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Microsoft response to European Commission consultation on “Europe and the Internet in a global context - What future, what challenges ahead?”

 

Microsoft response - Executive Summary

The keys to the Internet’s success have been three fold:

(1) the fact that the Internet is global, open and enables a free flow of information;

(2) there is increasing worldwide digital inclusion and empowerment; and

(3) innovation has thrived, resulting in astounding geographic expansion of the Internet and related economic growth and social progress.

Together with multi-stakeholder participation, processes and coordination, these three elements should continue to be strongly supported by all, including the EU, in line with its long standing position supporting an open and global Internet.

Governance of the Internet

  • Is there a need to move toward one global principle-based framework?

Key point: There is already a global framework pioneering Internet Governance policies, albeit in the form of a collection of several policy areas and the involvement and coordination of the respective organisations and other relevant stakeholders. This is because the Internet is a general purpose technology, pervasive to many aspects of economic and social life, thus touching a vast array of different policy areas where the efforts of a range of stakeholders can be complementary, or coordinated.

Microsoft appreciates the opportunity you are providing interested parties to consult on these very important – and potentially far-reaching – issues. As we all know, the Internet has been an enormous success, providing substantial economic benefits to end-users in countries, large and small, across the globe.

The keys to this success have been three fold: (1) the fact that the Internet is open and enables a free flow of information; (2) there is increasing worldwide digital inclusion and empowerment; and (3) innovation has thrived, resulting in astounding geographic expansion of the Internet and related economic growth. These three elements should continue to be strongly supported by all, including the EU, in line with its long standing position supporting an open and global Internet.

If we are to judge it by the spread and scale achieved by the global public Internet over the past twenty years, as well as the social and economic benefits that came with it, Internet Governance has worked rather well.

By nature however, particularly because it is in large part user-driven and its user base has diversified and grown tremendously, the Internet Governance system is pioneering in many ways and is thus bound to evolve – bound to improve, continually.

Establishing a single global principle-based framework for Internet related policies and regulations is probably not realizable, at least in the foreseeable future, partly because of the cultural differences that subsist between different parts of the world, and partly because due to its foundational role, the Internet touches upon many different policy areas, from intellectual property to telecommunications regulations to data protection, and many more. In fact, what we should focus on is to ensure that the diverse policy areas and responsible arenas dealing with these policies coordinate well when it comes to Internet issues. Perhaps the most comprehensive overview of these parallel tracks, and how to coordinate them, resides in the conclusions of the 2003-2005 World Summit on the Information Society. Notably, WSIS helpfully identified the key policy areas related to the Internet, and the various institutions working on each of those1. More could be done to realize these suggestions, which are still very relevant today (See in particular the WSIS Action Lines and the various bodies identified as ‘lead’ or ‘facilitating’ in each field: http://www.itu.int/wsis/implementation/)

This pioneering framework for Internet Governance, first detailed within the WSIS context, encompasses the parallel work of various institutions, from the International Telecommunication Union for telecom infrastructure that supports the Internet, to UNESCO for cultural aspects, OECD and others for economic aspects, or ICANN for domain names and addresses.

In this perspective, we welcome the continued calls for all Internet Governance institutions to evolve and improve in their pioneering work, notably in three areas:

(i) to embrace multi-stakeholder processes when they are not, or not sufficiently, inclusive of all relevant stakeholders;

(ii) to strive for transparency;

(iii) to become more and more international – to be truly global, in other words, thus mirroring the inherently cross-border, global nature of the Internet and of the Information Society that it empowers.

One might add to that a fourth point of detail: policymaking and regulation in the Internet age should adopt a pro-innovation, pro-user / pro-citizen stance, whereby regulation refrains from applying old norms and legacy rules to new technologies and dramatically new ways of interacting and trading, which the Internet has brought us – and instead pursue what some call ‘smart’ or ‘better’ regulation.

  • Are we on the right track towards a system of governance on an equal footing?

See our comments below in relation to the need to further develop multi-stakeholder governance and policymaking.

  • Does the process of internationalisation of ICANN go far enough?

ICANN, mirroring the wider pioneering efforts of Internet governance, has continued to evolve, and improve over the years. The organization seems to be going in the right direction towards genuine internationalisation. The new gTLD program and delegation of new iDNs has required ICANN to improve its governance structures, public processes, and transparency of decision making. While there is still much work to do, recently it has taken steps to internationalize its operations with new offices in Singapore and Istanbul. All institutions in this sphere should be encouraged to continue to evolve and improve, as further described below. 

  • How can a move from unilateral to multilateral accountability be realised?

    How do you see the role of governments within the GAC?

The principle is that multi-stakeholder policymaking is not only a good idea, but a ‘must’ in matters of Internet governance. Enshrining this principle was one of the most important achievements of the WSIS, with clear recommendations for stakeholder representation on equal footing, and we believe that more should be done to transform it into reality across all Internet governance processes, including when it comes to the role of governments, alongside users, the academic and technical community, industry, etc.

Recent pioneering examples of involving stakeholders like trade unions, consumer and citizen groups, and the Internet technical community such as in the intergovernmental discussions at the OECD or the Council of Europe have already delivered improved policymaking, capacity building and interactions between stakeholders. Such multi-stakeholder processes are a prerequisite for multilateral accountability.

Because of the global, pervasive and decentralized nature of the Internet, no one entity or community can claim to have all the relevant expertise or representation to manage it – unless it is a global, inclusive, therefore inherently multi-stakeholder community.

We come back to our suggestions in this area below.

Architecture matters

  • Do such calls pose a risk to the 'One Internet' principle?
  • To what extent are the current debates on Internet governance sufficiently focusing on who controls key physical and logical resources (e.g. where does the majority of the traffic go to, who controls major Internet exchange points, how do key standardisation efforts influence the balance of power among stakeholders?
  • How can the risk be limited that separate network infrastructures co-exist or can be isolated from one another, thus undermining the One Internet principle?

Key point: the Internet’s global and open nature has been and should remain central to the unprecedented positive social and economic benefits. This revolutionary platform for human progress should remain global and unique.

In our view, the global, unique nature of the public Internet is a fundamental reason for its success and the wide socio-economic benefits it has brought to the world. The Internet has made the free flow of information and knowledge a reality across the globe; it has enhanced trade, in an especially marked way for remote and underdeveloped nations; similarly, it has made communications more versatile and international, brought people together better and more widely than anyone could have ever imagined before. In sum, the global and unique nature of the Internet has brought such transformation in just the last twenty years as to transform and boost human progress in an unprecedented manner.

At the same time, there is more work to do. Today, still nearly 60% of the world’s population is not connected to the Internet and not realizing the benefits (The State of Broadband 2013: Universalizing Broadband, The Broadband Commission, September 2013). Collectively, we need to do more to assist in bringing these populations on line and into the global Internet community. The decentralized nature of the Internet’s architecture is one key to its success. It means that the architecture is always in flux, always evolving to meet new challenges. New networks join the Internet regularly and new Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) can be easily and inexpensively added anywhere, without seeking the permission of some global regulatory authority, to both improve traffic flow and lower costs. The universality and openness of the Internet is critical to this flexibility.

As just one example of how things could go wrong, if the Internet were fragmented, people and organizations would face the logistical obstacles and expense of having to purchase domains from numerous different countries, companies would be forced to choose which markets it was worth their time and money to enter, leading to a regionally fragmented Internet in which not all consumers / citizens had access to all online services and not all Internet entrepreneurs had access to a global consumer base.

Decentralized, nation-based distribution of Internet resources would very likely lead to conflicting and overlapping Internet identifiers, as well as wide variance in naming and numbering policies by country. This would not only jeopardize the Internet’s ability to serve as a global network but also pose a whole host of intellectual property and trademark concerns for industry actors concerned about how their domain names might be used in other countries where they might be unable to purchase them.

Such moves would threaten to jeopardize the Internet’s success by, among other things, increasing transactional (and, thus, end-user) costs; decreasing innovation; creating significant – and unnecessary – regulatory complexities in an otherwise well-functioning market; and, ultimately, fragmenting this global platform that has proven itself to be the 20th and now 21st Century’s greatest global social, cultural, and economic development tool.

Thus, the EU should continue to deploy all possible efforts to prevent any moves – political, economic, or technical – that would fragment the Internet.

The multi-stakeholder approach

  • Do you think that the current multi-stakeholder model has enough legitimacy – both regarding process and stakeholders - given the fundamental impact of the Internet on our societies? 
  • How can capture of the process by vested interests be prevented?
  • Where does the model need to be improved?

Key point: The global Internet has flourished because it has developed in a bottom-up multi-stakeholder environment. The Internet should continue to be governed as appropriate through multi-stakeholder groups and existing principles and frameworks.

Taking the long term view of a global agenda for the Internet, we are not and should not be talking about revolution with the concept of ‘multi-stakeholder’ discussions and policymaking. Because there are so many actors with different expertise, competences, roles and responsibilities in the Internet, all stakeholders have to play their part, and this is the case in particular among international institutions. Bringing stakeholders together, not centralizing governance, is the best way to ensure that the relevant expertise feeds into the best possible governance and policymaking for the Internet, and avoid capture by vested interests.

We are lucky to have a network of international bodies that are important and expert stakeholders for Internet Governance: ICANN for domain names; the IETF and IAB for technical specifications, IGF for policy exchanges; ITU for spectrum and the development of supporting telecom network infrastructure; UNESCO for cultural issues; WTO for trade; WIPO for copyright, and several more (such as the Council of Europe for Human Rights, OECD for economics, etc.).

This future global agenda should not be about one of these agencies – whether ICANN or ITU or another – or other entity controlling all of Internet Governance, or about excluding any of them - but rather the contrary: it is and should continue to be about applying the multi-stakeholder ways of working to collaboration and policymaking between - and within each of - all these expert agencies, using each of their respective, particular remit and expertise together, so that Internet Governance systems deliver as much economic and social benefit as possible. Multi-stakeholder models pioneered by the OECD ICCP Committee (see http://www.oecd.org/sti/ieconomy/iccpcommitteeexpandsparticipationofnon-governmentalstakeholdersinitswork.htm) or the Council of Europe Information Society Directorate are worth referencing here.

The multi-stakeholder model is pioneering. It needs to be further encouraged and reinforced, indeed including in areas such as transparency and inclusiveness. It seems to us a prerequisite in order to have conditions in place for everyone, anywhere on the globe, to reap maximum benefits from the Internet. In the long term, rather than going back to traditional, top down ways of doing things in technology policy, we see a future where multi-stakeholder governance and policymaking is not just enshrined in the Internet ecosystem, but expanded to all other spheres of international affairs.

The Internet as a legal space 

  • In yout view, is the current framework of international law sufficiently suited for the Internet?
  • Which possible areas for improvement do you see as the most urgent?
  • Which possible areas for improvement do you see as the most urgent?

Key point: We agree that seeking to develop a global ‘Internet law’ or legal system of laws, which can only be imagined as a very long term project at best, in any case, is probably not the appropriate focus.

We would instead encourage the EU to start a process at home, to revisit openly, involving all stakeholders, its own body of policies and laws, or how they are applied, to ensure that they are still relevant and best suited to maximize the benefits of our Internet-enabled age.

 When considering the dynamics of Internet Governance, including the accelerating pace of convergence and changing market conditions, which some have expressed concern over, it is important to recall that there is a virtuous cycle in the Internet ecosystem, chiefly driven by users and innovation. This virtuous cycle entails that compelling Internet applications and content drive demand by consumers / citizens for Internet access; in turn, this demand provides return for investment in networks; better networks open the door to more innovation in Internet content and apps, etc.

As the Norwegian Post and telecom Authority put it recently: "It is of course the content that is available via the Internet access that drives the end users' demand for high-speed access. 1 If there had not been large amounts of content, [or mainly content that did not require high capacity], the demand would be less and the operators would receive lower revenues from the sale of Internet access. In this way, the development towards capacity-demanding content, such as the streaming of video, constitutes a win-win scenario for the content providers and network operators" (NPT blog : http://www.npt.no/aktuelt/nyheter/_attachment/6472?_ts=13d3aeda9cc)

This is a sustainable model, that has already sustained the test of time and changing technologies, and in which all actors have to evolve just as technology and the Internet evolve, just as some businesses succeed in changing conditions – and some fail. Artificially unbalancing this virtuous cycle would inhibit the innovation and, ultimately, the economic growth and development potential for both individual nations and businesses.

The body of parallel laws that bear on Internet activities is vast, be it at national, regional (Eg EU Directives) or global level. As mentioned above, because of the Internet’s pervasiveness these laws cover a vast array of economic and social activities, from privacy to consumer protection or contract law.

What is important is that these policies and laws either be reviewed or their application adapted so that they are ‘digitally fit’: that they are practically in line with the technical, business or cultural realities of our Internet age. Policymaking and regulation in the Internet age should adopt a pro-innovation, pro-user / pro-citizen stance, whereby regulation refrains from applying old norms and legacy rules to new technologies and dramatically new ways of interacting and trading, which the Internet has brought us – what some call ‘smart’ or ‘better’ regulation.

We agree that seeking to develop a global ‘Internet law’ or legal system of laws, which can only be imagined as a very long term project at best, in any case, is probably not the appropriate focus. We would instead encourage the EU to start a process at home, to revisit openly, involving all stakeholders, its own body of policies and laws, or how they are applied, to ensure that they are still relevant and best suited to maximize the benefits of our Internet-enabled age.

In sum, a global agenda for a future Internet should strive for :

- attitudes and measures that resolutely favour innovation and users;

- the preservation of the multi-stakeholder model, especially the ability of industry and other non-government representatives such as users, academia, and the technical community, to participate actively in Internet governance decision-making processes. As part of that progress, we should see International agencies working hand in hand, making the most of their respective expertise for the benefit of all nations and all mankind;

- the preservation and expansion of the global nature of the Internet, so that the single, unified Internet grows to interconnect and to benefit even more regions and users across the globe, without fragmenting into smaller, separate regional networks.

 
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Group managers

Cristina MARTINEZ GONZALEZ European Commission DG CONNECT/02 Head of Sector 'Integration of Regulation, Policy and Research"
Vessela KARLOUKOVSKA European Commission, DG CONNECT Stakeholders Unit Policy officer
Prabhat AGARWAL European Commission DG CONNECT Policy Officer

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