Arik Hesseldahl

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Meet Kathy Brown, the Internet Society’s New CEO

If you’re the kind of person who keeps track of Internet policy and governance debates, you should know that the Internet Society has a new CEO as of today.

Her name is Kathy Brown, and she’s a former senior VP for policy and corporate responsibility at Verizon, where, among other things, she was a member of the U.S. delegation to the meetings of the International Telecommunications Union in Dubai last year when there was a movement by some countries to expand its oversight authority over the Internet.

It was controversial, and in the end a lot of countries, including the U.S., didn’t sign on to the proposal, but the debate isn’t over yet.

A lot of people don’t give much thought to the Internet Society or to the idea that there’s actually a governance structure to the Internet itself that sets the rules under which it functions. The organization’s basic mission is to promote the Internet’s growth around the world. But it’s also the home of the Internet Engineering Task Force, which sets technical standards that define the protocols that make it all work

Back in the latter years of the Clinton administration, Brown ran the Office of Policy and Development at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. She was later chief of staff to FCC Chairman William Kennard.

Brown starts on the job on Jan. 1, but I had a short chat with her earlier this week. Here’s a few highlights of what we talked about:

AllThingsD: Why come to the Internet Society?

Kathy Brown: I’ve spent the last 15 years or more in government during a time when the Internet evolved from just an idea to the time when it caused a disruption to most of the world’s industries. So I was involved in all of that from a policy perspective. And then at Verizon I worked on the policy issues that were emerging not just domestically but internationally. It’s a huge passion of mine. We’ve seen the changes that the Internet has brought to many countries in the world, and the benefit it can bring to the others.

What will your priorities be coming into the job?

The Internet has matured considerably. It’s a very different experience for users now than it was 15 years ago. There’s an opportunity to understand what that change is and to engage with the hot-button issues. There’s the security issue, the privacy issue, the trust issue, and really the threat of balkanization of the Internet should we not have a global consensus around it. So I think about what there is to do in three big buckets. The first is Internet governance, and the reliable technology-based information that the organization can offer. I want that information to be part of the discussion as we talk about government intrusion into the Internet as well as the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet innovation. That issue to me is very topical and it’s enormously important that we get it right. …

Second is that the Internet Society has a global infrastructure of grass roots activists that is very close to how the Internet is used in various communities. I think we need to keep those voices front and center so we don’t lose sight of what’s at stake in all the policy discussions. What’s at stake is the way that individuals are able to use the Internet, and businesses are able to use it to build value, and how the Internet can be used to help things like education and health care.

Finally, the Internet Society houses the Internet Engineering Task Force. They’re really the people who invented the Internet and the generation of people who have followed who keep on inventing the Internet. So my goal is to make sure each of those areas gets strengthened.

And what’s likely to be the first of those issues you’ll be dealing with in 2014?

The first will probably be around Internet governance. Remember the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations agency that has historically regulated the Internet connections of carriers? It had its treaty meeting, and those meetings were contentious. Many of those issues remain. It turned out to be a mixed bag on the treaty front because there were many countries that signed on to it and many including the U.S. that did not. Those issues have not gone away. The next big ITU meeting is in October, so those issues are still on the table. The debate is coming up in various forums, and so that’s where I will have my eye on the policy front. Also, the ITU’s charter is coming up for renewal, and that’s where the scope of the agency’s authority will be discussed. And I think you’ll hear a lot about that leading up to those meetings.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work