A report that looks at why adoption of the internet is stalling worldwide has concluded that major changes are needed. New governance and new protocols must be introduced, or else the net's best days will be behind it.
Although it shouldn't be, today's internet is expensive and cumbersome, excluding most of the world's potential users who can't afford it, and annoying many of the first world users who can. The report highlights technical issues such as spam, security concerns, and the absence of packet prioritization which makes introducing new applications difficult (one to many broadcasting or telephony).
"The study concludes that TCP - if not TCP/IP - needs to be replaced, probably within a five to ten year time frame," according to the authors in an interim report, Internet Mark 2. Migrating to the new internet will become an issue. Last week Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger called for a "superstructure" to be built on top of existing protocols
More drastically, the authors conclude that the political and technical structures for solving these problems need to be overhauled. "IETF and ICANN have been unable to deal with the range of issues and concerns adequately," the project suggests.
Little of this may be new, but it is a welcome change from the Happy Talk that we usually hear when net governance is discussed. Dizzy pundits have tended to portray the internet as some benevolent flying saucer that's landed here to make us all wiser and more comfortable. All we need to do is turn towards it, and let it shine its light upon us. Typically such beliefs arise from people who've been staring at ant colonies or Mandelbrots for too long.
Leaving such fantasy projections aside, it isn't really helpful to think of the internet as one entity anymore. Its pipes, plumbing agreements and (decreasingly) information. The internet is simply one network among many, and while its advocates insist that the internet can reach the parts others can't, closed networks have in some cases delivered far greater social benefits at a much lower cost. For example, SMS text messaging.
And whatever else it may be, the internet is not "self-healing". For users wrestling with spam, and ISPs counting the cost of background radiation, it needs good governance, and grown-up human intervention.
Got questions? We'll contact the authors of Internet Mark 2 and try and get you answers. ®
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