Is “Ubernet” Threatening the Internet and Open Standards?

Posted on March 11th, 2015

Is the future of the internet a “walled garden” scenario? It isn’t infeasible. While the “Ubernet” may be a possible outcome of the future, it doesn't have to be our destiny.
Photo: Shutterstock, Sergey Nivens

The Internet Society (ISOC), a leading global standards development organization and an OpenStand affirming partner, recently responded to an article from The Economist which predicted a future internet that looks more like a series of sealed-off app stores, separated by walls of proprietary security. According to ISOC, while this “walled garden” scenario isn’t infeasible, it doesn’t have to be our destiny.

Karen Rose, the Senior Director in the office of Strategy and Research at ISOC, writes that she and her team identified this very scenario in some planning exercises around the health and future of the Internet a few years ago when they wanted to find some answers to two key questions: “Will the world embrace or resist the open Internet model?” and “What model will be more successful? Command and control? Or, distributed and decentralized?”

This planning exercise identified four possible scenarios for the future of the Internet:

  1. Moats and Drawbridges: A heavily centralized internet dominated by a few big players.
  2. Boutique Networks: A separated internet with self-interested factions collaborating to control small sectors.
  3. Porous Garden: Networks would remain global, but access to content and services would be tightly controlled.
  4. Common Pool: An uninhibited, open internet.

These potential scenarios were defined over five years ago and it’s clear how each scenario could have become reality, and in some areas of the world, have become a present reality. Developments and innovations over the past five-plus years across the technical, economic, and political landscape have sometimes challenged the open Internet, but, as Rose writes, “over the years…the most constant characteristic of the Internet has been the pace of change.”

This fast pace of change and growth has been facilitated by a set of principles now known as the OpenStand Principles.  According to Rose:

…The Internet Society believes that there are key properties that need to be preserved as part of its ongoing evolution (including openness, interoperability, open standards, and its multi-stakeholder model of development) which will enable the Internet to continue to serve as a platform for seemingly limitless innovation.

While the “Ubernet” may be a possible outcome of the future, that doesn’t indicate it’s likely.

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