Crossroads Ahead for Global Info Tech, U.S. Official Says

By Charlene Porter

Staff Writer

At the global conference on information technology (IT) convening in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 3–14, the United States is ready to defend policies that will support “infrastructure, innovation and inclusion,” according to Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Genachowski warned of a policy showdown that could unfold at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). Speaking to a Washington audience November 21, the chairman said some participants will be attempting to shackle the Internet and its thriving private enterprise.

“Down one path is a free and open Internet that drives new innovations and that will grow economies, create opportunity and raise the standard of living for billions around the world,” Genachowski said at an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations. On the other path, this U.S. official sees “slower economies, less access to life-changing innovations in health care and education, less freedom around the world.”

That future of greater opportunity and improved standard of living is threatened, Genachowski says, by proposals being put forth for another layer of international Internet regulation. Imposition of a rigid regulatory structure could quash the private investment and market competition that promote rapid growth of Internet business, Genachowski said, as he called on the WCIT delegates to resist such regulation.

“They would increase uncertainty and raise costs for online innovators everywhere, in every country in the world, including developing countries,” Genachowski predicted. Access to Internet content and applications for consumers all over the world would also be compromised.

Genachowski sees another threat to innovation and the free flow of information in the form of “protectionist policies” being adopted by some countries that attempt to preserve business opportunities for domestic companies. Genachowski says such policies would have the opposite effect by preventing local companies from engaging in Internet innovation.

“These policies are harmful both to the Internet as an economic engine and as an engine for broad opportunity, and they’re inconsistent with fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of speech and the rights of people worldwide,” the FCC chairman said.

Concern about encroachment on Internet freedom reaches the highest levels of the U.S. government, Genachowski said, noting previous statements by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about the need to achieve unrestricted Internet freedom globally.

U.S. government officials at the departments of State and Commerce are working with international counterparts to influence policies supporting openness, innovation and competition on the Internet, Genachowski said.

The explosive growth and innovation of the Internet can be traced to a 1997 agreement signed by leading IT nations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization. That pact assured an open marketplace on the Internet, leading, Genachowski said, to “trillions of dollars in new investment in infrastructure in telecommunications around the world, and helped spur a huge, historically unprecedented wave of worldwide communications technology innovation, mobile and Internet.”

The FCC chairman said his agency sponsors an ongoing program to bring counterparts from other nations to the United States for an inside look at how the telecommunications industry has prospered under U.S. policies. Genachowski said he finds international IT officials eager to create the best opportunities for innovators in their countries. He observed “an openness to looking at the data, looking at the facts and thinking about what is in the self-interest of their countries and what is in the mutual interest of all our countries and global economic growth.”

Private-sector research released earlier this year projects that the number of subscriptions to mobile service will reach 9 billion in 2017. Of those, according to research from the Sweden-based telecommunications company Ericsson, 5 billion will be for mobile broadband. The industry research further predicts that global mobile data traffic will increase 15 times by the end of 2017.Genachowski said expanded Internet penetration would offer unprecedented opportunities for people in the developing world to gain access to a wealth of information — on finance, markets, education, health — that could lead to better quality of life.

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