Research Grants for Building Virtual Neighborhoods

Burt Kaliski | Jan 20, 2012

grant winner panel.jpgOne of the highlights of my first seven months at Verisign was attending the annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi, Kenya last September. I had the pleasure of serving with industry, policy and technical leaders from around the world on several panels concerned with how to manage the Internet as a shared and connected global resource.  It was my first trip to Africa, and similar to my experience at each of the other new continents I’ve visited over the course of my career, what once seemed so far away became much closer to home – especially as I sat in the conference room and tweeted and emailed over the wireless network!

Attending IGF was a strong reminder that the world has become so much more connected, with Internet access a huge enabler of the global economy. People are learning, companies are forming, and society is changing in new ways as a result of an interconnectedness that puts Kenya and every other country in the same, virtual neighborhood.

Shortly after I returned home from Nairobi, Verisign held a symposium at which the four researchers (pictured above with me on a panel at the symposium) who were awarded the company’s first round of infrastructure research grants presented their findings. I was impressed by the creativity and clarity of this research, which was already underway when I joined the company.  Reflecting on the many challenges and opportunities with Internet access that were discussed at IGF, I recommended that the company direct its next round of research grants – and thus the next round of funded creativity – on global access.

Verisign’s research grants program for 2012, announced earlier this week, focuses on “fostering infrastructure improvements that support safe and secure Internet access for users around the globe, especially in the developing world.” It’s a great objective that at each stage of deployment may require new approaches to fit the varying infrastructures and use cases of our diverse global community. And security is essential: in today’s connected economy, the only thing worse than having no Internet access is having access that works against you.

In addition to more specific focus, the new research grants differ in a few others ways from the first round. First, to help good work move even further along, the grants are larger, and we have just two of them, still an overall growth in total awards. Second, we’re encouraging grant proposals with teams spanning two or more countries. If the research is about how to broaden Internet access globally, a team that’s already interconnected through the Internet has a privileged perspective to share. Third, we’re asking that the research results be made openly available to the public. Transitioning results into practice is the continuing challenge after research is concluded, and we hope this setup will make it easier for the results to be adopted broadly, especially given the express intent on public benefit.

We have a team of expert judges on board to select the best of the many expected proposals addressing this year’s motivating challenge. To read more about the judges and the submission requirements, visit www.verisigninc.com/grants.

A special thanks to Scott Hollenbeck, research director at Verisign Labs, who’s overseeing this year’s program. I’m looking forward to seeing what the research community proposes to explore – and looking ahead, to the impact of their work in connecting our digital world.