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The Value of Openness for Building Tomorrow's Digital Economy - Reflections on the OECD Ministerial

Constance Bommelaer

Yesterday marked the last day of the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy, but also the culmination of a week where the need for an open and trusted Internet has been the main message from all stakeholders.

Back in 2008, the OECD was one of the first intergovernmental organizations to open its discussions to the wider Internet community. Recognized as a key stakeholder, the Internet Technical Advisory Committee shared a joint message this week on the importance of sustaining and promoting an open Internet based on open standards, open networks, and open multistakeholder governance.

It was a week of fruitful discussions where all stakeholders put their hopes and concerns about the future of the digital economy into the limelight. The growing weight of ICTs in economies' GDP is an opportunity, however, it also comes with challenges:

  • How do we embrace new technologies while protecting the rights and opportunities of workers?
  • How do we accelerate digital trade across borders and oceans while protecting users' data?
  • How do we promote innovation in the Internet of Things to improve our lives while avoiding intrusive technologies?

All of these questions are legitimate in an era of rapid change. The pace of technological development has only accelerated since 2008, not least through platforms such as mobile and cloud computing. The current trends of ubiquitous connectivity and advanced automation point toward a future that is radically different from the present. While the answers to those questions may need further deliberation, it is important that we recognize that the 2016 OECD Ministerial was more than an opportunity to share information — it was an opportunity to shape a consensus around the future we want.

Paving the way towards future progress

The good news today is that the vision for the future was not that different among the stakeholders gathered in Cancun, including recommendations from top policymakers of the Global Commission on Internet Governance. As conveyed by their chair Carl Bildt: "a healthy Internet is one where data and information flow freely, where barriers to Internet access are eliminated, where personal and commercially-sensitive data are protected, and the technical infrastructure that makes it all possible is stable”.

There is a common understanding that the open, unfragmented and trusted Internet is key for the economic and social prosperity of our societies. However, a shared vision is only the beginning of the journey. To get us there we must continue looking at the principles that have brought us this far, and to choose a paradigm based on:

  • Open global standards for innovation
  • Open communications for everyone
  • Open for economic progress through innovation
  • Open and multistakeholder governance for inclusion.

The importance of this choice cannot be emphasized enough, because it's a paradigm that impacts the entire society — from politics, to business and technology. The various manifestations of openness have to be considered as interdependent and mutually reinforcing in a virtuous circle.

Indeed, the technical, economic, societal and political dimensions of the Internet are closely intertwined and interrelated. Concretely, open global standards provide a platform for border-less trade and an interoperable open economy, fostering innovation. Innovation, in turn relies on users' ability to freely and openly create, and share information and ideas, reinforcing the foundations of open societies. Finally, both economic and social development are nurtured by open and multistakeholder governance frameworks and the ability to participate and innovate freely.

Avoiding misperceptions

Although there is an emerging consensus of the benefits of Internet openness, there is likewise a broad misperception that openness, trust and security are values to be balanced — and that we must choose one over the other. Not only is this a misperception — it is a path away from a future of economic and social prosperity.

A policy paradigm based on the idea that openness and security are issues to be balanced is a future of cyber-borderssome being virtual fences, others virtual walls. They will inevitably limit the free flow of information and the development of communities of thought. They will significantly reduce the opportunities for trade and economic prosperity among all countries — not least in the developing world.

The principles that underpin an open Internet are the same principles that underpin a trusted Internet — because they reinforce each other. Collaboration is at the heart of an open Internet that will provide the future we seek, and security is not an exception. As described by Laurent Liscia, CEO of OASIS, in one of the ministerial panels, a future where we address our challenges in silos is: — "Game Over”.

Note: an earlier version of this article appeared on the Internet Society blog.

By Constance Bommelaer, Senior Director, Global Internet Policy, Internet Society
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