IGF 2022 Day 3 Lightning Talk #65 Internet Internationalism: A New Model to Defend the Future of the Internet

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> PETER FURLONG: I'm just going to give it another minute or two in case some folks want to join online here.

All right.  So I guess we can get started here.  Hi, and welcome to our talk here on internationalism.  Where we will be exploring the geopolitical implications of our global internet.  And, you know, thinking through the key players, whether that's tech companies, nations, citizens around the world.  We'll also be kind of looking towards the future, thinking about what we can do as a global community to preserve ideals of an open internet.

All right.  So my name is Pete Furlong, I'm a senior policy analyst at the Tony Blair institute for global change.  Joined remotely here by Dr. Melanie Garson, who is our acting director for internet policy.  And the Tony Blair institute, we're an independent not for profit organization working to equip leaders and governments around the world to be prepared for and to help build our global future.  And that's kind of a little bit about us in general.  Much of Melanie and I's recent work has sort of centered on understanding the global internet and its components.  The main players and their actions, as well as the role that governments should play sort of in this whole process.

This work dates back to sort of the summer of last year where we published a large report on the open internet on the brink.  This kind of focused on outlining the structures, institutions, mechanisms that form our global internet.  As well as the ways in which sort of our vision for a free and open internet have been eroded.

So, you know, IGF sort of exemplifies our internet as kind of this global thing.  How it kind of transcends governments and private institutions as well.  But I think it was Goran Marby from ICANN in his keynote on Tuesday noted the internet is not owned by anyone.  It's controlled by all.  And I think that, you know, while this may be technically true, the sort of like the localized version of the internet that we all perceive can be greatly shaped by a small set of actors.

So kind of along those lines leads us to some of our future work that we've done here, looking at how technology companies acting across the levels of the internet have sort of acted as, you know, geopolitical actors and have influenced the outcomes of the Ukrainian war as well as conflicts and issues around the world.

You know, sometimes this was done through explicit intent, but we often see consequences to their actions from minor actions as well as, you know, accidental.  So, you know, kind as we talk about the internet as this global thing, it's important to kind of take a step back.  I think recognize that Internet Governance has kind of gone above and beyond what the original founders of the internet may have intended.  And kind of as a result, the implications of small policy decisions, connectivity efforts, foreign policy decisions for example, are hard to assess, especially when considering kind of the global impact of the internet.

So we largely consider the internet as having sort of like, five key levels of action, and sort of five necessary levels for stabilization.  At the top, sort of the highest level, we have internet platforms themselves.  This is thinking, you know, Google search, social media, app stores.  And then kind of the next step down, we have hardware and devices.  This is kind of how we interface with the internet through our phones, computers but also the chips that make them.  And sort of our next step is kind of the internet services and access control.  This kind of dictates the flow of information, you know, such as web hosting services.  We talk a lot about content delivery networks as well.

Kind of finally there's the lowest level of internet infrastructure.  The subsea cables, fiber optic systems that make up the physical interconnections of our internet.  While our interactions with the internet may be very wireless it's important to recognize it as a very physical thing.  I think kind of more importantly than these levels are the players.  While policy decisions across each of these levels may impact results, the actors tend to be technology companies and private institutions.

So kind of for the purposes of keeping this talk within time here, we thought it was important to dive deeper into the Ukrainian war as sort of a microcosm for how we think about the challenges for Internet Governance.  In times of conflict, crisis controls over all levels of the internet are exploited by governments and industry actors alike.  And whether that's in the form of information campaigns, cyber attacks, deployment of satellite internet or cloud services we're seeing a significant impact from internet actors and the results of conflict in, you know, processes around the world.

And so, you know, kind of starting from the highest level of that pyramid I presented, the discourse is really dominated by discussions of internet platforms and hardware systems.  And that's kind of where the conversation focuses globally.  You know, Ukraine and Russia both see a lot of value from influencing information campaigns on social media.  You know, Ukraine in its effort to try to garner global support for their plight.  And Russia in its effort to try to stifle dissent and push their narrative as well.  We've also seen this in the form of Russia's media law which drove many of the major platform players out of the country.  And we've seen it in terms of platform companies’ independent actions as well in terms of labeling Russia state media accounts, flagging misinformation and pulling accounts ahead of formal sections.

On the hardware side there's a halt of sale of devices and chips to Russia as a result of sanctions as well as uncertainty.  There's a potential for significant long‑term implications, whether it's Russian citizens' access to the internet or it's global prices to internet devices.

And kind of the problem from our perspective is that the discourse often stops there.  Cloud services and, you know, content delivery networks make up a vast component of how we engage with the internet.  Working by locally caching copies of web pages more like closer to your end users, CDNs drastically speed up the web.  But the conflict in Ukraine had sort of significant implications for their businesses.  Sanctions made operations in Russia nearly impossible.  Kind of makes us have to think about internet access for Russian citizens.

Countered with little guidance from governments, many providers such as Cloudflare decided to continue to provide free services in Russia.  But you know most paid services were halted.

SpaceX provided Starlink service to Ukraine, which has had a huge impact.  But, you know, they're struggling amidst sort of the fleeting allegiances of Elon Musk.  Ukraine also unsuccessfully though pushed ICANN to try to drop the Russian domain.  And then, you know, kind of from this graphic here, lumen and cogent, two major internet backbone providers cut service in Russia.  This was in line of their interpretations of U.S. sanctions.

But I think it's worth considering is this really in line with U.S. stated goals for a free and open internet?  And, you know, sanctions later gave exceptions for internet service, but, you know, it's worth considering what motives do tech companies really have to go back into Russia after being forced out.

So despite some great efforts from a lot of people here at IGF, we still don't have clear ways to negotiate these decisions, whether it's at the company level, national level or on the international scale.  And, you know, worth considering, this isn't even just a Ukrainian problem.  On the left here it's a volcano near Tonga, cut through subsea cable and led to a nationwide blackout.  And it kind of demonstrates that redundancy in internet systems is essential but often a privilege of wealthy nations.  Service outages at content delivery networks have taken out huge swaths of the internet.  Even, you know, small service providers have caused dramatic impact.

Then, you know, things like Twitter's shaky takeover have sort of clouded our information landscape.  Tense negotiations sort of at the ITU have global implications on the standards that sort of underlie the foundation of the internet.  And this list really goes on, and I think it's worth considering that it doesn't even really capture kind of the initial connectivity issues faced by most of the world.  Even kind of leaving them out of a lot of these discussions.

So what does all this mean?  Where do we go from here?  I'll pass it over to Melanie who is with us remotely to kind of take us through the next steps here.

>> MELANIE GARSON: Hi, everyone.  Can you all hear me?

>> PETER FURLONG: Yep we can hear you just fine.

>> MELANIE GARSON: Perfect.  Thank you and I'm delighted to be with you all, albeit virtually.  I was there until last night in person, but back in the UK today.  And I'm grateful for all of you who have joined us when we’re up against a party I believe this evening.

Pete, are the slides up?  I can't see them.

>> PETER FURLONG: Just a sec.

>> MELANIE GARSON: Now I can see them.  So the question is, is where do we go from here?  And many of the solutions tend to be as polarized as the actual problem itself.  Really where we approached it, I myself coming from a background of teaching international negotiation, which really thinking about how do we get to, yes, really on the internet.  The classic can we step back and can we separate the people from the problem and also keep the internet as the object as the figure that needs to be saved.  And where can we move to look at focusing on interests rather than positions to help break this stalemate on individual issues that are really trying to break down where the internet sits.

So what we do, is we began to situate this in a range of what are the possible futures and to really think about the dynamics of international negotiation, where we unbundle and rebundle and repackage issues to try and find new and novel coalitions that can surpass ecstatic and intrinsic status that we have.

We started thinking the policy makers need to think about the two dimensions of where we have this bipolar versus multipolar.  Not just bipolar, have a U.S. and China maybe center stage today.  But we're already vastly moved to the multipolar world.  That doesn't just mean the E.U. or India joining, sort of great power rivalry.  But also how the emerging digital company's impact, how the 3.7 billion people that are still going to come on the internet will then determine the shape of the internet.

Then we have to think about the nationalized versus internationalized dimension.  There's a challenge for leadership to revert into the nationalist internet strategy prioritizing sovereignty and control at the cost of long‑term social and economic opportunity.  Or employ a strategy of internet internationalism, one that recognizes that building and sustaining sort of prosperous and inclusive societies requires this effective cooperation.  This is where we hope to find the interplay between all these dimensions that open many possible futures. The heart of it is the open interoperable internet that's not based on any country's hegemony but trying to see a new phase or a new vision of what global interdependence on the internet can look like.  Next slide, Pete.

And as Pete has already said, this really is an expansion of the multipolarity within the framework that we’re looking at.  We to understand the critical actors, and particularly as we mentioned we have a whole new range of private actors that need to be joined into the conversation, particularly as they, not only diversify but consolidate throughout the internet stack.  Now from ownership both at the information level all the way down to subsea cables all the way up again through the satellite network.  They create new challenges within the whole framework of the issues that need to be packaged and repackaged for negotiation.  Next slide, please.

And at the same time we need to consider the huge range of growth of domestic technological capabilities that is feeding into the whole framework, again, of negotiable issues.  Whilst we take the step back it's not just then focusing on the primary positions but the very many elements of creating new range of interests opportunities for cooperation and collaboration when we think about a new model for the internet.  Next slide, Pete.

And at the heart of that is also being mindful of the security, because so many of the low income countries or emerging digital economies are rapidly digitalizing without the same investment into security and into security infrastructure and resilience of the internet infrastructure is leaving a huge gap that when each capability there's an even greater level of vulnerability which creates another bucket of issues that we can potentially again, use as a medium for collaboration when we seek to move to a more internet internationalist model.  Next slide.

And that is sort of also compounded if we look at sort of this last leg of where we want to build up our strategy from is from the increased competition, innovation in the global marketplace.  We're seeing countries slowly build out ‑‑ sorry.  Excuse me.  As you can see from the map there, you're seeing the large portion of emerging digital companies have still yet to get there.  And where we can make sure that the internet is both resilient and accessible, so that these countries can reach their AI goals that are going to be part of their digitalization strategy.

So what did we mean then?  Taking all those issues, if we then sort of as you say unpackage the issues, step back a little, separate the people from the problem, really start looking at the range of interests that need to be coordinated and that can be put into from a negotiating standpoint, from a diplomatic standpoint to the new model that can be part of the internet that can really think about integrating state regulations, international coordination, thinking about where the interests of the multiple stakeholders can be all brought together to protect and nurture the internet ecosystem.  And really, then, once you begin to look at it and you begin to look at where the range of issues are bundled together you can break through some of the siloed approaches and look for principles and consistent frameworks and also opportunities for creating negotiation.

Next slide, please, Pete.  So this is where we come to thinking about putting all these options together into areas where the scenarios of policies leaders from infrastructure to supply chains, from standards to regulations that would be part of this nationalism or internationalism access and that can be used as a spring point to visualizing entire ecosystems visualizing a range of solutions. Rather than competing on a serious of individual points we can begin to look at where the broader issues for coordination where some nations can choose to have flexibility on whether it's regulatory harmonization or infrastructure projects rather than picking between ideologies.  This is very much about rather than having an internet that's been fractured along ideological lines, being able to provide that vision where states can look and see where there's opportunity for collaboration, where likemindedness can take a different dimension rather than just ideology.

Through this mapping, we see that there can be more security focused strategies or whether we can leave global solutions that don’t create unaccepted levels of vulnerability and greater transparency to reduce some of the hidden frontiers that are the fracture and fissure lines within what we're seeing on the internet on the brink at the moment.  So if I can have the next slide please.

This involves what we then came to a number of recommendations to what is required particularly for states to be able to engage across the range of these levers.  One of the forgotten elements is we did a panel on this a couple days ago, is thinking about what states need to see across this whole range of levers. and to do that, this needs to be inbuilt into that foreign policy.  Too often we see that some of these critical issues, whether it's semiconductor being treated as a trade issue, rather than a standard issue or a security issue or even an economic issue, and therefore, sometimes tradeoffs are being made without realizing the impact on the full system.  Or alternatively, states by not having this visualization are losing critical opportunity to leverage their place at the table or have a voice at the table to be able to claim benefit on particular areas of their interests in return for other sort of whether it's support or stepping back from certain positions in other critical areas of the whole internet ecosystem.

Thanks.  And at the heart of this, and this has been mentioned throughout the panels that I sat on ‑‑ sat through and sat on when I was just over with you in person.  Is that it's a role of tech companies and the roles they have, and it's been alluded to an extent of where we build in new multistakeholder books stakeholder processes to accommodate them or the particular role whether it's in public/private partnerships.  I think whichever model we're beginning to look at, what is clear that tech companies cannot be ignored.  They have a valuable place in ‑‑ if not critical place ‑‑ in stabilizing our internet's architecture today.  We have to think about what are the models that are self‑governing and the internal processes that tech companies currently have, particularly for their interventions into geopolitical crises and how to expand to those and how can we encourage that level of transparency or create a board that we are confident in knowing where private companies may act or could be leveraged or how to communicate needs with them in times of crisis.

We also think about what we call a digital infrastructure defense alliance.  Almost like NATO for the internet, some others have called it.  But some type of structure that's needed whether it's between states.  Again, one of the problems that's been highlighted with the declaration of the future of the internet, is that there's no vehicle in that it's a lot of beautiful adjectives, it's the first time we've had a larger group of actors together to commit to that.  It's already been highlighted in earlier sessions this week that the tech company voice is definitely missing.  There's no opportunity for it to engage with it, not like they have in the Paris call.

In this sense an alliance would serve as for members who are part of it, that to have that access to the internet undirected so nothing (?) get a blackout that there's going to be some kind of commitment back up there.  If you want, it's the backup generator to come in and help.  If they find the semiconductor supply comes short that they’ve someone else part of the alliance that will help step in and help access that.

The third level, we also advocate for multistakeholder panel on internet policies.  Similar to the panel on climate change.  Something where we see that we need warning bells on different aspects of the internet.  So that we know where we can come in and strengthen it.  Akin to being able to highlight when there's a danger (?) the critical nature of the internet today, there has to be some kind of body, and although the ITU and IGF has this role in some capacity, but some sort of a coherent body that would be the internet as (?) that can sound the alarm when there's areas of stress and fracture.

Linked to this, and thinking about where we have tech representations in geopolitical organizations.  We know Microsoft has an office at U.N. affairs in New York.  And to the extent that this becomes integrated or where we create or it should ‑‑ it's a contested voice, but should tech companies have some sort of body that is represented at the U.N.  So they're able to listen to the conversations and be, you know, we claim that we want them to act more responsibly but where do we give them the outlet to both engage and to listen and to be part of the conversations sufficiently.

As the board mentions, thinking about where tech companies should have greater tech forward foreign policy themselves.  To the extent that should they have their own version of ambassadors or representatives or certainly expertise in geopolitics so they're aware that when they intervene on one level what could be the geopolitical implications of that action.  Many of the statements we saw in Ukraine, we see those intervening based on their own moral sense.  Moral sense is great, but it didn't get the consistency of action.  Whereas Ukraine is not clearcut, but people have been able to find some sort of clarity in their decision making, most conflicts are not that ‑‑ don't provide those outlets.  How are we going to know and how are tech companies going to make the decisions to know when they're going to intervene and when they're not and on what basis. So thinking about where they have their own tech board on foreign policy. 

So it was one of my great honors to hear Vint Cerf speak this week.  It's the whole model of thinking about how we get to yes on the internet.  How we break away from interest and position is really for us very critical.  Because it's what we risk losing in that open free internet is everything that every state is seeking to build upon.  So we really have to think of new models that break away from the very polarized positions, ideological positions on the internet.  Consider a whole range of packages, a whole range of where solutions can be made where countries can come together and find that perfect balance within their tradeoffs and their gains so that we can all move forward to a stronger future of a safe and open and reliable secure internet.  And thank you very much.

>> PETER FURLONG: Thank you.  I don't know if anyone in person here or online has any questions. For those online, feel free to raise your hand and we can unmute you.

>> MELANIE GARSON: I think everyone just wants to go and party.

>> PETER FURLONG: That is fair.  All right, well, thank you, everyone, for joining us here.  It's been a pleasure to present here and enjoy the rest of your nights.  Thanks.

>> MELANIE GARSON: Thank you.

>> PETER FURLONG: Thanks, Melanie.