I've been threatening to blog for several years now. I can't recall for how many years I've left the threat open, but hopefully you'll understand given the title of this piece, that I'm prone to senior moments.
For the past two years I've been immersed in Internet Governance, an area I knew precious little about before being tossed into the deep end of the pool. Fortunately my previous employer, Sun Microsystems, encouraged me to participate at various Internet standards organizations so I knew a bit about cat herding, a common link between Internet standards and governance.
My current employer, PayPal (eBay), recognizes the importance of cat herding, and has formed a group that I am fortunate to be part of, that specializes in Internet Standards and Governance. We "volunteer" our time, expertise, and experience at various Internet fora with the goal of enhancing security without sacrificing privacy and to ensure that the Internet remains open, transparent, and generative; attributes that contributed to our success and we believe will afford others the opportunity to succeed as well.
Given that I've avoided delivering on my blogging threat for some time now, why would I choose this particular moment to begin expressing myself publicly? My reasons largely relate to the work I am engaged in and the import and timing of certain events in the coming months. (Hubris is a factor as well no doubt.) One item high on my list is the preparations for the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), scheduled for 3-14 December in Dubai.
A this inaugural event, Member States of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will consider a review of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), a treaty-level instrument signed by 178 countries. The ITRs were last revised nearly a quarter century ago, in 1988. Much has changed in the ensuing years with some significant positive change arguably directly attributed to implementation of the 1988 ITRs.
A review of, and possible changes to the ITRs is a reasonable undertaking with the proviso that benefits are retained and hindrances avoided. This is especially true given that the ITU and some Member States, in my view, would like to expand the remit of the ITU to include regulation of the Internet through changes to the ITRs. This regulation has been called "light touch" with the implication that light touch would ensure benefit or at least minimize harm.
What is missing from the argument in favor of Internet regulation, is a definitive list of the chronic problems that persist despite repeated attempts to solve them by different means. Also absent, is recognition or admission that regulation, light touch or otherwise, could have a chilling effect on the compelling social and economic benefits of the Internet. Finally, one of the arguments in favor of regulation, that the Internet is widely available, should give proponents pause. Even a light touch, when applied across the breadth of the Internet could have long-lasting, far-reaching, and possibly unintended consequences, which can be unpleasant. Consequences at scale can be very unpleasant and I hope can be avoided.
Hope is amongst my reasons for breaking my blogging silence. I sincerely hope that we can avoid the law of unintended consequences and I believe the best way to do that is for all interested parties to be aware of the potential for change from what many might consider an obscure conference on telecommunications.
I plan on providing updates on preparations for the WCIT and other Internet Governance topics on a regular basis.
By Bill Smith, Sr. Policy Advisor, Technology Evangelist at PayPal. (Disclaimer: While I am a PayPal employee, the opinions expressed here are my own.)
Related topics: Internet Governance
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