As we’ve seen during this unprecedented global pandemic, the Internet provides a vital way for us to stay connected to one another, new ideas, and communities anywhere in the world. As more and more people around the world gain access to the Internet, and digital needs continue to grow, the Internet has adapted and scaled to meet the challenge.
Internet applications continue to expand and evolve. They enable patients to get medical care through tele-medicine and small and medium sized businesses a chance to compete around the world. They help to preserve humanity’s cultural achievements and bring those experiences to students halfway around the world, through the combined magic of the Internet and a smartphone. The Internet is also helping cybersecurity experts identify malicious actors and mitigate the threats they pose to protect our privacy and personal data.
All of this is possible because the Internet doesn’t stop at one country’s borders: someone connecting to the Internet in Berlin is generally able to discover and access the same information as a user in Buenos Aires. Those two people are able to communicate with one another, do business with one another, and share information with one another — quickly, reliably, and without having to worry about whether they are using the same kind of device. These are just some of the benefits of the open and interoperable Internet on which we have come to rely.
New applications were and are still welcomed
As is well known, the Internet was born out of the success of an experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s to interconnect diverse computers through a common, homogeneous network called the Arpanet. (The effort rested on the concept of packet switching as distinct from the traditional telephone network design based on circuit switching. In the latter, the network connects two telephones to each other directly through wired and wireless means with capacity dedicated to the connection for the duration of the call. In the packet switching model, the communicating computers exchange what we might call electronic postcards containing “to” and “from” addresses and a small amount of content.
The network accepts these packets in the same way the post office would accept a postcard. Postcards are aggregated and moved over high capacity transport (trucks, planes, ships) to intermediate destinations where they are disaggregated and redistributed hop-by-hop until they reach the final destination.)
The Arpanet project successfully demonstrated that diverse computers made by different manufacturers and running different software could be made to communicate successfully with each other by means of common protocols that specified the format and procedures for packet exchanges.
The openness of the design of the Internet allowed for new protocols to be developed and introduced. New applications were and are still welcomed. The research origins of the Internet led to bottom-up practices, inviting ideas to come from anyone. Institutions were formed as the need arose, such as the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Engineering and Research Task Forces (IETF, IRTF), the Internet Society and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), among many others.
UN agencies took special notice in the early 2000s with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which led to the creation of the annual international Internet Governance Forum and many National Internet Governance Forums.