NetThing 2022 was held online from 27-28 October. With an incredible lineup of presenters and panellists, an inspiring conversation focusing on Internet Governance in Australia from both local and international perspectives took place. Hundreds of people tuned in over the two days and we are happy to report that as a platform to share diverse, intersectional opinions around tech, and as Australia’s leading Internet Governance forum, NetThing 2022 was a huge success.
NetThing Chair, Bronwyn Mercer welcomed attendees by explaining how this year's theme, more resilient together, explores how we, as internet users, need to work together to maintain an internet that is open, resilient and interoperable. With themes including trust and security, the internet for a resilient world, inclusion and accessibility and economic growth and development, there was, as is expected in a multistakeholder environment, a lot to unpack.
Setting the scene was an inspiring keynote on the importance of multistakeholder collaboration for the future of the internet from Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic and co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and architecture of the internet, Vint Cerf. The discussion emphasised the importance of looking at tech as an enabler and understanding the role of cross-world collaboration, communication and problem solving in improving the way we work together. Vint explained how cooperation between countries is vital in ensuring that we have the ability to use the internet freely, and as internet users we need to remain accountable and recognise our role in building this resilience.
Improving digital access
By digital access we are referring to the digital divide, a pivotal topic in recent times with the COVID-19 pandemic and working/learning from home. Annette Maine, CEO at the Reconnect Project, a project that is closing the digital divide by providing refurbished mobile devices to people in need (thereconnectproject.com.au) led a vibrant panel discussing the issues of accessibility and affordability and the importance of bridging the gap between those who can and cannot easily engage in an online environment. Panellists focused on disadvantaged members of the community who, whether through income, isolation or disability, faced daily challenges. They explored how connection can be enhanced through the digital environment, and the role the government needs to play in supporting the issue. Dr Amber Marshall of Queensland University of Technology stressed that we need to start treating digital access as a human right, a key takeaway for the NetThing community, and something that all internet users should consider.
A multistakeholder approach
Rosemary Sinclair AM, CEO at .au Domain Administration (auDA) welcomed attendees to Day 2 of NetThing, reminding us of how much we rely on the internet in our daily lives, and outlining the importance of the multistakeholder model. She explained how this approach, as well as trust and innovation, are at the heart of auDA’s strategy in administering a trusted .au for all Australians. Rosemary highlighted that the internet is a positive force for so many people around the world yet there is pressure from some governments for a more controlled internet. Rosemary further urged attendees to understand that without the multistakeholder model the internet would be less free, less open and less able to evolve.
Sharing her hopes for future NetThing forums, she said:
“I’d love for NetThing to firmly set the agenda for internet governance in Australia, and contribute to regional and global forums on that basis. What do we have to do to get there? How do we get a broader cross-section of key decision makers into the key discussions? How can we share our debates here more broadly?”
Shortly after Rosemary’s speech was a panel on Internet Fragmentation and the "Splinternet", led by Chris Disspain of Identity Digital. Chris explained that internet fragmentation means very different things to different people, and invited panellists to share their views. Andrew Sullivan, President and CEO at the Internet Society expressed his thoughts on how independent operators interoperate with one another which does indeed make the internet a fragmented place. This discussion drew on Rosemary's points that some governments were controlling their internet, making a global approach to the internet more fragmented, which makes good decision making much more difficult. Andrew stressed that we need to take urgent action or we are going to lose the opportunities the internet gives us. That view was supported by Jordan Carter, Internet Governance and Policy Director at auDA. One of the areas Jordan touched on was policy making and how it doesn't always pay attention to reality, and he urged us to do everything we can to prevent a future with a different, more restricted internet. He suggested that we need to keep the characteristics of the internet human friendly and useful, and make a commitment to showing up and being involved in multi-stakeholder internet governance processes.
Driving interest, taking action
There is an urgency for internet users to be more proactive in the Internet Governance space, to drive interest and take action, rather than taking a back seat and thinking that someone else will do it. A key call to action from presenters was that we need to encourage more people to realise the positive impact that collaboration has on the Australian Internet, and not take it for granted. Whether we are discussing accessibility, affordability, policy making, abuse or fragmentation, we can all see how accessing the internet is undeniably a human right and as a community we need to work together to support our confidence in the multistakeholder model.
Identity Digital Australia was proud to sponsor NetThing 2022 and we look forward to continuing to be involved in the discussion surrounding the issues of governance, tech, policy and diversity and using this to help shape NetThing 2023.
To access the recordings from NetThing 2022 visit https://netthing.org.au/netthing-2022.