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IBM: Free the Net

Organic growth is the way to go for the Web, to truly realize opportunities brought about by the new wave of Internet technologies and content.

The Internet needs to be under as little government intervention as possible, if its potential is to be truly realized, says an IBM executive.

Michael Nelson, director of Internet technology and strategy at IBM, told ZDNet Asia that the era of grid computing and always-on connectivity is becoming a reality. Nelson was in Singapore to attend a ministerial forum on next-generation networks, held in conjunction with the Infocomm Media Business Exchange 2006.

"The beauty of the Internet is that no one's in charge and everyone's in charge."
-- Michael Nelson
director of Net technology & strategy, IBM

The next-generation Internet comprises three main characteristics, according to Nelson. First, it would involve faster networks--in the realms of 50Mbps to 100Mbps, which would be enough to deliver three-dimensional or very high-resolution and high definition video images.

Second, broadband will be pervasive in the new Internet era, said Nelson. "Not only will people be able to be connected, but all of their devices, their cars, even their dogs will be connected to the Internet," he said. "That will enable some very exciting applications, three quarters of which we can only guess right now."

Last, grid computing will be part of the equation, noted Nelson. "In the future, we'll have networks that tie together much more powerful machines, and are able to do many different things."

However, to enable these scenarios, the Internet must not go the path of heavily regulated industries such as the traditional telephony or broadcasting, said Nelson.

The Internet is "fundamentally different" because an almost unlimited number of people can provide information on it, making it a competitive environment that sets it apart from other traditional industries, he explained.

"The Internet is much more like the computer industry, which has been very lightly regulated than the telephone industry, which has been very heavily regulated," said Nelson. "Because it has been very lightly regulated, innovators have been able to do new things to move in many different directions--directions which politicians and regulators couldn't possibly have anticipated."

"We don't need to plan the Internet… it's going to grow up in the wonderful organic way that it's been growing," he said. "There's no U.N. (United Nations) treaty that defines what the Internet standards will be. There's no top-down pressure that pushes the Internet to one direction or the other."

"The beauty of the Internet is that no one's in charge and everyone's in charge," he stressed, noting that industry groups such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Engineering Task Force and World Wide Web Consortium, all contribute to the global marketplace of ideas.

The same can be said of VoIP (voice over IP), said Nelson. "[VoIP] is quite different from the standard connection between a telephone and another telephone, and it shouldn't be regulated the same way as traditional telephony."

When it comes to managing the Internet as a medium, he said that the biggest challenge for politicians is "to find a way to do no harm" and put in place policies that encourage "competition, innovation and investment".