Internet Society Future Scenarios Q&A

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This document was originally prepared to support spokespeople during the launch of the scenarios and was intended for internal use for moderator / speaker / interviewee preparation only; not to be distributed externally



Q: What is the background to the Internet Society’s Internet Future scenarios?

A: Senior staff at the Internet Society engaged in a scenario planning exercise to reveal plausible courses of events that could impact the health of the Internet in the future. We believe that the results of the exercise are interesting and thought-provoking.

We are sharing them with the public in the hope that they will inspire thought, awareness and discussion about possibilities for the future development of the Internet and involvement in helping to make that happen in the best possible way. We don’t want people to take the Internet for granted.


Q: How seriously should we take these scenarios?

A: Scenario planning is used widely in business and increasingly in other sectors to help organisations anticipate the future. It is particularly useful in a climate of uncertainty. Scenario planning is neither guesswork nor statistical analysis, but a structured process to help organisations break free from ties to “the official future” to consider other possibilities that they may confront.

The stories that result from this process are intended to uncover possible, rather than probable, courses of events. Though imaginative, they are intended to reveal possibilities that could have an impact and to serve as a springboard to help identify robust courses of action to face any of the possible futures.


Q: What questions were posed and what answers did they yield?

A: The focal question was: “Will the world embrace or resist the open Internet model?” with a second- level question to narrow the field: “What model will be more successful? Command and control? Or, distributed and decentralised?”

The questions resulted in four very different stories (illustrated below) about how the world might develop over the next eight to ten years. Each story contains some element of the Internet that exists today. But each scenario presents a different and plausible direction that it might evolve towards. We believe the Internet of the future will contain some characteristics of all four stories, but will almost certainly not look exactly like any single one.


Internet Futures Scenario Matrix

Q: Can you briefly describe the four scenarios?

1)The Common Pool scenario is about positive “generative” and “distributed & decentralised” properties. Opportunity and growth abound, with no insurmountable barriers to entry for those wishing to take part. Disputes and challenges are resolved through competition, as opposed to negotiation or inherited rights. This quadrant is about constant evolution and features a healthy ecosystem of interlinked network operators, developers, infrastructure providers, resource management organisations, etc. Organisation and operation tends to be “horizontal”, not “vertical”, so that the underlying building blocks (technologies, networks, etc.) are available to all to build upon. The “win” for the Internet is that it remains able to react and respond to new requirements.


2)The Boutique Networks scenario envisions a future in which political, regional and large enterprise interests fail to maximise the social and economic potential of a shared, global set of richly connected networks (the Internet). It carries the weight of self-interest brought by factions seeking to optimise control in small sectors (political and otherwise). It also suggests these fractionalised networks will continue to leverage the benefits of existing Internet standards and technology. Each proprietary provider draws as much as possible from the common pool while giving little back.


3)The Moats and Drawbridges scenario suggests the world of the Internet would be heavily centralised, dominated by a few big players with their own rules in “big-boys’ clubs.” Conflicts would be resolved through negotiation, not competition. Connections between networks would be the result of extensive negotiation and deal making. There would likely be strong regulation as governments seek to impose some public interest obligations and perhaps even controls on the equipment users can connect to the network. Much content would be proprietary and protected by strong intellectual property rights. Governments would control the behaviour of networks and network users through legal mechanisms and sanctions. Barriers to entry would be high, with little incentive to expand networks beyond the largest and richest customers or regions. Innovation would be slow, only occurring when it would benefit the network owners. All players would have close political links to their mutual benefit.


4)The Porous Garden scenario would see networks staying global but with access to content and services tied to the use of specific information appliances and associated networks. Individual (business) viability would triumph over the economic potential of the common pool of the Internet. Financial incentives for content producers and software developers would mean continued innovation within the appliance-based model. Control over content, pricing, licensing and other concerns would be firmly in the hands of relatively few large commercial organisations. Proprietary, closed technologies would abound and exclusive deals with content producers and physical communications networks would oblige consumers to purchase multiple appliances and associated subscriptions to avail themselves of the full range of innovation on the network.


Q: Have you any plans to depict the scenarios visually?

A: Yes, we are putting the finishing touches on a set of four videos specially designed to illustrate the practical repercussions of each of the scenarios on people’s daily lives. London INET participants will have the opportunity to have a sneak preview of these thought-provoking videos, ahead of the full launch later this year.


Q: Why have you chosen this particular moment to launch the scenarios?

A: The high-level gathering of influential UK Internet stakeholders, policy makers, business executives and academics at the London INET conference is the perfect forum to put the spotlight on the scenarios, given the event’s focus on the future growth of the Internet and its repercussions for business. The event focuses on equipping participants to understand the opportunities and threats presented by ongoing Internet development, leaving them better able to seize opportunities and avoid threats.


Q: What does the Internet Society aim to achieve in launching them now?

A: The challenge for the Internet Society and for everyone who cares about the Internet is to think about the possibilities and tendencies they prefer or want to avoid, and what they can do to help the Internet to evolve in a positive direction. The Internet Society community actively works to try to ensure that the Internet of the future will look most like the story called The Common Pool. The Internet Society aims to engage INET participants in a wide discussion of how it can ensure that the Internet of the future truly is for everyone.


Q: How is this exercise different / better than other predictions on the future of the Internet (eg Pew’s research centre’s Future of the Internet survey of tech leaders, scholars, industry officials)?

A: The exercise is different as it focuses on just the forces that affect Internet development – governmental influence, business control, competition and its likely outcome on the future health of the Internet. We welcome and encourage others to talk about their vision of how the Internet might develop and key trends. These all contribute to a robust and open dialogue.


Q: Which scenario does the Internet Society consider the most probable given the current regulatory climate?

A: We don’t think any single scenario will describe exactly what the future Internet will look like. Instead, we imagine that aspects of each scenario are likely to be embodied in the future Internet. The scenarios are intended to illustrate and help people think about various forces that are already emerging and likely to shape the future on the Internet.


Q: Is there a scenario that the Internet Society would favour and does it recommend any particular regulatory approaches that would move the future of the Internet towards that scenario?

A: Yes, we favour the Common Pool scenario where evolution and growth continues thanks to the the Internet Model’s decentralized approach - enabling permission-less innovation, and promoting shared responsibility for development, operation, and management of the Internet. We believe that a number of elements contribute to this – including the multi-stakeholder governance, the universal deployment of Ipv6, what we call Network Confidence (tools and technologies which ensure that the Internet is a secure, reliable and trusted channel) and Open InterNetworking (the idea that interconnecting networks based on open standards and operation principles empowers end-users to create and use applications without permission from a central authority)


Q: Which scenario does the Internet Society consider the most threatening to the future of a free and open Internet and what should be done now in order to avoid that outcome?

A: The Internet Society believes that openness is the overarching principle that has ensured the success and growth of the Internet to date. Internet standards, development, and governance are open to all to participate, contribute, create, shape and build. This openness is reflected in key characteristics of the Internet, including:

Shared global ownership – no central control Open technical standards Collaborative engagement models – researchers, business, civil society, government Freely accessible processes for technology and policy development

For the Internet to continue to be a source of social and economic innovation, it is important to strengthen these core values.

Q: What does the Internet Society see as the next step?

A: The Internet Society encourages people who are interested in the future health of the Internet to actively engage in discussions about what that future would look like, and then to act locally, regionally and globally to make it a reality. We encourage people to join the Internet Society and to participate individually or part of our 87 global Chapters as a key way to contribute.

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