Keith Davidson: I’ve been inter­est­ed in and engaged in the Internet since the mid 1980s. At one stage I owned an ISP in New Zealand, an Internet ser­vice provider oper­a­tion which got me inter­est­ed in some of the gov­er­nance aspects of the Internet. And from that I’ve had a num­ber of roles in New Zealand and on a region­al basis in the Asia-Pacific region, and more late­ly with ISOC and ICANN. In ISOC I’m a mem­ber of the board of trustees, and in ICANN I’m the vice chair of the Country Code Name Supporting Organization, the CCNSO, which looks after the ccTLDs inter­ests in ICANN.

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

Davidson: For me the first thing that stood out was in the mid-80s see­ing the file trans­fer pro­to­col, known as FTP. And as a print­er at the time to see the capa­bil­i­ty of this pro­to­col being used to trans­mit files between com­put­ers across a net­work was quite remarkable. 

I think the last big thing that hap­pened on the Internet was the release of the World Wide Web in 1993. And I think since then, while there’s been Facebooks and oth­er things, they’re just appli­ca­tions that are using the World Wide Web. So I’m not sure there’s been a next big thing since 1993.

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

Davidson: A weath­er analogy—it’s…it’s fine, but there are clouds in the sky. The Internet con­tin­ues to grow and have fur­ther reach, but some of those clouds are around issues relat­ing to pri­va­cy, or pro­tec­tion of indi­vid­u­als, iden­ti­ty theft, and so on. So it’s not all sun­ny all the time.

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

Davidson: Oh, I think the recent moves by the US gov­ern­ment sig­nalling their intent to remove their hands from the IANA func­tion com­pletes a cycle of the inde­pen­dence of the Internet, which should encour­age fur­ther invest­ment and fur­ther entre­pre­neur­ial activ­i­ties on the net­work. I think the future—for me, the Internet of Things is def­i­nite­ly more a real­i­ty now than ever before and I look for­ward to the day that we tran­si­tion from a lot of the more rou­tine and bor­ing things in life like shop­ping and so on being more auto­mat­ed. So my refrig­er­a­tor and my pantry being able to com­mu­ni­cate and be con­stant­ly stocked on the basis of my needs and so on. So that it frees more time to enjoy oth­er things in life. Much as the cal­cu­la­tor freed us from bor­ing cal­cu­la­tions, the Internet’s capa­bil­i­ties to free us from so much rou­tine is enor­mous. I look for­ward to that. 

In terms of the dan­gers, I think the con­stant dangers…governments look­ing to cur­tail activ­i­ties on the net­work… Sure, there are dan­ger­ous things on the Internet and the temp­ta­tion for gov­ern­ments to reg­u­late and to pro­hib­it access to things, while some things should poten­tial­ly be pro­hib­it­ed, the fact that once you start cen­sor­ing you can’t stop and at what point does that become polit­i­cal cen­sor­ship, or at what point does that cen­sor­ship actu­al­ly infringe on my indi­vid­ual free­doms? Yeah, the Internet’s grow­ing so rapid­ly and it’s become so use­ful in spite of gov­ern­men­t’s not because of gov­ern­ments, and the while it’s still a tech­nol­o­gy that’s in its infan­cy it’s real­ly real­ly impor­tant that we allow it to flour­ish to reach its full poten­tial. And the only way we can do that is by gov­ern­ments hav­ing a very light-handed approach to reg­u­la­tion on the net­work, know­ing and under­stand­ing that there’ll be dis­rup­tive behav­iors and dis­rup­tion to peo­ple’s lives along the way. But we need to learn how to cope with this dis­rup­tive tech­nol­o­gy and allow it to flour­ish to its full potential.

Intertitle: What action should be tak­en to ensure the best pos­si­ble future?

Davidson: I think the actions that are com­ing up with the var­i­ous con­fer­ences and so on this year, fol­low­ing on from the US gov­ern­men­t’s state­ments on its free­ing up of the IANA func­tion will lead to a whole wave of new ways of think­ing about the future of the Internet, whether the Internet Governance Forum might tran­si­tion to more a deci­sion­mak­ing forum or more maybe peo­ple like law enforce­ment agen­cies inter­na­tion­al­ly find new ways to col­lab­o­rate to stop cyber­crime and all of these things. I think there’s a whole set of new and inter­est­ing con­cepts that will devel­op. So maybe 2014 is quite a cat­a­lyst year for a next stage, and I think by this time next year we’ll actu­al­ly see some real excite­ment in terms of roadmaps to the future of the Internet. But pre­dict­ing exact­ly where that might turn at this stage is real­ly hard.