By Winthrop Yu
Twenty years ago today, the Philippines was connected to the global Internet at the ?First Philippine Email Conference? in Cebu. This very title reminds us of what the expectations were at the time and emphasizes how far we?ve come since then.
The event had not been a milestone on any official roadmap, nor was it the end result of any corporate strategic planning session. Instead, individuals from various universities banded together and, with help from the Department of Science and Technology, worked to somehow wire their schools together and bring this thing called ?the Internet? to this country.
Like the pioneers of the Internet itself, those who sought to bring the Internet here could be described as hobbyists voluntarily working on a project that they themselves initiated. The Industrial Research Foundation, which coordinated and provided support for the early PhilNet project, was not an association of telecommunications engineers, but of chemical engineers.
Thus, the beginnings of the Internet in the Philippines serves to highlight the key characteristics of this important global resource? open, consensual and distributed, thereby enabling permission-less innovation. These core Internet values drive its dynamic evolution to this day.
A previous technological miracle took much longer to evolve: Only after half a century had passed could you get a telephone in any other color except black. This was not because those who ruled the telephone networks had any particular color preference, but because they were afraid that their networks might ?break? if anyone were allowed to just connect any device to it.
Eventually regulators allowed the use of telex machines, albeit mostly by large corporations who could afford to pay the stiff usage fees. Only decades later could ordinary folk make use of the sole consumer innovation in telephony ? the fax machine.
By contrast, the open and permission-less Internet has delivered a cornucopia of applications to end-users, including businesses and governments. It encourages innovation by allowing anyone to connect any device to it.
Whether a device or protocol becomes an Internet standard is largely a matter of voluntary adoption, not fiat from a central authority. Today?s Internet runs and continues to quickly evolve under a loose, distributed system of consensual coordination amongst various stakeholders.
Innovation percolates from the bottom up, essentially from the ideas and initiatives of individuals. Anyone, even chemical engineers, can play the Internet innovation game. Experimentation will not break the Internet, overly restrictive regulation will.
With the pervasive ubiquity of the Internet today, one can easily sit back and view with considerable satisfaction the numerous applications that are enabled by and run over it.
At the same time, many are concerned over the evils this new technology purportedly brings ? spam, malware, fraud. None of these issues are truly new. They have existed in one form or another even before the advent of the Internet.
Yet, all too often, the automatic response is to restrict the technology rather than address the underlying issues. Accepting that, even as technology evolves, legislative and regulatory frameworks likewise adapt, the key is to avoid ready reactions that tend to be restrictive and instead carefully consider necessary, proportionate and genuinely effective measures.
No single perspective, whether technical, policy or regulatory is sufficient in itself. Best would be to engage as many stakeholders as possible, and for us as individuals to carefully consider the issues and share our views.
The Philippine Chapter of the Internet Society does not only engage on technical matters and conduct training sessions; it also endeavors to articulate the views and concerns of ordinary Netizens on diverse issues such as Internet governance and regulation. In order to do so, we continue to engage government, industry, civil society and other stakeholders across the various communities.
With a view towards the next 20 years of the Internet in the Philippines, the Internet Society encourages everyone, particularly its members, to come together to examine and consider the myriad issues related to the Internet. Each of us can do our bit and contribute to the global effort to keep our Internet open, accessible and of enduring value for all.
The author is the president of the Philippines chapter of Internet Society