Rudi Vansnick: Well I start­ed hav­ing first-time access to Internet in 94 in Europe. It was a quite ear­ly peri­od. Having these first-time con­nec­tions by putting a cable in the plug, to dial up, is how the Internet was used in that time. I was par­tic­i­pat­ing in a European Commission project that was quite inter­est­ing, as we had been in four dif­fer­ent coun­tries check­ing how Internet was per­ceived by SMEs, small and medi­um com­pa­nies and enter­pris­es. It was real­ly amaz­ing to see the dif­fer­ence between the cul­tures. So I helped the Italian peo­ple, for instance, in under­stand­ing that the Internet was not some­thing mag­ic. It could work. While in the UK it was no longer mag­ic, it was some­thing they were real­ly using, in the same peri­od of time. 

Putting that back in my home coun­try, in Belgium, I start­ed set­ting up a few projects with larg­er com­pa­nies. It was Web 1.0, and the bub­ble that start­ed cre­at­ing web con­tent pro­duc­ers, pro­duc­ing web­sites. So I have been involved for a few years in that peri­od of time. 

Recently I have more active par­tic­i­pa­tion with gov­ern­ment in try­ing to help them in under­stand­ing how Internet works, espe­cial­ly for gov­ern­ments, and how to for instance set up a new gTLD for our regions. 

Intertitle: Describe one of the break­through moments or move­ments of the Internet in which you have been a key participant.

Vansnick: Well as I said I was par­tic­i­pat­ing in a European Commission project, and it was real­ly a sur­pris­ing peri­od. In less than ten years, the whole Internet changed. And by par­tic­i­pat­ing in some of the bub­ble com­pa­nies, bub­ble enter­pris­es in Web 1.0, I have been find­ing that the impor­tance of con­tent is not just the graph­ics and images but also how you bring your infor­ma­tion to your cus­tomers, being the Internet users. And I have been quite help­ful in help­ing set­ting up web sites that are acces­si­ble for dis­abled peo­ple. It’s a part of the world that very often is for­got­ten. But then when you look at this blind peo­ple, for them it’s the world where they can par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­ni­ty, while in all oth­er cir­cum­stances they are not allowed, so that was a big jump into a step where dis­abled peo­ple were allowed to par­tic­i­pate and still today it’s a quite inter­est­ing activ­i­ty which I’m real­ly hap­py to be a part of. 

Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weath­er anal­o­gy and explain why.

Vansnick: It depends on where in the world you are, when you cov­er the globe. The Internet does­n’t look at bor­ders, does­n’t look at weath­er, it’s just going for­ward. And it depends on which region you are. When I look in Europe, we have this idea activ­i­ty going on which is prob­a­bly known every­where, it’s the PRISM dis­cus­sion. So it’s a bit stormy for us. But in some oth­er coun­tries it is not at all. When you look at Africa, for instance, it’s all new for them, it’s all mag­ic. So it’s sun­ny. It brings them new economies. While for gov­ern­ments in almost every coun­try, it starts cre­at­ing a lot of dis­cus­sions but also pop­ping up issues that they nev­er had been think­ing about. As for instance the dis­cus­sion about the Internet does­n’t stop at your bor­der, but your leg­is­la­tion stops on the bor­der. How do you act as a gov­ern­ment? How do you cre­ate new laws? And that’s some­thing which I have recent­ly, in the last two years, been involved in in Belgium and in Europe. And it’s an amaz­ing peri­od. You can go from sun into a storm with­in a few min­utes. Just like the weather.

Intertitle: What are your great­est hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?

Vansnick: Well I would start with the fears and end up with the good, pos­i­tive things. The fear is that when we see some gov­ern­ments and some orga­ni­za­tions like ITU try­ing to take con­trol of the Internet by look­ing at con­tent and how we com­mu­ni­cate. Well, we have to be afraid of too much con­trol and too many Big Brother sit­u­a­tions. So that could dam­age the future of the Internet if there is too much con­trol. In the end, we know that every­body is look­ing at us but if we are aware of the fact and aver­age cit­i­zen, every Internet user, is aware of the fact that all that you do on the Internet is seen, it could bring it down to a lim­it­ed ver­sion of the Internet. 

My hope is that with ISOC and with our part­ners in the Internet com­mu­ni­ty we will be able to turn back that sit­u­a­tion and keep it open and keep every­body in a sit­u­a­tion where they can access the Internet freely with­out any bur­dens, with­out any con­trol of bod­ies and gov­ern­ments. And I see it as the oppor­tu­ni­ty, and espe­cial­ly for devel­op­ing coun­tries. It’s access to knowl­edge. If we cut that off, well…it is not good. So what I see is that with the growth of the Internet, knowl­edge is going to increase, and almost everybody—and the young­sters first of all; they are born with Internet—for them it’s nat­ur­al. So I think that they will pro­tect the future of the Internet by say­ing, Hey. It’s some­thing we just put out of the plug. Don’t pull it down.” So I hope real­ly that the young­sters will keep it alive and fol­low what we have been doing. 

Intertitle: Is there action that should be tak­en to ensure the best pos­si­ble future?

Vansnick: Well one of the most impor­tant things to do is to get con­sen­sus on all lev­els. And the first ones are what we call the I* [pro­nounced I‑Stars], being ISOC—the Internet Society, being ICANN, being IETF, IAB and many oth­ers, that they reach con­sen­sus on how the Internet will evolve and how to tack­le all the dif­fi­cul­ties and prob­lems that pop up. I think that’s the most impor­tant action, that there is con­sen­sus and that they con­tin­ue to talk to each oth­er and not start com­pet­ing with each oth­er in their mis­sion. I think that that’s the biggest action that is need­ed in the future to keep the Internet as it is today and let it grow.