New Year message to Internet Society members from CEO Andrew Sullivan

New Year message to Internet Society members from CEO Andrew Sullivan

The Internet now reaches more than half the world. 

A recent estimateindicates that nearly 4 billion people – more than half the world’s population – now use the Internet. More people are now online than existed in the world the year I was born. Everyone, it seems, values the Internet. We all still know the Internet is for everyone.

The Internet Society, including all our chapters and members, was part of Internet growth in this period. 2018 was a year of many changes at the Internet Society. We changed the staff and ways of organizing work to make things clearer. We changed our CEO. But at the same time, we brought infrastructureto some of the most remote parts of the world. We pushed for better security for many of the new devicesthat are connecting to the Internet. And we worked to include the whole range of voiceswhen it comes to who’s making decisions about the Internet’s future.

These are just a few of the things we, the whole Internet Society, did together. We work together because that’s what internetworking is: working together, each of us making a greater whole of our individual parts.

So, as the year draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who makes this possible. We are all ages, all backgrounds, and all experiences. Most of you give time, voluntarily, to make sure the Internet becomes more open, globally connected, trustworthy, and secure: the Internet for everyone. Some of you are staff who work tirelessly on these issues because you believe in the Internet. Whoever you are, our work together must not stop.

We have some important work to do in 2019and a new focus for how we do it. Our vision of the Internet for everyone remains as clear as ever. But the clarity of our vision offer us no easy road.

We must face the fact: the Internet was once a great human hope, but has lately become a locus of human fear.

The Internet created new means for human expression and communication, and new opportunities for markets for every vendor, from tiny niche to mainstream. But the open human expression sometimes looks like an opportunity for the expression of the worst human impulses. The open communication sometimes looks like a great way for malign forces to attack the social order. And the open markets sometimes look like a desperate race to the price bottom, with no other factor even under consideration. No wonder people fear the Internet as an instrument of social erosion.

Yet, the Internet is still a global network of voluntarily-connected networks. There is nothing else it could be: anything else would just be an “internet” in name only. At the Internet Society, we believe in the real Internet. A network of networks puts the end point – the humans, really – in charge. Anything else is not in the hands of end points, so it’s not really the Internet.

This is not to long for an earlier, “innocent” Internet that did not face the current challenges. It is instead to remind ourselves that, if we want the enormous benefits of the Internet, we must not discard the essential property that brings those benefits. All people have an interest in how we face the current issues, but we can only face them one way: together. We must connect people across borders, environments, and cultures to build new partnerships and engage individuals, communities, NGOs, corporations, and governments. Nobody gets a free pass; but nobody who cares for the Internet is excluded, either.

That is the challenge that faces us in 2019. We must build our existing partnerships to be a more effective advocate for the neutral, open network of networks. We must work to ensure that people have the tools they need to make good choices on the Internet, whether that be with the Internet of Things or with routing security. We must continue to work effectively in communities to ensure that the other half of the world – the part that is the hardest to connect – can enjoy the benefits we connected people take for granted. We must do this collaboratively, so that the alternative vision of the controlled, sanitized “internet” does not win. For community is much more than just belonging to something; it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter. 

So, again, thank you for so much. I am humbled to be able to work with all of you, and I look forward to 2019 as we continue our journey to bring an open, globally-connected Internet to the world.

Best regards,

Andrew Sullivan
President & CEO, Internet Society