July 15, 2024

Regulating the Internet in a Multifaceted World

Last month, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France invited Internet company executives, digital policy makers and others to the French capital for a special meeting in advance of the gathering of leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized nations in Deauville, France. This week, it is the turn of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to summon the digerati to Paris.

Like Mr. Sarkozy, the O.E.C.D., which analyzes the economic policies of the 34 industrialized democracies that make up its membership, aims to highlight the growing importance of the Internet in driving innovation and economic growth. In addition, the backdrop of both meetings is a growing interest in the future governance of the Internet.

The G-8 leaders, for example, called for greater global coordination of efforts to curb copyright piracy, child pornography and other lawlessness that thrives on the digital frontier, a cause that Mr. Sarkozy has championed. The tone of the discussions this week is expected to be more moderate, according to people involved in drafting the agenda.

“We’re trying to get the message across that if you hamper the flow of information, you are shooting yourself in the foot in terms of the economic benefits of the Internet,” said Sam Paltridge, an official in the O.E.C.D.’s directorate for science, technology and industry. “If someone comes along and threatens that openness, that’s a real problem for economic growth.”

A discussion document prepared for the O.E.C.D. meeting highlights the benefits of the existing model of Internet governance, in which governments, private companies and independent organizations all have roles to play but in which no single entity operates without checks and balances. This so-called multistakeholder approach has underpinned the openness and dynamism of the Internet, supporters say.

Yet the multistakeholder approach is not enshrined in any law or treaty, and it is not universally liked. The governments of Russia and some developing countries, which are not members of the O.E.C.D., have expressed dissatisfaction with it. They would like to see the International Telecommunication Union, a U.N. agency, exercise greater oversight.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met with Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the I.T.U., this month in Geneva, where he said that “Russia was determined to contribute to the work of the union and to strengthen the collaboration with the organization,” according to an I.T.U. news release.

The official Russian government Web site carries a more detailed description of the discussions, saying Mr. Putin told Mr. Touré: “We are thankful to you for the ideas that you have proposed for discussion. One of them is establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union.”

The I.T.U., which coordinates international use of the radio spectrum and allocates satellite orbits, among other things, also plans an international discussion on the future of the Internet during a meeting next year at its headquarters in Geneva. There, I.T.U. members are scheduled to discuss revising existing international telecommunications regulations, which were written in 1988, when the Internet was in its infancy.

O.E.C.D. members are said largely to agree on a desire to exclude the Internet from a revised telecommunications agreement.

“There is a realization that Internet governance wouldn’t work under a traditional treaty model,” Mr. Paltridge of the O.E.C.D. said. “If you do this via a treaty, are you putting a straitjacket on innovation?”

The I.T.U. does not plan to attend the O.E.C.D. meeting, said Sanjay Acharya, an I.T.U. spokesman.

Even among supporters of multistakeholder governance, some recent developments have raised concerns about the existing approach.

Last week, one of the key stakeholders, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the Internet address system, approved plans for a vast expansion in the range of addresses available. In doing so, the organization overrode doubts expressed by the United States, the European Union and other governments, as well as organizations representing trademark holders.

At a meeting of the board of the assigning corporation and its Governmental Advisory Committee, Gerard de Graaf, an E.U. representative on the committee, compared the situation to a conversation between “the deaf and the stupid.”

Even if multistakeholder governance is sometimes messy, advocates of an open Internet say it is preferable to alternatives, like greater government supervision.

Constance Bommelaer, director of public policy at the Internet Society, a group that campaigns against restrictions on the Internet, said her organization had been invited to participate in the drafting of a communiqué to be issued at the O.E.C.D. meeting. At the G-8 meeting, by contrast, the communiqué had been drafted in advance by government representatives.

“This time, we will participate on an equal footing with business and government, which is very encouraging,” she said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/technology/internet/27iht-internet27.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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