Neelie Kroes: A European vision for Internet governance


Europe today faces many challenges. The Internet can help us resolve them: today I want to talk about how a European approach to the Internet could help even more. Our main challenge today is to ensure the jobs and growth that will lift us out of crisis. And the Internet provides an extraordinary new platform for innovation. Studies suggest that 10 percentage points of extra broadband penetration translates to 1 to 1.5% extra growth.

It can offer jobs too. Soon we will face a shortage of 700,000 ICT workers: that’s good news if you’re one of the 5.5 million under-25s looking for work. As long as you have the right awareness and skills.

And it can boost our competitiveness and productivity, by offering a new way of doing pretty much everything. Look at the Cloud. It could radically reshape current models for ICT services. Transforming not just the digital economy – but every other sector that uses it, from small businesses who get flexible and cheap back office services, to other sectors from health to music. Europe has the potential to leapfrog the next digital revolution, and to be in the lead. It is time to get over the gloom of the euro-crisis and to embrace the future!

Of course, growth and jobs are not the only challenges we face in Europe today. But, guess what? – ICT can help with the other ones too.

We need to manage resources and deal with climate change: Internet-based innovations from teleconferencing to smart electricity grids can help us.

We need to deal with an ageing population: eHealth solutions can help people stay active and independent longer as they age, more effectively for less cost.

We face strained public finances and demands to do more with less: eGovernment can deliver better services more efficiently.

The Internet isn’t a magic wand. It won’t solve all those problems overnight. But it does offer us the possibility of an alternative future: one in which innovating to overcome those problems is a lot easier.

We can’t lose sight of that. The Internet is key to our sustainable future. We must remove obstacles to its huge potential.

With that in mind, we can see how important it is that we take the right approach to global Internet governance.

This is often a polarised debate. Between, on the one hand, those wanting public authorities to be heavily involved; and on the other those who want a more hands-off, “laissez faire” approach.

For me, the right answer lies somewhere between.

On the one hand, of course public authorities have a duty to enforce the law and protect rights. Equally, we should not cramp the Internet’s potential for innovation. Not least because that innovation is in public authorities’ interests too: it can benefit growth, democracy – and higher quality public services.

So the answer lies in a middle ground, between public intervention and public inaction. But where?

Last year I set out a Compact for the Internet – a set of principles for how we should take care of the Internet.

One of them was that there should be one, unified, Internet. In principle, every node can communicate with every other, wherever in the world it is. That is what has helped innovation, plurality, democratic values, cohesion and economic growth from the online world.

But we’re here at the European forum for Internet Governance. And, without threatening that global unity, it’s worth thinking about what European values might mean for a European vision for the Internet. Here to read more.

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