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Bridging Gaps With Information and Communication Technologies and the Internet

Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy
Remarks at the International Telecommunication Union's Global Standardization Symposium
Johannesburg, South Africa
October 22, 2008

I would like to thank the Secretary General, Malcolm Johnson, and the rest of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom Sector for inviting me to be a part of this discussion. I also want to thank the South African government and the people of South Africa for hosting us during the next 2 weeks at both this Symposium and at the WTSA.

I’ve been asked to report on the results of the recent OECD Ministerial on the Internet Economy held in June in Seoul, Korea. In doing so, I want to underscore the relevance of the issues raised at that important forum to the issues emerging at this Symposium and at the WTSA.

As an initial matter, it will surprise no one that our Korean hosts provided us with a superb venue for the OECD Ministerial. The Korean Government, including President Lee and our host Korea Communications Commission Chairman Choi, recognized the historic nature of the Ministerial–not only because it was the first such OECD ministerial in 10 years that focused on Internet issues, but also because it was the first OECD Ministerial ever held in Asia.

The Seoul Ministerial was only the second OECD ministerial regarding the Internet, with the previous ministerial having been held in October 1998 in Ottawa, Canada. Ten years passed between the two meetings, and in that time, the Internet evolved from an interesting technological phenomenon into a fundamentally important phenomenon known as the “Internet Economy.” The Internet now underlies almost every dynamic aspect of the global economy. Basic functions of our markets, such as trading, are unthinkable without the instantaneous communications fostered by the Internet. Entire industries are coordinated by computer technology and linked by the Internet.

Also, “centers of excellence,” in which researchers, scientists, scholars, physicians and students can communicate and share ideas are now joined seamlessly across oceans and continents.

It was with the recognition of the fundamental importance of the Internet that the OECD economies gathered in Seoul–both to celebrate and to assess the Internet economy and its future. Ministers declared their “common desire to promote the Internet Economy and stimulate sustainable economic growth and prosperity by means of policy and regulatory environments that support innovation, investment, and competition….” We also stated that we were “determined to work together to promote ubiquitous access to ICT networks and services enabling widespread participation in the Internet Economy.”

For the United States and many others at the meeting, a crucial part of our shared vision of the future of the Internet is our confidence that “the further expansion of the Internet Economy will bolster the free flow of information, freedom of expression, and protection of individual liberties, as critical components of a democratic society and cultural diversity.”

I believe that it is very significant that the OECD governments adopted the Seoul Declaration with its visionary language. However, I think that it is equally significant that nine other, non-member countries joined with their OECD colleagues in its adoption: They were Chile, Egypt, Estonia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Latvia, Senegal and Slovenia. We are grateful for the support of these countries in sharing a vision of a dynamic, open and free Internet.

Besides the Declaration, another very important document that came from the Seoul Ministerial was a supporting document entitled “Shaping Policies for the Future of the Internet Economy.” Together, these two documents provide an understanding of the OECD governments’ perspective on the Internet’s impact on their economies as well as offering an understanding of our collective vision of the Future of the Internet Economy.

Let me give you a brief overview of some of the most important issues discussed at the ministerial:

The Internet is a supporting infrastructure: As technology evolves and services become ever more innovative, the Internet has a considerable multiplier effect on the economy. This point cannot be separated from the uptake of broadband. First, OECD studies have found that “broadband networks allow the expansion, aggregation and globalization of markets” and as goods and services become more customized then productivity gains increase. Second, broadband and networked information and communication technologies (ICTs) can “address challenges such as making government services more accessible, improving health care and providing access to quality education and better managing the environment.”

We should strive to benefit fully from convergence: In Seoul, OECD Ministers spoke of “ubiquitous networks,” of sensor-based environments, and of the “Internet of things.” At the core of this discussion is the expectation that next-generation networks and convergence will enable voice, video, data services and sensors to migrate towards Internet Protocol platforms. This migration brings further change and challenges. The OECD called for a reassessment of the “applicability of existing regulation to encourage investment by the private sector and competitive choice in the marketplace.” In addition, the OECD noted that in this robust Internet environment “all devices connected to the Internet need IP addresses to communicate.” Therefore, Ministers highlighted the importance of policies related to the management of IPv4 and the deployment of IPv6.

We need to promote creativity and innovation: The Seoul Ministerial began with a familiar point: “As a major depository of information, the Internet also facilitates co-ordination and co-operation among researchers and entrepreneurs, linking the creativity of individuals and allowing organizations to collaborate, pool distributed computing power and exploit new ways of disseminating information.” From this point, the picture becomes both more exciting and more challenging. The Internet and ICTs are “profoundly changing” our understanding of the methods of research and the rules of creativity. The new forms of networks involving grid and cloud computing, virtual simulation, and virtual worlds links “science more closely to business, and facilitates the development of informal creative networks.” Understanding this development, ministers encouraged “universities, government, public research users and business to work together in collaborative innovation networks.” However, Ministers were also aware that the new environment for creativity and innovation with its “new collaborative Internet-based models and social networks” must also “recognize the rights of creators and the interests of users.”

We must continue to build confidence: Ministers were clear in Seoul that as the Internet is integral to the global economy, “its continuous availability, reliability and security are vital to governments, businesses and individuals.” A “global culture of cyber-security” is needed to protect critical information infrastructures, personal identity, and privacy, as well as protection of consumers and the vulnerable in our societies. Heightened forms of cooperation are needed to “reduce malicious activity online.” This can be accomplished, Ministers agreed, “through reinforced national and international co-operation among all stakeholder communities in their steps for effective prevention, protection, information sharing, response, business continuity and recovery.”

We should review within 3 years of its adoption, “the progress made at national and international levels in light of this Declaration”: With technology advancing so rapidly, we cannot wait another 10 years to review our understanding of Internet developments.

Ministers observed in Seoul that “as the Internet now serves more than one billion users, the world’s economy is now an Internet economy.” Decisions and policies regarding the Internet that are made in the OECD have resonance and relevance because the Internet is a global phenomenon that is also constantly evolving. We all know that the Internet is based on a distributed design and decentralized control. New applications and services are always emerging–many call this creating value or innovation at the edges.

Whether we are at the OECD or the ITU, we are all joined in the common purpose of bringing every possible advantage of the Internet and the Internet economy to all the people of the world. At this Assembly in particular, the United States, along with so many others, remains committed to advancing individuals’ access to Information and Communication Technology and to facilitating their ability to use that technology.

The ITU plays an increasingly important role in developing the network and associated infrastructure enabling the OECD’s vision of the Internet Economy. Broadly stated, the safe, trusted, converged networks emerging from the work of the ITU-T are transforming the international networking environment to facilitate access to a wide variety of Internet and other network services around the world. To a large extent, the Internet economy is carried over networks that depend upon technical recommendations developed at the ITU-T. Critical to accomplishing this standardization work are the ITU-T’s longstanding working methods that depend on a bottom-up, contribution-driven approach that brings together scientific and industrial expertise of sector members with the expectations of the Member States. Understanding that the complexities inherent in modern networks make it increasingly difficult for any one organization to take on the entire job of global standardization, the ITU-T has successfully and flexibly accommodated new conditions by reaching out to other bodies to develop relationships with them that operate to the mutual advantage of all At this Assembly, the United States will work with all to ensure the continuing role of the ITU-T to facilitate trust in and greater access to Information and Communication Technology and the use of that technology.

We should recognize that the ITU-T has a proud track record in network technologies and has already done much. In Florianopolis, we responded to the urgent international call to recommend a global vision of Next Generation Networks (NGN) and to address technical considerations of cyber security such as spam. The ITU-T was the forum of choice for such standards work and we are justifiably proud of the way in which we have accomplished this work.

Of particular importance to this symposium and WTSA, the United States strongly supports the ITU-T’s role in bridging the standardization gap. Bridging the gap is central to a worldwide, harmonized set of networks that offer access to the widest possible choice of telecom services to world-wide subscribers. This effort will consist of innovation and hard work; but we expect no less from the ITU-T membership. In fact, we believe the ITU-T is an excellent place to do this work.

And while we welcome voluntary initiatives to bridge the standardization gap, it remains a very strong position of the U.S. that the ITU-T, with its continuity of study groups and work portfolios that arise from the stated needs and interests of its membership, must remain the cornerstone of our collective efforts. The U.S. and many others are also committed to the contribution-driven tradition of the ITU. We do not believe that any “top down” or “high level” effort can solve our problems. ITU-T is an expert element of the United Nations because we, the members, are experts. The decisions are ours to make and we must trust ourselves to do the work.

I look forward to addressing many of these issues here both in this panel and throughout our stay in Johannesburg. Thank you.

Released on November 3, 2008

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