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The Next International Policy Battlefield Will Be ICT Policy

I am currently in Hyderabad, attending the Internet Governance Forum, IGF. With hours before the official opening, it might be worth reflecting a bit on Internet Governance and the general discussion on the role of international policy and ICT (information and communication technologies).

I have several times before said, and written, that the real difference that governments could make (assuming that Governance is in relation to Governing) in Internet policy is close to their traditional roles. Create harmonized legislation, give tools for law-enforcement agencies such as co-operative agreements, agreeing on a framework for recognition of ccTLD (country code Top-Level Domain) ownership. All of these are issues where governments can make a difference, but they are also hard issues to deal with.

Instead of the above issues, governments have for a long time rather talked about control of various technical components of the core infrastructure systems of the Internet. My guess have always been that these ended up as the focus as they are easier to grasp and the discussions don’t require governments to make hard decisions, tradeoffs, de-regulation and regulation of local markets. However, I also believe that this is about to change. We are also seeing the first signs of governments starting to pay a lot more attention to resource allocation, availability and security. By resources here I mean everything from IP addresses, domain-name policies (i.e. not Top-Level Domains) as well as standardization.

All of the above resources are starting to have an impact on the success of local businesses, and the domination, success and influence that local business are having. The level of government involvement in these issues varies from country to country and partly based on political system. However, that these issues are becoming more important, I have no doubt.

Given the increased importance directed at these issues by some governments, it worries me that other governments seem to step down their involvement. The recent and tragic events in Mumbai have meant that several country delegation have abstained from attending the IGF here in Hyderabad, most notably these are European country delegations. While that can perhaps be explained, the general down-playing of these issues in countries such as Sweden really worries me. Governments need to be aware, and educated on the issues, and also show they are taking these issues seriously. Currently many of the developing countries seem to take the ICT policy issues much more seriously than the developed countries. The developing countries of course also have a lot more to gain in furthering their policy positions, on behalf of developed countries. I don’t necessarily disagree with this development, but I would much rather that it happens in a dialog with the developed countries rather than on walk-over.

Looking forward, I believe that the ICT policy field and the access to resources to full-fill nation-state policy and support the development of local resources, content and business, will be an international policy field equally important as other resource availability policies such as oil, mineral etc. In this light, I can only hope that ICT policy is raised to the same level, included in national foreign policy, security policy analysis and addressed on a ministerial level.

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VINTON CERF
Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

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