Brussels / 3 & 4 February 2018


Interview with Rob van Kranenburg
Next Generation Internet Initiative. An opportunity to fix the internet

Photo of Rob van Kranenburg

Rob van Kranenburg will give a talk about Next Generation Internet Initiative. An opportunity to fix the internet at FOSDEM 2018.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I am Rob van Kranenburg, a Dutchman living in Ghent. Studied Literature to get as far away as possible from any form of ‘use’ and ‘efficiency’. Then the net hit and I got busy with hypertext, Dreamweaver and BBS. Then the web came in 1993 and I started making websites for education with Ronald Soetaert. Interest in interactivity was logical. Around 2000 I discovered what is now #IoT, realizing it had a long history. I got upset, I got mad, I got scared and finally wrote about it.

I then set up Council in order to stay on top as much as possible and become an influence in the debate that I knew would come one day: What kind of society do we want? In order to kickstart public debate I also set up #IoT Day on April 9.

I am a member of

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

I will talk about what we need a public debate on Next Generation Internet and specifically : What kind of smart society do we want?

The EU is not an integrated territory if it has no agency over data of people, machines and processes. These are predominantly in the hands of commercial “over the top” non-EU players. Aggregated data leads to new combined services that generate and produce more data. This cycle leaves full innovation capabilities outside of a direct strong response (regulation is a weak response that cannot be a basis for a de jure situation). In the EU consumer expenditure accounts for about 56% of GDP. These consumer actions will increasingly be carried out in the context of the IoT as personalized dynamic pricing is extended down to the smallest purchase (not just airline seats, but washing powder and also meals in restaurants…).

In times of perpetual innovation (not at the edges, but at the core of developments), populist movements on the rise, people worried about their jobs, pensions, everyday expenses, untenable inequality gaps, energy uncertainties, it seems that the single layer governed Asian tigers are finding more productive political answers to ensure a balance between centralization (on infrastructure and sustainable policies) and decentralization (innovation on applications and services). It is not the best balance. They need to engineer a move towards more decentralisation that is incompatible with their political heritage and mindset. There is a strong tendency to also control data and information on top of owning internet (of things) architectures and media production capabilities.

We Europeans, however, can envisage the Next Generation Internet as a coherent set of centralized protocols that can be operationalized in a fully decentralized way; a new conception of the techno-political landscape tuned to the reality of what is happening in every domain of human activity; to be supported, assisted and guided by secure real time data streams of sensor input, to bring big data, AI and dynamic analytics into the heart of decision making and to eventually reform the EU as a platform of services for all.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

To kickstart the FOSDEM crowd into taking more political responsibility. Not in the sense of forming ‘a party’. That model is gone. But the engineers and computer scientists have now made any domain ‘smart’: wearables and your body, smart appliances and your home, autonomous vehicles and car to car connectivity and your car and all kinds of services in the smart city.


Now you want to go home yo your nice smart home?


Now you have to engineer a smart society and new forms of governance balancing centralized and decentralized solutions in the best possible way.

So you have to become, in the words of Hardt and Negri ‘tactical leaders’, temporary leaders fixing specific problems, then step aside for others.

FOSDEM participants can do that.

We need them.

“Rough consensus and running code” is not just keyboard nation, no, it is the model for governance of everything.

In our vision (the vision of the CSA NGI Move) NGI is a system of systems, a pragmatic cybernetics, that eventually runs a 500 million European zone as a service. Compared to China we have the advantage of building a productive balance between extreme centralization on infrastructure, spectrum, smart contracts and hardware by EU industry and extreme decentralization on data fully open for direct local democracy and services and apps by EU SMEs; and personal data clouds as envisioned by the GDPR. Compared to Singapore we have scale and the possibility to sell the system (running your territory-region as a service). Compared to the US we have relatively intact social systems and fully functional building blocks such as Estonian e-card, Horizon 2020, Digital Single Market focus. This scenario offers investors a real viable European project, strengthening public infrastructure and open business models on the data if they are on EU platforms,

Q: You talk about “an opportunity to fix the internet”. In what way is the internet broken today?

Reciprocity is the core principle that defines our actions. The lack of reciprocity in TCP/IP (pass on the packet) and HTML/WWW (pass on the link) has created its ubiquitous success, but at the same time it has fuelled the need for a Next Generation Internet, one in which security is a service by default, data-lakes are under multi-stakeholder control, algorithmic transparency is realized and self-healing qualities of networks are matched with local repairability in order to make them sustainable. Therefore, our focus also lies in creating an ecosystem to fuel a Movement of Digital Transformation; an organizational change to better facilitate and co-create solutions to the needs of citizens, business, and governance, not fronting technological problems solving the problems of technology.

Q: What’s the history of the Next Generation Internet initiative? When was it started and why?

It is very young, just under two years old. No one has a real clue to what it is or can be and that is great!

Q: There have been quite a few attempts to improve the internet. Why would the Next Generation Internet initiative succeed where all other attempts failed?

Because finally policymakers and engineers together feel an urgency. It is clear that the Digital Transition is not just play or fun, no it works on the core of your institutions and business models.

Q: What is the role of free and open source software in the next generation internet?


NGI will be open source or it will not be.

Q: What are some examples of concrete problems the Next Generation Internet initiative has planned to tackle this year?

The NGI study investigates how to deal with this urgent multi-faceted crisis, and will support the EC in understanding how to re-engineer the internet and subsequently rebuild trust in the post-Snowden internet — where necessary from the ground up. The instruments Europe has are focused R&D as well as complementary policy measures to address market issues that hinder the desired outcome of the NGI initiative.

You can download the study on our website.

Michiel Leenaars (director of strategy) of NLNET will talk about this.

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

Yes, once very early with one of the brightest minds on/in this space, Ben Russell, who wrote Headmap, published in 1999.

Anyone who knows where Ben is now, drop me an email.

And once a few years ago. I was blown away by the vitality and potential of all these focused and brilliant minds.

Hard to find so many nice, ego-less or lesser people in one place.

That is why I am very honored to talk.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.