One of the priority themes at this year’s UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) held in Geneva, was the importance of broadband, IT and services delivered over the Internet for an inclusive digital economy and Information society – in particular, the role of ICT and the Internet to business, whose innovation has helped build an Internet from which it’s thrived.
As I highlighted in my opening address at the meeting, IT, broadband and the Internet have enabled new services – services essential for economic growth and of immense societal benefit. It is the investment and innovation in technology coming from the business sector that has enabled much of this positive potential.
And these same technologies have contributed to global business growth by lowering access thresholds to infrastructure and applications. Access to sophisticated data processing capacity, for example, for pennies on the dollar, can help start-ups and SMEs pay for only what they need, cutting the upfront capital and technical skills traditionally associated with the use of IT.
But today, the unrelenting pace of technology innovation means that the policy and law-making frameworks surrounding the Internet are constantly playing catch-up with advances in technology and new business models. As fast as Internet innovation is creating opportunities, it’s also creating a host of new challenges for policy-makers.
Take cloud computing for example. In driving down the cost of computing, and in democratising access for both individual and commercial users, this technology is truly pioneering. It promises everything from improved speed-to-market and productivity, to greater efficiency in the allocation resources, and additional platforms for innovation and new services. And these benefits are not limited to the industrialised countries – some aspects of these applications are within reach of even the least developed countries.
But these benefits are not immune from public policy issues in the form of data privacy, security, and national laws. The issues are not new, and cloud computing is already subject to existing legal and regulatory frameworks. But the increased complexity of cloud, in terms of possible data flows and jurisdictions involved, makes the application of existing paradigms more complex.
Cloud computing will only fulfil its true potential if users are confident their data can be moved between providers or brought back in-house if desired – and only if the core issues of control and access are addressed.
Likewise, there are both legitimate questions, as well as much misinformation, related to having national data assets outside national borders and how this could lead to the development of national clouds, which may not enable the true benefits of cloud computing: flexibility, scalability, and economies of scope or scale.
As Internet broadband becomes more accessible around the world, understanding these opportunities and the needed policy approaches to data and related regulatory environments is critical. That’s why legitimate concerns about privacy and security should be addressed with a flexible and adaptable policy framework that encourages innovation and the benefits of new services.
With more services delivered online, modern society will become increasingly dependent on the Internet, which in turn puts higher pressure on its robustness and reliability. The multistakeholder community – which includes governments, business, the Internet technical community and civil society – will continue to work together to contribute to the development of policy, legal and regulatory frameworks that will drive innovation and help bring the benefits of Internet broadband to more people around the world.
Inextricably linked with the CSTD forum’s primary goal of addressing the technology issues that affect economic and social development, is its other central aim – that of following-up and building on the progress of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
Ten years ago, global representatives assembled in Geneva as part of the initial founding phases of WSIS. In the decade since, we’ve witnessed marked progress in moving towards this goal of an inclusive Internet, with the multistakeholder approach to dialogue forming the backbone of the progress that has been made. But in order to support future Internet innovation, getting the policy and regulatory frameworks right is critical for protecting and preserving the economic and social opportunity made possible by investment in the Internet.
True cooperation between all parties – including the business community, whose lifeblood is Internet innovation – is integral to the future health of the Internet. The immense opportunity made possible by Internet advances is not without great, shared responsibility. With this in mind we should remind ourselves that with every technological advance, we need to work harder to create the right policy approaches to ensure that the Internet can continue to fulfil its potential.