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.