Future of Internet Governance-A NDN Event
Save Script (Microsoft Word Document)
The success of the Internet ecosystem is truly amazing. Wireline and wireless networks, new devices, software, applications, the Cloud – together they are connecting the world, empowering people, facilitating innovation, giving consumers many new choices in the way they communicate, work, and play. I suspect that most, even in this distinguished audience, did not anticipate what has come to be known as the Internet ecosystem would be delivering the services and the value that it is delivering today. And my sense is that this is just the beginning.
Think about the potential for this ecosystem to change our education system by creating for each student the learning environment that permits that student to learn best. At the World Health Care Congress held this week across the Potomac at Harbor Place, discussion centered on the revolution in health care driven by ongoing mobile monitoring of each individual, the effective use of data, and the massive improvements in efficiency and quality enabled by this ecosystem. Every aspect of our economy – from energy management to agriculture – is undergoing fundamental change driven by the Internet ecosystem.
One little noticed factor in the development of this Internet ecosystem is the dispersed cooperative governance structure – the multi-stakeholder process – used to “govern,” or perhaps I should say, “keep order” in the Internet space. If someone had put this process on paper some thirty years ago and asked us if it would work, I suspect we all would have said, “No way!” Yet it has worked remarkably well.
The speed of innovation in the Internet ecosystem is due in part to the environment created by the governance model – an environment in which both competition and collaboration play key roles in driving new business models and new ways of meeting consumer demand. Players can be competing against each other and at the same time partnering. What this mix-and-match competition and collaboration produces is wonderful. But this process is also difficult and messy. There is always strong resistance to change, and change produces winners and losers. There are casualties. Those who don’t adapt, don’t innovate or fail to meet consumer needs, can quickly become casualties, losers in this marketplace.
While change in the marketplace is hard and disruptive, change in the policy or political world can be even more difficult. Unlike the pace of change in the Internet ecosystem, the body politic moves slowly. There is a strong desire for institutions, whether local or state or federal or international, to hold onto the rules that benefit their constituencies even if those rules or policies no longer make sense. For example, today, as we gather here, there are efforts internationally to apply the old telecom rules to the international exchange of IP traffic. Right now, only 8% of international traffic is traditional analog voice communications. Some carriers are losing revenue as the world moves to IP; regulators see their role going away. So both have an incentive to not just hold onto the old rule, but expand it to the new world of the Internet.
When companies try to apply old rules to new technology and quickly evolving marketplaces, when they ignore the needs of consumers and the market itself, I’m reminded of former FCC Chairman Bill Kennard’s admonition: Be careful what you wish for. In a world where adaptation and change is required in order to survive and succeed, hanging onto the past is not a winning strategy.
That consideration is one reason why today the Internet ecosystem is in large part not subject to traditional regulation and anticipatory rule setting. The IP marketplace was allowed to evolve with this “dispersed cooperative governance model.” Mostly voluntary, privately led global organizations have helped manage most of the Internet’s operational issues and technical issues. This governance model has helped to reinforce and support the open protocols and the largely collaborative system of networks that make the Internet thrive. The recent OECD principles, combined with this dispersed cooperative governance model, provide a good framework for Internet governance going forward. They reflect many of the key principles and best practices that have emerged through the many years of work done by numerous organizations that have helped the Internet evolve and adapt.
We’re in an important period for the Internet ecosystem domestically and globally. Serious and far-reaching policy issues connected to the Internet are now being debated in national and international forums: privacy, cyber-security, network management, spectrum policy.
As I mentioned, it’s not surprising that policymakers and politicians are jockeying for their countries or their international or regional organizations to have greater influence or control over the policies that affect the networks that make up the Internet’s physical infrastructure. This is why I believe there is an opportunity now for the U.S. to make real contributions and build on the efforts of the OECD and others to shape those policies that affect the Internet and impact consumers.
One way for the U.S. to contribute is to be a model for the rest of the world in establishing the right framework to help guide policymakers toward policies that meet the needs of consumers, as well as all players in the Internet ecosystem.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission reached an agreement with Facebook regarding the social network's policy on changing privacy controls and informing users of those changes. That agreement affected 875 million Facebook users, most of them not in the U.S., but in other countries. That settlement may have done more to protect the privacy of consumers around the world than any action by their own national governments. With the scope and breadth of Internet services provided by U.S. companies, our country has the ability – and the responsibility – to lead the way in shaping global Internet policy.
When thinking about our domestic policy, the common theme many of us have articulated has been: Hands off the Internet! Congress has more or less had that as a policy. Theoretically it’s the official policy of the U.S. But, of course, as the responsible agencies try to apply our obsolete statutes to this new world, there has been some creeping regulation of the Internet ecosystem.
Here’s the bottom line: the “hands off the Internet” policy is not sufficient anymore. It doesn’t stop regulators from trying to do what they believe they are required to do: apply the obsolete statutes to this new world. It seems inadequate to consumers here and around the world whose lives and livelihoods are increasingly tied to the Internet ecosystem. So we all should insist that Congress do what it is supposed to do – establish a sound national policy for the Internet ecosystem.
Our new national policy should be focused on the consumer. If we focus on their expectations for safety, security, privacy, and fair treatment in the internet ecosystem, we’ll develop the right policy. Let me suggest four key elements of this new policy:
First, the new statute should embrace the dispersed governance model. It is working well. It is consistent with the proper role for government in the Internet space, that is, enforcement of consumer-focused policies, not anticipatory regulation or rulemaking. It is also consistent with the OECD principles, which have been embraced by much of the world and serve as the framework for our international discussions on Internet governance.
Under this model the statute would set broad guidelines for the Internet space; an enforcement agency would use the multi-stakeholder process to develop guidelines for behavior and enforce them. We have a similar kind of model in the advertising industry, where the statute sets broad guidelines to protect consumers. The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t spell out all the do’s and don’ts of advertising. Instead, they rely on the advertising industry to establish the standards, and then the FTC uses those standards to determine whether actions are appropriate or not. It does conduct investigations when players have allegedly failed to live up to the standards and it can punish violators.
The BITAG, the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group, and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) are working to set standards in the Internet space or provide technical assessments and “best practices” advice regarding the sometime contentious issues that can arise as the Internet evolves. Additionally, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and organization’s such as the Internet Society (ISOC) provide platforms for discussion or expertise on key Internet policy issues. Often the work of these groups can avoid policy disputes or provide solutions that minimize the concerns of policy makers and make it possible for the Internet to evolve and adapt.
Some people get nervous about this model, because it doesn’t sufficiently limit an enforcement entity. These advocates want the “certainty” of specificity. But, again, be careful what you wish for. You can’t have extensive statutory limits and certainty without also getting a guarantee of obsolescence. Such limits in response to technological or market change can restrict innovation. If the choice is “certainty and obsolescence” or “flexibility and innovation,” let’s come down firmly on the side of flexibility and innovation.
Second, there should be a test for government intervention. That test or standard should be this: that government intervenes only when there is harm – demonstrable harm – to the consumer or to competition.
Without some demonstration of harm, there is no need for government intervention, and the multi-stakeholder system should be able to function with the collaborative process that governs it today. The “demonstrable harm” standard for government intervention protects consumers from bad actors, but at the same time does not undermine the innovation and collaboration that underpins the Internet’s evolution.
Third, the policies should apply across the ecosystem and should be technologically neutral. If the consumer is harmed, he or she doesn’t care about the technology used or what was at fault, whether the provider of the device, the network, the operating system or the app. Consumers want to understand what the rules are and have one place to go when they need those rules enforced. In other words, consistent policies across the entire ecosystem.
Finally, in the U.S. context it is also important, from a consumer perspective that this be a federal policy. If ever there was interstate commerce, it is the Internet and the Internet ecosystem. We should not have state-by-state regulation.
Just as the Internet ecosystem and its many players respond to changes in technology and the marketplace, so too does our public policy. We have to get beyond the point of simply decrying the obsolescence of current law or the absence of appropriate consumer protection. We have to start focusing on how to build the new public policy that properly governs this space. In doing so, if we embrace the multi-stakeholder process that has worked so well here in the U.S. and around the globe, eliminate the obsolete rules, and establish a sound public policy process, we will create the right environment for delivering the amazing promise of the Internet ecosystem in the decades ahead.