Governing the internet is vital to our future

EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN

An employee of the Korea Minting, Security Printing & ID Card Operating Corp (KOMSOC) demonstrates a Smart UV scanner during a presentation for new techniques on forgery prevention in Seoul, South Korea, 22 September 2015.

Governing the internet is vital to our future


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This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2016

India – Mumbai  : It has now been almost 50 years since the Internet was conceived and 30 years since the World Wide Web came into existence. The Internet has evolved over last three decades connecting computers, people and devices; leading us to a world where virtually everything is getting connected today.  The advancement of the Internet has become the cornerstone for the evolution and growth of the global economy. If we isolate the Internet economy, it represents an economic value of US$ 4 trillion, making it one of top 5 global economies along with the US, China, Japan and India. If it were a country, it would be the world’s largest. In 2016, a major threshold will be surpassed with over 50% of the world’s population expected to connect through the Internet – a new milestone in human history.

The Internet has already become a public utility like electricity, gas or water and is considered a vital service on which entire societies, industries and economies are based. An increasing one-fifth of the world’s GDP growth can be solely attributed to the Internet.

Speeding up through the ‘Internet of Things’

Over the past decade, internet-driven innovation has been about the “internet of people” spurred on advancements in social media, big data and mobile devices. This is still changing the way industries and businesses operate, particularly within the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) context. In the next decade, three principal elements will drive the continuing evolution of the Internet -The Internet of Things (IoT), evolution in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deployment of the next generation of telecom infrastructure (5G).

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The IoT revolution in particular is expected to have a significant impact on manufacturing, energy, transport, agriculture and other core industry sectors. Connecting products, devices and processes through networked sensors, machine learning and big data will present an enormous opportunity to innovate. There are now almost 5 billion connected devices in the world, an increase of 30% from last year, and this figure has the potential to cross 25 billion by 2020. It promises to fundamentally transform and disrupt a wide range of traditional industries. A recent trends survey – conducted by my company – of 800+ senior executives from across the world indicated that 80% of companies, across all major industries, have started planning or executing IoT initiatives and are making large investments in the field.

All this will drive a faster and more pronounced evolution of the Internet than ever before. I recently hosted one of Europe’s political leaders who best understands technology, Carl Bildt, at the TCS Summit in Venice with 300 of Europe’s top business leaders to discuss how digital was becoming the new default. He made a powerful statement which sums it up well: “Very soon the Internet of Things will become the Infrastructure on which all other infrastructures are based.”

Barriers Abound

While the Internet is poised towards becoming a universal public good, we cannot take it for granted. There are several challenges that may yet inhibit its development. Unlike various other public goods, what makes it distinct is that while being extremely global in nature, it is regulated and protected at a fragmented national level. There is a need to evolve Internet Governance standards, rights and dispute resolution institutions at a multilateral level – akin to a United Nations or a World Trade Organization. Cybersecurity remains a potent risk that is chipping away at the trust of networks and the global economy. Over US$ 400 billion of economic value is lost annually to cybercrime and such breeches must be prevented through stronger systems and safeguards. Much like physical roadways, the Internet’s roadways are being choked by an increasing surge of data traffic. We are at such a steep point of the exponential curve that 90% of the world’s data across history has been generated in just the last few months. Much of this is flowing through antiquated networks and there is a need to step up next generation infrastructure, including 5G telecom networks and a more assertive move to IPv6 to access the Internet. With the proliferation of data, there is growing concern for data protection and privacy, which needs a balanced approach. Both under and over regulation that stifle innovation should be equally unwelcome.

The need for Public-Private Dialogue

The Internet is a utility for all – for people, for businesses and for government. Hence it needs to be managed and evolved through a sustained public-private dialogue. I have the privilege to serve as the 2015-16 Chairperson for the IT Industry Governor’s steering committee at the World Economic Forum (WEF). The group of CEOs from the IT industries who constitute this body have had multiple initial private-public dialogues involving the European Commission, the US government and public leaders across the developed and emerging world. This has set the agenda of priorities.  The focus in 2016 should be to take this forward by evolving regional and national digital strategies that move towards a more homogenous global governance of the Internet. There also needs to be a renewed focus on attracting business investment for building supporting digital infrastructure, lifting barriers for cross-border business, and partnerships to bridge the growing digital skills gap. The private sector is a much needed partner on these fronts.

For example, TCS recently forged an agreement with the British Council to have 1000 university graduates from the UK spend one-year internships in India from 2016 to 2020 – strengthening their digital skills and  bringing that much needed experience back to the UK’s labor force.

A more digital world needs an evolving Internet as its fundamental backbone and access to the Internet is fast becoming a basic human right. The Future of the Internet is inextricably linked to the future of the human race. This journey will be bright, if we do it right.

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