Thank you. I’m real­ly grate­ful for this hon­or, but real­ly it is not just me. There were many many peo­ple behind this, so let me talk about the sto­ry. It start­ed in the mid-1980s when I and many oth­er peo­ple were grad­u­ate stu­dents in the US. And we found this great tech­nol­o­gy called email which allowed us to talk to each oth­er. But we did­n’t have that back in Sri Lanka. So we set up a net­work to con­nect all the peo­ple, not just in the US but all of the world, and called it SLnet, Sri Lanka Network. And that was real­ly one of the first social net­works. There were oth­ers, but one of the first. It was set up glob­al­ly, long before the word social net­work” was ever coined.

And then we found okay, we need­ed fund­ing. We set up a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion called Lanka Academic Network to fund this ini­tia­tive. And so I think this is how it all start­ed. Then in 1992 when I was back in Sri Lanka, we said okay let’s start this Internet here in Sri Lanka. And we set it up, and again the fund­ing came from the same com­mu­ni­ty. We just got three hun­dred dol­lars from the gov­ern­ment. But that’s okay. We did it anyway.

And as things con­tin­ued, we set up the net­work. We con­nect­ed every­body. Again, it was many many peo­ple all around the coun­try as well as oth­er coun­tries. And espe­cial­ly I’m grate­ful for the fund­ing we got from inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions such as the Swedish gov­ern­ment for mak­ing that happen.

Then in 2002, I took up anoth­er chal­lenge. That is, how do we make these com­put­ers avail­able for peo­ple who do not speak English? So, in our coun­try we have two lan­guages, Sinhala and Tamil, which are writ­ten in dif­fer­ent scripts, not the Latin script we use for English. So how do we get all these com­put­ers, phones, tablets, all the devices, to use those lan­guages? It was a dif­fi­cult task because these were quite small lan­guages. Only sev­er­al mil­lion peo­ple use them. And the ven­dors were not inter­est­ed in small lan­guages. But how­ev­er, we per­se­vered, and we had first Windows, then Linux—GNU Linux—and then var­i­ous oth­er plat­forms also sup­port­ing this. 

And now we need con­tent. So we went round and said okay, how do we do the con­tent? And that’s real­ly what kept me busy for the last maybe twen­ty or twenty-five years. 

But right now we have more chal­lenges. We need to make this Internet acces­si­ble to every­one, at an afford­able price. We need to ensure cyber safety—that we are not endan­gered by being on the net. And privacy—that we do not give up our rights just to access the Internet. So I think there’s a lot more work to be done.

Let me con­clude by say­ing that I thank the Internet Society for this, but it’s not real­ly for me. It is for all the peo­ple who helped the entire com­mu­ni­ty to achieve what we have done. Thank you.


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