The internet needs a new form of governance, renowned IT experts told the 1700 participants from 90 countries taking part in the World Economic Forum’s ninth Annual Meeting of the New Champions this week in Dalian, China.
The internet will soon represent a US$4 trillion economy, mostly in the G20 countries. The challenge is to bring its benefits to all nations and people of the world. “The internet is no longer a vertical economy. There is no longer a distinct cyber-space. Today, all space is cyber. The internet is like a powerful river that needs rules and governance,” said Fadi Chehade, President and Chief Executive Officer, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), USA. The challenge is how to govern the internet while fostering “permissionless innovation,” he added. The right balance must be found.
The technical aspects of the internet are well governed. It is the social and economic aspects – issues such as privacy, security, human rights, trade and taxation – that are problematic. There is no worldwide governance for these issues. Where and by whom should the rules be made? This is the question of the century.
“Very soon, the world will have more than 3 billion people born after the advent of the internet. The internet will change the world in the next 85 years,” predicted Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group in China. “We know so little about the internet. We need to govern it like a zoo with a diversity of animals, not like a farm with very few species” he said.
Ma added: “We need multi-stakeholder governance. We need an ‘eWTO’ proposed by business and supported by governments that will bring the benefits of the internet to developing countries, women and young people.”
“One thing we all fear [for the internet] is walled gardens,” said Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in the USA. Some fear governance by governments that might use internet regulation to protect existing power structures; some fear regulation by large internet firms that might abuse dominant market power.
“We all want an open and useful Internet,” Moore continued. “Governments can help by enacting measures that increase user trust of the information found on the internet. Making sure that users receive good service and accurate information through the use of objective data will increase trust” he argued.
Governments alone, are not well-suited to regulate the internet because it moves and changes so fast, while government regulatory processes are slow, noted Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation of the European Commission in Brussels. “Europe is now working on how to develop regulations that will be adaptable to future developments,” he said.
“The internet was designed to be transnational, not international. It is not built on the nation state model. It does not follow national borders,” said Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation, USA.