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In Paris, the OECD has a high-level meeting on the Internet … and Neelie Kroes offers a “C.O.M.P.A.C.T.”

July 3rd, 2011 |  Published in Government and the Internet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 3 July 2011 –  Last week we were invited to attend the OECD’s High-Level Meeting on the Internet Economy, held in Paris.  It came on the heels of the Digital Assembly in Brussels last month and the e-G8 Summit in May, the latter being the first “e-Summit” at such a high governmental level ever to discuss the Internet as a sector of economic activity essential to the growth of the world’s economies.

The OECD meeting build upon the “OECD Ministerial on The Future of the Internet Economy” held in Seoul, Korea in June 2008.   The events drew together members from all stakeholder communities, seeking to reach a consensus on adopting shared principles for an open Internet economy. 

There were a wide range of topics but the event focused on these three themes:

Supply: encouraging the extension of high-capacity communication networks to reach maximum national coverage and provide access at affordable prices.

Demand: fostering the use of the Internet in critical areas (health, education, transport, energy) in order to increase efficiency.

Measurement: benchmarking developments in high-capacity communication networks and quantifying the Internet’s impact on the economy in order to facilitate evidence-based policies. 

Principles for an open Internet:   encouraging countries to follow a number of basic principles for Internet policy ensuring that the Internet remains open and dynamic.

The principal speakers included OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría,  European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes and Ministers from Brazil, France, Australia, the United Kingdom plus a number of business leaders from the Internet economy – including Tim Berners Lee and Vint Cerf (ARIN).   

There was a wide ranging discussion of the Internet and how it has become a fundamental infrastructure in OECD countries, in much of the same way as electricity, water, and transportation networks.  It began as an important tool for improving communication but has transformed into a general purpose technology supporting all sectors across the economy.   Taylor Reynolds of the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry  spoke about how the Internet is changing the world.  The following video clip was prepared before the conference but it summarizes the points he made at the conference:

Tim Berners-Lee spoke about how an open Internet is the key to driving innovation:

 

Nellie Kroes (who is also Commissioner for Digital Agenda) is “the face” of the Commission when it comes to all-things-Internet-and-digital-agenda.   She has spoken at multiple conferences and has a very active blogTwitter account, and Facebook page

She had commented on the discussion had by all stakeholders on the principles that underpin the Internet network.  Her guiding principle is that the Internet is a “European strategic domain” and that the EU stance must be underpinned by the same values, priorities and interests as everything else the EU does.

At the OECD event she set out her own “main ingredients” as follows:

Civic responsibility. On the internet, we are not atoms. And just as when we are out in “normal”, offline society, we bear responsibilities to each other which go beyond the purely legalistic, especially when there is harmful behaviour out there.

One internet.   We should safeguard the idea that, on the Internet, every node can communicate with every other. This unity is what allows the Internet to thrive in the way it has; we need to avoid fragmentation.

Multistakeholder governance of the Internet.  Because the participation of all stakeholders in policy making is a good one, which we support in this domain and others.

Pro-democracy. With the right tools – like open access to Government information, and platforms for collective action – the Internet can become an instrument supporting democratic life, and we should promote it as such.

Architecture matters.   The architecture of the internet is fundamental to its dynamics. I’m sure the architecture will change in the future as new challenges emerge – but we need to be aware of the implications that different models might have.

Confidence of users is a prerequisite.   Barriers to confidence and trust are barriers to access. If we don’t solve problems like protection of personal data, privacy and identify; like online safety for children; like cybercrime and resilience of the network, then people will be turned off the net and we won’t unlock the Internet’s potential.   

Transparent governance.   So that the multistakeholder model doesn’t fall apart. In particular we need to be transparent about the role which government representing their citizens play, and ensure that those views aren’t ignored.

She called it her “Compact for the Internet”.  For a copy of her full presentation click here.

Comment 

When we get into a discussion of the Internet and government regulation we get into a minefield of emotions and competing interests.  While most Internet users (myself included) would prefer to have the Internet be free and unregulated, many politicians, organizations, and even governments are proponents of imposing stricter Internet laws and restrictions.  Government regulation of many facets of IP communications and media likely will increase over the next several years. 

Every mass communications medium in the U.S. faces some form of censorship and regulation or another. And if they are being regulated by the U.S. government, then they are being regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.   

The e-G8 internet forum in Paris in May certainly exposed the deep rifts between tech titans, academics and policy makers, even as they tried to agree on a “message” to take to world leaders at the Group of Eight.   Eric Schmidt of Google and Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook had warned governments to “tread lightly” on internet regulation because moves to tame its rough edges risked hurting its virtues.

There will always be an inherent difficulty of finding a way to regulate the internet that is acceptable to governments, industry and civil society.  And the business and economic models underpinning the system are always subject to change.  Many current and many future proposals to regulate the network services business operate on the assumption that current revenues and profit margins will always be there. There is a good — perhaps inevitable — chance that neither revenue nor profit margin will remain at current levels. 

For Europe, amid the economic carnage that has dominated headlines in recent months, one sign of hope is European telecommunications companies continuing to invest billions of euros into the continent’s internet systems.  Not only does this create and sustain jobs, it also allows more people to share in the benefits.

Unfortunately these economic and social benefits will be in jeopardy if EU policymakers consider expensive rules that  give governments the ability to regulate the highly complex technologies underpinning Europe’s internet.

These rules could stifle the internet’s growth and undercut a crucial economic advantage as Europe copes with global recession. For typical consumers, it would also invariably lead to higher costs to access the internet.

Few industries are experiencing the kind of rapid, dynamic improvements that are taking place on the internet.  These improvements are vital given the increasing volume of video, television, music and other information speeding through the web. For example, according to several industry reports, the data sent by a single person during two hours of interactive online gaming roughly equals 3,000 photos, 5,000 e-mails, or a three-hour HD movie download.

If the modernization of Europe’s internet is suddenly held hostage to conflicting national rules interpreting “quality of service,” then not only will users see worse and more expensive service but businesses that rely on fast communications will be at an increasing disadvantage.

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