Asia leads, and will continue to dominate global Internet and mobile growth
Government intervention could retard growth, industry needs to help governments decide policy
ASIA has for the past few years led the world in Internet and mobile growth penetration and will continue to do so in the next decade. But the potential intervention of governments and their actions could derail the region’s Internet economy growth, warns a former high-ranking US policy official.
Ambassador David A. Gross and former US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy for the Department of State, said the opportunities in Asia are “extraordinary” not just because economies here are doing well compared to the rest of the world but also because of its huge addressable market.
“There are about 2.4 billion Internet users [globally], half of them in Asia,” Gross said in his visionary keynote address at CommunicAsia 2012 yesterday.
“But yet, the penetration of Internet users here is only about 18% of the population, while the rest of the world is about 50%. Being here in Asia gives you [the industry] tremendous advantages.”
CommunicAsia is the region’s largest conference and exhibition of communication products and services, and is being held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Center in Singapore this week (June 19-21).
Now a partner with the Washington DC-based law firm Wiley Rein, Gross noted that despite the potential Asia has for the taking, there are a number of developments that could get in the way of its Internet/mobile growth and innovation.
Gross, who leads the Wiley Rein’s international telecommunication practice, said that the development of certain geo-political issues or technical challenges could potentially stymie this growth. However, this would unlikely happen in the region, given the pace of change happening and work ethic present in Asia, the lawyer added.
“There is one [thing] that concerns me though, something that could affect the ability for Asian companies to innovate and create new markets, and do the things they want to — governments,” Gross candidly admitted.
“The challenge I faced when I was in government service is that people kept coming to me, asking me to create rules to determine and help certain outcomes for businesses, so that they could predict the future and make money.
“I think that’s a fundamental mistake, although all governments make them, naturally. My view is that what all governments ought to do [instead of intervening] is to facilitate and not predetermine or try to guess what the next big thing is going to be.”
Gross (pic) noted that governments have a role to play by ensuring that the rule of law is applied, facilitating the access to funding, and providing a stable political and economic environment for companies to flourish.
These factors are however not universally shared, he stressed.
Referring to an up-and-coming major policy meeting to be held in Dubai in December to decide if the Internet should be regulated by the United Nations under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Gross said that lobby groups led by certain European-based operators are trying to revised the somewhat outdated International Telecommunications Regulations.
The multilateral treaty, said to govern international communication traffic, was last updated in 1988, long before the advent of the commercial Internet and the amalgamation of voice and data over the Net’s distributed network.
Revisions in this treaty will affect all in the Internet ecosystem, Gross noted, since they are internationally binding.
“So it’s important that for the industry to work with governments and to try and make clear to them, in quiet and effective ways, what the industry needs governments to do, to help them achieve their goals.
“You [the industry] do this not because you’re aiming to get governments to do something special for you, but rather to help you set the stage so that both parties can help make nations and their citizens a better place.”
Asked what concrete steps should be taken to do this, Gross acknowledged that the process of engagement is a huge challenge but there are areas where the industry can and should work with governments.
For example in Singapore, Google is building large data centers, which makes it economical for businesses and consumers to access the Net, Gross said, adding that the government will need the industry’s input.
He added that while everyone agreed that privacy and security are very important issues, so is the innovation Google brings through the building of its data centers.
“So it’s all about balancing the innovation that Google produces with what it can do with the data of its subscribers. Issues such as trans-border flow of information within the confines of the Data Protection legislation is, are but examples where you [the industry] need to help governments figure out how this balance should be.”
Edwin Yapp of Digital News Asia reports from CommunicAsia 2012 in Singapore.
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