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How would you spend 10 million for the future of the internet?

The consultation is now closed. For additional information you may contact CNECT-E-NEXTGEN@ec.europa.eu

Please help policy makers understand that the internet needs to be fixed. Your input can make a real difference. There is actually 750 million euro on the table ... and we have until April 10th (update: reopened until April 11th, but now again closed) to speak out on how we want it spent.

Every day over three billion people depend on the internet properly do its work, but few days go by without yet another huge new attack or security crisis surfacing. The 'plumbing' of the internet was never designed to carry that kind of heavy responsibility. It is a mission impossible to fight the many symptoms while the underlying fundamental infrastructure design weaknesses remain in place.

It is not just badly aging technology turned against its users, we stand to loose a lot more than just money: in 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a whole new dark dimension of the internet, where pervasive monitoring permeating the core of the internet at a scale that was unimaginable is just the starting point of a new dimension of threats. It is not just state actors that invest tens of billions each year to "master the internet" (a literal quote from the chief of the Canadian security agency in 2007); in their slipstream others (sometimes: anyone) can gain access to the same tools to exploit the same weaknesses.

In response, the IETF (the standards body behind the internet) firmly stated that it considers the internet to be "under technical attack". Politicians (many of whom were actually spied on) realised this as well, and demanded proper and proportionate action. But after almost three years not much practical action is visible, despite many hundreds of millions spent on "future internet" projects in Europe alone since. No call for proposals has ever gone out about addressing any of the issues discovered after the revelations of Snowden. A resolution by the European Parliament rightfully stated a mere four months ago that: "Too little has been done to safeguard citizens' fundamental rights following revelations of electronic mass surveillance.

Now a wonderful opportunity to change that presents itself: the European Commission is actually asking what it should do for the future of the internet in a public consultation. That question doesn't really get the attention it deserves on the EC website, but there is quite serious money with the label "Next Generation Internet" attached to it. At least 750 million euro, waiting to be put to good use. Typically the EC expect a consultation like this to yield maybe 50-100 responses, mostly from its usual suspects. The wording of the questions - like what "disruptive business models" there are, or if there are "trends" we can "capitalize" on - may give you the wrong impression. But they are in listening mode, and that means this is our rare chance to speak out and let them know what the internet community thinks needs to happen with this money.

If you do the math, you'll see that every one providing input more or less justifies how an average 10 million euros will be spent. You see, why your input really matters? What if we could put solving the issues of ossification and the Snowden revelations, safe internet as the number one priority? We desperately need a reliable and open internet that scales well, has strong security and privacy guarantees and is worthy of our trust. Without our clear signal, the money will probably seep through the cracks - two decades and billions of Euro's of failed funding have shown that the regular way of working with huge consortia and projects working on fashionable 'innovations' has brought nothing that stuck. The real future of the internet starts with fixing todays internet.

There are many things very broken on the internet, this can be a game changer. Please help the internet by telling the European Commission to focus on fixing the real issues. On cleaning up the technical debt of the internet, and clean up the plumbing so we have a solid basis to build on for the future - not just for Europe, but for the world. And not just for the internet, because almost everything now builds on top of it.

Now, to actually do something

Thanks for reading this far. Previously from here you would go off to the online consultation from DG Connect. The consultation was open until April 10th 2016 (updated) April 11th 2016. Hopefully the responses that came in gave a clear signal, I thank all of those that responded to the call from the IETF and other standards bodies, from the free software community, from startups, several government agencies, registries, etc).


I've tried not to tell anyone what to write, but did present a few thoughts I put forward during the expert workshop I attended (if you want a copy of the complete paper, just mail me):

  • Let's make sure we involve those that 'work for the internet', that write the core open source software that is used everywhere or architect its technical future in the most important standards bodies like IETF or W3C. It may sound crazy, but they are currently not actually involved.

    Europe has a large pool of internet thought leaders, ranging from pioneers in the "Internet Hall of Fame" like Daniel Karrenberg (chief scientist RIPE NCC) and Erik Huizer (CTO SURFnet), Tim Berners-Lee, the current IETF chair Jari Arkko, Lars Eggert (IRTF Chair), Olaf Kolkman (Chief Internet Technology officer at the Internet Society), and Stephen Farrell (IETF Security Area Director) to distruptive innovators like Christian Grothoff (GNUnet), Rick van Rein (ARPA2) and prof. Daniel J. Bernstein - but none of them have ever led the large project funded by the Future Internet programme. . Of course, there are many more great people that work for the internet not from Europe - no need to exclude them. The internet is a global commons.

  • The historical way of working with huge ineffective consortia that only use a very small part of the talent pool (e.g. those selected by the 'leader' of the consortium) while using all the resources (and leaving nothing to independent researchers actually able to solve the problems may not be a good match with the internet world - hence the lack of any results despite huge previous investments.

    In my daily work at NLnet foundation (where we operate the Internet Hardening Fund) we work with microgrants - extremely cost-effective and transparent small projects to individual researchers and developers that help the internet forward step by step - fueling the modest needs of the internet's engineers and the open source community. And no, we've never had - or realistically expect to - get money from the EC to support our work - but it would be great if they would spend their money as frugal and effective as we do.

  • If the current course is not changed, the internet in 2025 will look an awful lot like the internet of 1995 - without fixing the current infrastructure all other dreams of what the internet can become are pipe dreams. We can prevent cybersecurity problems happening by fixing the internet ('upstream'), instead of fighting the symptoms.