In 2017, reflecting on his original proposal for the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee wrote in The Guardian that he imagined the internet as “an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.”
But today, 30 years on from the invention of the web, the ideas of openness, transparency and universal access that underpinned Berners-Lee’s founding vision are under threat. What’s more, as the University of Southampton’s Wendy Hall and Kieron O’Hara explain, the traditional model of the open internet — a given in Silicon Valley — is being challenged by various alternatives, some of which are backed by major geopolitical players.
Hall, the university’s Regius Professor of Computer Science, and O’Hara, an associate professor in electronics and computer science, have worked together in the United Kingdom for years. Their research outlining the four visions of the internet that they consider to be influential right now was published in a recent Centre for International Governance Innovation report, Four Internets: The Geopolitics of Digital Governance.
With more than four billion internet users globally, questions about which version of the internet might prevail will only become more urgent in the coming months and years. In this written interview with CIGI, Hall and O’Hara jointly discuss how geopolitics play into the competing visions, what’s at stake as more and more people come online, and what internet governance might look like in the future.