A Framework for Understanding Internet Openness

GCIG Paper No. 35

May 30, 2016

Over the past several years, observers have been aware that the Internet is becoming less “open.” Yet, although organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have concluded that a link exists between the Internet’s origins as a system designed to be open by default and its ability to promote economic growth and social well-being, the pressures on the Internet to be more “closed” have persisted. This situation is ripe for analysis.

Achieving a better understanding of both how changes in openness affect economies and societies and how various stakeholder actions and inactions affect openness begins with a fundamental step: defining “Internet openness.” That is the objective of this paper.

The term “open Internet” has been in circulation for several years, but it signifies different things to different people. It therefore causes confusion and is not well-suited for analysis. This paper concludes that there is no such thing as the open Internet. Instead, there is Internet openness, which exists in degrees along several dimensions. Those dimensions include not only technical considerations but also many others — such as market conditions, governance, legal environments and procedures, and human rights. Consequently, a large and diverse set of circumstances and stakeholder actions influence Internet openness.

Part of Series

Global Commission on Internet Governance Paper Series

The Global Commission on Internet Governance was established in January 2014 to articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of Internet governance. The two-year project conducted and supported independent research on internet-related dimensions of global public policy, culminating in an official commission report that articulates concrete policy recommendations for the future of Internet governance.

About the Author

Jeremy West is senior policy analyst in the Division for Digital Economy Policy at the OECD. Jeremy is a lawyer with experience at the OECD, the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, a Washington, DC law firm and the New Zealand Commerce Commission.