All about the Internet Society's Global Internet Report

The Internet Society itself is like the government of the internet, says Greg Ferro, the host of Packet Pushers podcast. "It represents" countries with the internet and examines 5G, AI, and privacy.
Written by Tonya Hall, Contributor

As "the government of the Internet," Greg Ferro, the host of Packet Pushers podcast explains to ZDNet's Tonya Hall, "It represents all" countries, worldwide, which have Internet.

Watch the video interview above or read the full transcript below.

Tonya Hall: A new report from the Internet Society says that people must come first. Hi, I'm Tonya Hall for ZDNet, and joining me is Greg Ferro. He is the host of the Packet Pushers podcast at packetpushers.net. That's a mouthful.

Greg Ferro: You've got to say that much quicker, Tonya. It's better if it's like Peter Piper picked a pepper, you know, that sort of thing. Thank you very much for letting me join the show, and so great to see you again.

Tonya Hall: Absolutely, absolutely. Love your podcast. You always offer a lot of great information, and one of the topics I know that you've discussed, and we're going to talk about here is, this new report that came out from the Internet Society, the Global Internet Report that just was released. They started, announced that they were going to do this in 2016. It just came out. You and I both agree that a lot of the findings are kind of obvious. Is that correct?

Greg Ferro: Yeah, most of its fairly obvious. The Internet Society itself is like the government of the Internet, if you could possibly imagine that there's an Internet government, you know. Represents all of the countries of the world where the Internet is, or the vendors who make it up, and so it does look and feel a lot like politics, right. When the government says, "We're going to make the economy better, and we're going to have more jobs and we're going to spend money on stuff," that's really all you can say at that level because it's so high up the food chain, it really, there's not much left. You know what I'm saying? It's a general, very high level, "We're going to pull the big lever," but what happens down below is not necessarily so visible.

Tonya Hall: Do the Internet Society fully address the conflict between open source and interoperability standards? I mean, I don't feel like they did.

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Greg Ferro: Well the challenge here, of course, is that the Internet Society has a body underneath it called the ITF, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and that's where the nerds gather. It's a delightful conference. You should see it. It's just amazing. It's full of all these strange and weird people, who look like they only get out a couple of times a year for these meetings, and they get into rooms and argue about the most esoteric of technologies. The ITF is the gears of the iSock in some sense. There are other parts of the organization as well, and they do the standards, the technology standards, and so they're responsible for things like HDP, the TLS security, the TLS 1.3 that's coming up. They're also responsible for things like the IP protocol, which is where the packets and everything is, but what we're seeing, of course, is this standardization process takes years. We're just now ratifying some standards that I've been tracking for ten years. They were started in sort of like the mid 2000s, and they're wondering their way through, and yet on the same time, we have open-source projects, where somebody whips up some code on the weekend, and dumps it out, and then somebody else picks it up, so six months later we've got this global thing happening, like envoy proxies or Engine X proxies, all these things are happening. You go like, "Wow, how would you ever standardize all of that?"

Tonya Hall: Well, the report highlighted artificial intelligence as a driver of change. What happens to humans when artificial intelligence does human things better, and more profitably than humans do?

Greg Ferro: The challenge here is that you've got, most people get frightened of things that are super human, that is things that are better than human. In fact, things that are better than you. Do you remember when you were at work at a job, and the person next to you is better than you? Then in a very selfish sense they're actually super human because they're better than you as a human, right? Imagine if we get machines that could be super human, compared to your capabilities or talents.

Now for certain things, like driving a car, we already know that the new generation of self-driving cars are better at driving than you and I. They statistically, with the data that's available, and collected, and freighted over the network back to head office, we're already seeing this massive rise in reliability of cars that are self-driving. Here in the UK, where I live, we now have insurance companies giving substantial discounts on car insurance if you will drive with the self-driving mode turned on, on the motorway. The numbers are in. Cars drive better than you do Mr. Human, get over it, right?

The question is, if we have machines that can do jobs better than you, what is it that it leaves humans to do, and that may not be driving cars for a living, so you have disruption occurring as an organic outcome.

Tonya Hall: Okay Greg, what if AI operates against our expectations? I mean do we need Isaac Asimov's Law of Robotics?

Greg Ferro: The AI question, you're assuming that it's very quickly that we're not going to have time to adapt to the arrival of some super-intelligent robot, and my experience with technology in the last 40 years, is that it happens very, very slowly, and then all at once, so we're going to have years to adapt to this. Self-driving cars is still five years away, ten years away, and then by the time we get to 15 years, it will, but at 10 years you still won't see much of it, and then it will happen all at once. That's how AI is going to work. You'll have plenty of time to get used to it, plenty of time to communicate with people around you, plenty of time to understand what it means.

If you're sitting here looking at your career disappearing, you should probably act on that. We're already seeing news being auto-generated in places. They're taking feeds and adapting it. That's people like you and I are already starting to think, "Good thing retirement's not too far away."

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Tonya Hall: Okay, let's talk about something that is going to be more impactful, 5G wireless. Is it going to be a tidal wave game changer, or is it going to be just an incremental upgrade? What are your thoughts on that?

Greg Ferro: It's going to be a mess, is what it's going to be. It's sort of like there's no actual drive for 5G, other than in a lot of the people who make 4G technology want to be able to go and refresh the base. They want to be able to go and, all that 4G that's out there, if only we could pull it out and throw it away, and replace it, we'd make more money. We've seen Erickson dropping value. Nokia's in financial trouble. We've seen Zeti racing to these markets, and the US companies can't compete against the Chinese, so they've all said, "Why don't we start with a new standard and call it 5G?"

Now there's some good technologies in there. They're increasingly having troubles agreeing on the standards. We could have an interesting debate about fair and reasonable, and non-discriminatory licensing, so he who makes a technology and patents it, when you get into these big standards like 3G, 4G, and 5G, you try and push your patents in there, so that you can get paid for them. Does that make sense? This causes these standards bodies to glum up. It goes back to what we were talking about at the top of the show.

At the moment, 5G's incredibly messy. There's too many stand ... There's literally hundreds of separate pieces to it. It's meant to be like this ever-living HTP, so the thing about HTP2 is that we had HTP.9, 1, 1.1, 1.2. When we went to HTP2.0, we made a decision to always just keep saying, "It's just HTP. There'll never be a 2.1. There'll never be a version 3." It's always going to just keep iterating. We're just not going to have version numbers. If everybody agrees that we need a feature, we add a feature, but we don't call it 2.1 or 3.

In a sense, 5G's like that. There's a whole bunch of stuff going on in there, and we don't actually know. Some of it is mesh. The mesh will give us the ability to gigabyte to the home and do broadband. Some of it is the ability to use ... Some of it's about to use different spectrums. We can do millimeter waves, but millimeter waves don't go through walls. They can only really be used in the open, and so that's great if you're doing an open space, like a stadium, but you can't use it in a house. Now you need to use TV spectrum. There's so much going on in 5G that I just think it's messy, and at this stage, unless you're really inside the 5G standards bodies, you're not really going to know the mechanics of what's going to win.

We need more band width for sure. We need better ways of delivering band width, particularly in the third world, where they dig fiber into the ground, is an enormous cost, but putting up base stations, and creating networks out of base stations, and just putting power there, that's something they can do, so there's definitely a need for it, but right now there's no need for like, is your 4G network not letting you watch Netflix? Why do I need 5G?

Tonya Hall: Well you know, and I think too, things move so quickly that in order to come up with some sort of regulation, the government has a hard time keeping up. I mean things change very quickly, so what is it going to take for governments to realize that they're never going to regulate at the speed of the Internet?

Greg Ferro: The way they've been doing it up until now was the right approach. That is, set very broad, and then have a very light, so the FCC in the US, and the UK government, the telecom's bodies here have had a very light. What they've done is focused on outcomes, so they've put legislation in place to say, "I should be receiving this level of band width." They don't say how you should receive that band width, and they also try and define quality of service, how much packet loss should there be, or how long should it be turned on or off. If it goes down for three days, is that an outage or is that whatever, so they've really tried to define the customer experience.

Over the years we've seen that change, so band width speeds have gone from 256k up, 64 down to 1 meg, and now 10 meg down, and then it went to 25 meg down and I think it's five meg up, whatever it is. I can't remember, and it varies all around the world. The governments tend to focus and legislate, if they must, around the user experience, not so much around the technology, and they let the market work out the technology.

5G is really about like hundreds of technologies coming together to be the agreed way forward.

Tonya Hall: The final conclusion of the report is that people have to come first. That's really nice, happy talk, but what do governments and businesses have to do to make sure that actually happens?

Greg Ferro: One of the big things about the Internet Society has been the focus on privacy, and so they recognize that much of the traffic that's been flying over the Internet for the last 25 years is just unencrypted, and in clear text, so we've seen a big push to implement new security standards, and that's about respecting the user, and making sure that the transaction between you, as a user, and the other trusted party, because in any transaction there's two parties, can't be intercepted in the Internet. As the Internet grows, at the same time our power for computing grows.

We've seen the rise of Verizon capturing network data and then selling that for money, so they actually see the traffic crossing over their Internet backbones, and then sell that to advertisers so they can target you. The Internet Society broadly believes, after polling its membership, that this is a bad thing. This isn't good for people, so we're seeing the Internet Society take a stand around cryptography and security around that, and they're also trying to make sure that they're setting up a framework in other parts of the organization, away from the technologies to make sure that there are rules for conducting business online. How can we have rules for when does a transaction take place? We've seen the fall of ... currency, so that is the U.S. dollar, the English pound, the Euro, and the rise of crypto currency, and the subsequent fall of crypto currency. Is that a birth of a new currency going through it's birthing phase, and growing pains, or is that a failed start?

In the Internet, we've had lots and lots of failed starts in technology over the years, things that have come and gone, so we don't know yet how we're going to agree. Micro-transactions, you know we've been tracking micro-transactions as pundits on this industry for nearly 20 years. I should be able to read this newspaper and pay .1 cent per page, that's been going on for years, but yet we don't have a place for that. The Internet economy, generally, is this combination of security, network standards, how we inter-operate, how we bring them together. Being sensitive to change, we talked about the artificial intelligence, but also how the physical world fits in, so 5G then is the physical world, so the report sort of summarizes all of those things.

Tonya Hall: It sure does, and I really appreciate your insight on this, Greg, and I love your podcast. If somebody wants to follow you, and check out your work, and maybe follow your podcast, how can they do that?

Greg Ferro: You can head on over to packetpushers.net, where too much technology would never be enough. We go deep and nerdy on the technology, just way too often, but that's what we do. You can follow Packet Pushers on @packetpushers, exactly the way it sounds on Twitter, and you can follow me personally on Twitter as Etherialmind.

Tonya Hall: Thanks again, Greg. I appreciate your time. If you want to follow me, and more of my interviews, they're right here on ZDNet, or find them on TechRepublic, or find me on Twitter at @TonyaHallRadio, or Facebook by searching for the Tonya Hall Show. Until next time ...


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