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What to Make of the Inaugural NetThing 2019

Quoc Pham

The last Australian Internet Governance Forum (auIGF) was held in October 2016 before the annual event was cancelled as part of an auDA review. Three years on and the auIGF replacement — NetThing — was held in Sydney on 28 October 2019, though I was surprised to see that this Australian Internet event no longer had an associated .au domain name, instead choosing to go with NetThing.info. According to the organisers, "NetThing is the renewal of an annual forum to strengthen Australia's Internet governance community, and consists of robust Australia-based Internet policy exploration and discussion". So with that in mind, my colleague and I went along to see what was going on.

Inclusive Presentation Environment

NetThing 2019 felt like an auIGF but different, in a good way. The way the sessions were prepared and presented provided a more inclusive environment, which is an improvement from the "sit behind a desk panel" style quite often previously seen at auIGF. Internet governance and policy discussion can only be enhanced by active stakeholder engagement, so this was definitely a step in the right direction.

Broader scope of topics

My previous experience of the auIGF was that it usually only covered very technical topics that affected the governance of the infrastructure that supports the operation of the Internet. This was probably because the audience was typically from a technical background.

It is clear though, NetThing took inspiration from Nethui, which is held by our friends from across the Tasman in New Zealand. Nethui has a reach of topics far beyond that of a traditional IGF and NetThing set about broadening the scope of topics covered as well by exploring these five areas:

  1. Policy — the intersection of society, economics, law, politics and the Internet.
  2. Inclusion — creating an Internet for everyone, and an Internet community that is everyone.
  3. Technology — the technologies that build and use the Internet.
  4. Security — cybersecurity, cybersafety, infrastructure protection, identity and financial protection, through the lens of the Internet.
  5. The future — speculative, fun, inspirational views of the future Internet.

The Internet has grown exponentially in the last twenty years and has become core to the way that everyone lives, from entertainment through to critical functions that support our very lives. To that end, broadening the topics covered at such an event is essential to remain relevant to the current and future users of the Internet.

I encourage you all to watch each session online as NetThing has made the recordings of each session publicly available on their website.

Multi-stakeholder model

NetThing 2019 promoted the idea of a multi-stakeholder model, which, by definition, allows for the voices of multiple groups within the Australian community to come together and make informed decisions based on the inputs of others. It brought together representation from the Australian Government, IT professionals from organisations of all sizes in the private sector, journalists and academics.

This helped provide a more dynamic discussion on a host of topics ranging from Australia's 2020 Cyber Security Strategy to socially sensitive events such as the events post the tragic and despicable Christchurch Mosque shootings and how the New Zealand government worked to take down web content.

Overall, I left NetThing, feeling very inspired by the passion of our Internet community. However, I also felt very much overwhelmed by the amount of work that we all have ahead of us to ensure that the governance of the Australian Internet fosters inclusiveness from all corners of Australia, as well as ensuring that our rights are protected online… and that all the technical bits are sorted out as well.

It's clear to see how the Internet has impacted the lives of Australians and all global citizens alike, and as such, the security and online well-being of all internet stakeholders is a goal of paramount importance. I feel privileged and empowered to be able to directly impact the Australian and Global Internet environments in a professional capacity through Neustar, a world leader in Internet security.

However, there is still much to do so between now and NetThing 2020 (and beyond), everyone as an Internet community must continue to work and collaborate to ensure a safe and prosperous "online Australia" and I encourage all to join in the discussion and NetThing is a good place to start.

By Quoc Pham, Senior Product Manager at Neustar Registry Solutions
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