Monday, February 23, 2015

Internet Governance and the New HTTP2 Protocol...

Proof that the Internet is, in fact, governed can most easily be found in the adoption of its technical standards and protocols.  Think about it:  despite the Internet's decentralization, certain protocols have to be designed and adopted by nearly everyone just to ensure that the Internet remains interoperable and functional.  Not only does virtually everyone need to agree on these protocols, but clearly identifiable institutions have to make decisions, resolve conflicts, and maintain control over them.  This authority is the very definition of governance.

Which brings us to last week's big news that the HTTP2 protocol has officially been completed.  There is a single institution known as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) - an international and non-profit organization - which is single-handedly responsible for making decisions over the Internet's standards and protocols.  HTTP2, as its name suggests, is the next evolutionary leap forward for the classic HTTP protocol which has been the Web's main standard for data communication since at least 1999, and a previous version since 1996.

So let's all celebrate!  After all, this is the Web's open democratic process in action, right?  Without the intervention of any national government, the Web has once again initiated an open participatory process, issued a Request for Comments (RFC), and ultimately built a rough consensus upon which it made a binding decision about its own future development.  Is this not the self-governance and autonomy that early Internet evangelists predicted?

Well...  There is one notable observation weakening the utopian self-governance argument.  HTTP2 is based on SPDY, which was invented by Google, and later supported by Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and others.  In fact, those companies pushed hard in order to get the IETF to formally adopt it.  Some may argue that corporate influence has decreased the level of democratization in the process, rendering the IETF as a mere agent of such corporations and institutionalizing their self-interested preferences.  However, others will correctly point out that such corporate involvement has been a part of the IETF's standards-setting processes from the beginning, so it's really nothing new, and may even be considered crucial to a new protocol's widespread adoption.

Regardless of the power relationships involved in this aspect of Internet governance, the question many of you will undoubtedly have relates to relevancy.  How will this momentous development of the HTTP2 protocol affect your life?  Mainly by speeding up your web browsing.  And there's certainly not going to be a grassroots movement protesting that.



Post a Comment

<< Home