, Keynote

Andrew Sullivan, President and CEO Internet Society
© Fábio Erdos / Internet Society


I joined the Internet Society as President and Chief Executive Officer in September 2018.

I have focused on Internet infrastructure and standards since 2001, when I worked to launch the .info Internet top-level domain. Because of that experience, I was part of the team that collaborated with the Internet Society to launch the Public Interest Registry, and take over the operation of the .org top-level domain. I was then a principal contributor to the Variant Issues Project (VIP) undertaken by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The VIP was an effort to bring together several different, previous efforts in support of internationalized domain names. In 2012 I joined Dyn (later, Oracle Dyn) to establish Dyn Labs and then to manage the DNS development and architecture departments. Throughout my career, I have worked to establish and maintain the Internet's critical value as an interoperable, neutral platform.

My graduate work on the philosophy of economics led me to my interest in free/open source software and open Internet protocols and standards. I carry that interest and passion forward in my position at the Internet Society.

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>> ANDREW SULLIVAN: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, good morning from me. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there in person, I was traveling and couldn’t make it in time for a different purpose.

In any case, it is wonderful to be here.

Unfortunately, I have, you know, to be the bearers of bad news though, and it is not merely that the Internet is fragmenting or that we’re seeing splinter-net, any other thing like that, because what these – what these terms mean is quite different, it means we’re losing the Internet. We have to face that reality before we confront it.

The Internet is technically, astonishingly robust. We have made a reliable network out of unreliable parts, that’s a genius engineering effort. The way we did it was mostly through three things: One, was massive redundancy, we use large numbers of different kinds of systems in order to interoperate with one another and provide the values of the Internet.

A second thing, as open network, a network that anyone can join by using a bunch of techniques and those techniques, the third thing is the open protocols which means that you can join the Internet and participate in it without any central coordination. There is no boss of the Internet.

This was an inspired technical decision, but it produces a paradox and that is that the Internet is politically fragile. It depends on the idea that everybody thinks that connecting to the Internet, everybody who is participating in the Internet at least, thinks that connecting to it and having everybody else connect on similar terms is a good thing.

That is the thing that’s starting to fail us. We see examples of this all over the world. We used to worry about authoritarian governments that didn’t like the Internet because they were afraid of the reality that it allows people to speak freely.

Now what we see are people who are attempting to fragment the Internet, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose, because of nationalistic goals, because of local interests, because of the kinds of prior entrenched economic interests at a the Internet threatens.

So what we see are policies that are chipping away at this smooth experience.

Remember, underneath the hood, the Internet is made up of all of these different networks participating on an even footing, that was exactly what we intended it to be.

But the result, of course, it is that you have the smooth experience because all of the protocols interoperate and it looks like one thing.

As we erode that experience, as we erode the ability of the common networks to work with one another, we start to lose the things that gave us the Internet in the first place. That really is what fragmentation is all about.

This is actually the reason that the Internet Society has worked hard to create the impact assessments that we have. The point of Internet impact assessments, just like, you know, environmental assessments before you build a road, a dam, impact assessments are intended to tell you whether you’re going to damage the Internet when you adopt one policy or another, when you decide that you wanted to make sure that some industry or other is unaffected by the Internet and so forth.

That’s the reason we have them.

But it requires the rest of us to hold governments and corporations that are interested in that kind of fragmentation, it holds – it requires the rest of us to hold them up to account. To assess the activities undertaken and make sure that we do not lose the Internet. The Internet is not going to break in a single step, every time I talk to somebody, we did this, it didn’t break the Internet, I’m unsurprised it didn’t break the Internet because it is technical I can’t extremely robust. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we’re drifting towards more connectivity, whether we’re drifting towards an Internet that works globally for everyone or whether we’re drifting away from it.

Too many policies today are taking us in the wrong direction and that is the sort of thing that each of us needs to make sure does not happen, because if it does, we’ll lose the Internet for everyone.

Thanks very much. I look forward to the discussion today.

>> NADIA TJAHJA: Thank you very much, Mr. Sullivan.

He has kind lid agreed to take questions from the floor. So if you have any questions that you would like to address, please do come to the open mic here in front and ask your question. Please state your name and affiliation.

What a room, everybody is still processing from lunch.

Please, go ahead.

>> Hello. Andrew, from YOUthDIG and former ISOC youth Ambassador.

One of the things we mentioned in our youth messages that we presented yesterday was, in fact, impact assessments because we recognize the potential for those to be used as a tool to make sure that we identify what the potential risks of a particular activity might be. We think of it to be incredibly useful if there are other participants and stakeholders involved throughout that process.

Could you give us some examples of the impact assessments that have been used especially the template, the one template that ISOC has made in a variety of different context and elaborate if they have had the intended effect that you would like them to have? Thank you.

>> ANDREW SULLIVAN: Thank you.

So on the final question, have they had the effect that we wanted, well, not as much as we would like.

We continue to see these various bad policies being adopted in various places. That’s always a risk.

Yet we do see that the impact assessment tools allow us to identify challenges before they happen. A number of examples of this, various impact assessments that are published on the Internet Society website, including two – I’m going to be cheeky and use two that are not from Europe because we have also got some from Europe but I tonight want to, you know, I tack anybody’s favorite policy, I’ll use ones not from Europe.

One example, it is a Canadian policy, I’m in Canada. Bill C18, the online news act., this is meant to protect those in Canada that suffer from the lack of advertisements that they depended on, they want to take money from two very large advertisers in particular, the targets are really Meta and Google and the Minister has said that openly, I don’t feel like I’m naming anybody out of turn. The idea, it is that you transfer money from one group to the other. Of course, Meta and Google have basically said well, if this is what you want to , do we’ll just block the news, the Canadian news sites on our platform. They have certainly experimented with it. We don’t know what the long-term effect will be. What was funny, to watch the political reaction to this, and to, you know, point out to people, look, we literally predicted this is what’s going to happen, it is in the impact assessment, we said this is probably one of the things that people will do, of course they will, because if the alternatives are millions of dollars of liability and fines, or, you know, lose access to a market of maybe 35 million people, it’s fairly trivial for a corporation to make those kinds of decisions.

That’s one example where we were able to predict those things.

Another example was the Korean decision to implement some changes to their network payment schemes between large content providers and the local ISPs. When we did the analysis there, what we said was, you know, if you’re going to try to impose these charges, people are going to abandon the Internet exchange market there because you are creating costs for them that, you know, they won’t have to bare elsewhere.

Sure enough, the scheme went into effect, and almost overnight, they moved from South Korea to Japan and what happened, the recipients of network data that were, you know, formerly appearing in Japan and, therefore, were able to get local access and increase the resilience of the system and also were able to get low latency access, suddenly their access was across submarine cables, some more expensive, also slower, you know, this was again predicted by our impact assessment. So we try to, you know, do neutral technical analysis of what the consequences are for the critical properties of the Internet. The entire point of these things is to say here are critical properties of the Internet, things that you need to have the Internet and here are other properties of the Internet to make sure that the Internet thrives, that it opened and globally connected and secure and trustworthy, what’s it do to these properties of the network? What’s it do the properties of Internet working, any policy, that’s all the toolkit is there to do. Anybody can use this toolkit and we can perform the analysis, it is a little tricky, you have to go through, you know, the details of the policy so you have to analyze the policy carefully.

But once you have done that, it gives you the – it gives the tool to look at it, you know, independently, sort of with a clear eye and recognize, oh, okay, somebody wants to do this thing, maybe it is socially desirable or not, what’s that going to do to the Internet, it allows us to have a discussion on what the trade-offs are.

>> NADIA TJAHJA: There is questions from the audience but we have to go on to the second keynote ...