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Ambassador Thorne's Remarks at the Challenges of the Internet of the Future Conference

Ambassador Thorne at the Challenges of the Internet of the Future Conference in Rome

Ambassador Thorne at the Challenges of the Internet of the Future Conference in Rome

Ambassador David H. Thorne and Professor Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffè, Università Bocconi

Ambassador David H. Thorne and Professor Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffè, Università Bocconi

Rome, June 28, 2012
Aula dei Gruppi Parlamentari

Good afternoon.  I am delighted to be here at a conference that has focused on such a critical and timely subject.  I would especially like to thank Karim and Luigi for organizing this event and putting together such a comprehensive program on the future of the Internet.  I am also pleased to be here with our own FCC Commissioner, Robert McDowell, who has been one of the leaders in raising awareness about the regulatory issues at stake at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).

The Internet is the economic and communication engine of our time, and we must make sure that the Internet not only survives but thrives, and Europe has an important role to play in this.  As Commissioner McDowell said this morning, “Europe’s view of new Internet regulations proposed by others will be pivotal to the outcome” of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) that emerge from the WCIT.  Commissioner McDowell also mentioned some of the more alarming proposals suggested by some of the Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as well as a few independent groups.  These proposals range from the small and incremental, to the large and sweeping changes that could radically redefine the ITU.

But let me tell you, in the United States, we start with the principle that we should strive for maximum openness and freedom on the Internet, while at the same time, protecting the human right of  privacy.  Exceptions will be necessary, but Americans believe we should always aspire to the goal of openness, transparency and interoperability through this dynamic engine of growth.

Secretary Clinton has clearly articulated this policy, noting that our goal is “to work internationally to promote an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable information and communications infrastructure that supports international trade and commerce, strengthens international security, and fosters free expression and innovation.”

In other words, our policy approach to the World Conference on International Telecommunications is to keep the Internet available to everyone through the current multi-stakeholder Internet governance framework.  Note that the Secretary said we want to work with global partners to ensure this openness internationally – not just in the United States.  This includes all internet stakeholders, including business, the technical community, civil society, academia, and governments working together to maintain the Internet’s daily operations.

This collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach is not without precedence.  Five hundred years ago similar debates unfolded regarding another important trade and communications medium – the seas.  Hugo Grotius, a Dutch jurist and philosopher, wrote a pivotal treatise on international law called Mare Liberum (or The Free Sea).  Out of this treatise emerged the principle that the sea was international territory and could be used by all nations for commerce.  Even if a nation had legal jurisdiction over the part of the sea touching its territories, Grotius argued that states could not prohibit free passage or diminish common use of the seas by seafaring nations.   Since then, laws of the oceans have continually been changing to adapt to new technological developments.  While we cannot apply the law of the sea wholesale to our current efforts to create a consensus on Internet usage, it is an analogous situation from which we can draw lessons on how to respond to a similarly evolving issue.   

We believe that innovations in technology, such as the Internet, provide great opportunities for societal development, democratic accountability, and economic growth.  A recent example of the importance of this medium is the tragic situation in Syria.  Brave citizens are using the Internet and social media to tell the world of the regime’s murderous violence and to organize themselves in resistance.

Protest movements as divisive as the Arab Spring to environmental activism are made possible by a global network of networks without borders.  Furthermore, the Net changes and reacts in lightning speed to events around the world.  No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, could respond and regulate it efficiently, especially not a top-down, centralized body.  

Of course, new developments in technology, such as the Internet, cloud computing, or big data present some challenges, but these challenges are not insurmountable.  Modernization and reform can be constructive, but not if the result is a new bureaucracy that departs from the multi-stakeholder model.

A move away from the current model would, at a minimum, create uncertainty, drive up costs, and reduce the dynamism of the Internet.  The quest for economic control, particularly on the part of some authoritarian governments, is another concern.  There are governments that want to profit from their citizens’ use of the Internet, or charge Internet site origination fees, that remind me of the  long distance access fees that are imposed on the originator of international calls.  This approach could help fund repressive regimes, a losing proposition for human rights everywhere.  In addition to economic motivations, some countries have more ominous intentions, the most worrisome of which would be censorship or content controls.  

Instead, supporting a robust and flourishing Internet under the current multi-stakeholder model should be our top goal, particularly now, during uncertain economic times.  In the G20 countries, for example, the internet economy will grow at more than 10 percent annually for the next five years and by 2016 reach $4.2 trillion, or 5.3 percent of G20 GDP – up from 4.1 percent in 2010, according to a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).  In some countries, the segment of the economy based on the Internet has outpaced traditional sectors.  Britain’s internet economy is now bigger than its construction and education sectors, thanks mainly to the popularity of e-commerce.  Here in Europe, every Euro invested in the Internet generates 2.5 Euros in revenue.  This trend will continue and likely accelerate, provided the present, multi-stakeholder Internet governance framework remains in place.

As we prepare for the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai at the end of this year, I would like to us to bear in mind another quote from Secretary Clinton that sums up our position:  “As we work to achieve a cyberspace that is open, interoperable, secure, and reliable, there is no one-size-fits-all, straightforward route to that goal.  We have to build a global consensus around a shared vision for the future of cyberspace and make sure it serves, rather than impedes, the social, economic, and political aspirations of people worldwide.  And that can only happen through patient, persistent, and creative diplomacy.”

As we continue down this path of using technology to strengthen and streamline our democracies, economies and social networks, I can guarantee that countries like Italy and the United States – nations with open governments, open economies and open societies – will be more prosperous, healthier and more secure.