Internet governance: Time for Asean to step up
By Gabey Goh September 11, 2014
- Issues of governance and protocols have direct impact on local development
- Cracks appearing at IGF, some dissatisfaction over its proceedings
MARKETS in South-East Asia are growing by leaps and bounds, but access to the Internet, a catalyst for much of this growth, cannot be taken for granted, which is why it is important for these nations participating in the information economy to also play a part in Internet governance.
That was the observation of Joe Alhadeff (pic above), chair of the Digital Economy Commission for the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and member of the Business Action to Support the Information Society (Basis).
The ICC, headquartered in France, was founded in 1919 to serve world business by promoting trade and investment, open markets for goods and services, and the free flow of capital.
Alhadeff, the de facto leader of the Business delegation at the ninth Internet Governance Forum (IGF), was speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of the IGF, which was hosted in Istanbul, Turkey this year.
He noted that South-East Asia has experienced impressive growth, pointing to the Iskandar Malaysia development hub in Johor Baru and its goal to create tech hubs, along with developments in Vietnam and the Philippines, describing the process as “off the charts.”
“Each market has distinct disciplines in which they are better at versus other markets, and as a region, Asean is an extremely attractive space in ICT,” he said.
The region’s potential for further explosive growth makes its participation in international forums such as the IGF all the more important, as issues of governance and protocols have a direct impact on local development.
“The question is how do we have a better conversion with South-East Asia about why it needs to be here at IGF, because it is not here in sufficient numbers,” said Alhadeff.
He said that today, one can’t take the Internet for granted, especially governments. If the operation of the names and numbers protocols falls apart, then all of these business models, all of these tech hubs and other kinds of concepts, will fall apart too.
“Similarly, it is inconceivable that a financial services company doesn’t see Internet governance as a critical element of its business model. Because if you can’t make electronic transactions between customers or banking networks, then the answer is, you don’t have financial services,” he said.
“In today’s healthcare, if you can’t get to the patient at home, if you can’t do remote diagnostics or cross-check prescriptions against popular drugs, those … things will impair the health of a nation,” he added.
Connecting with the right language
“So as we do outreach to a broader section of industries, and that includes companies in the energy and automotive sectors, you think about all the people with smart meters at home, or connected or driverless cars,” said Alhadeff.
“All of these things and their governance will end up being essential to these companies,” he added.
He said that in talking about the essential nature of these issues with companies, there equally needs to be thought devoted to communicating the same to government ministries.
“Then we ask ourselves, how do we get those ministries to come? Because it’s one of those chicken-and-egg situations – if the government is here, the companies may come; if the companies are here, the government may come; but if neither is here, how do you get the first one to show up?” he said.
Those are issues ICC is currently working on across its network of members, as the organisation covers almost all industries, with a wide geographical reach and relationships that cut across public and private spheres.
According to Alhadeff, the main problem is the fact that any discussion of Internet governance has been conducted either in the technical nature of Internet governance, which is rife with acronyms and jargon.
“This is potentially unintelligible to most people and not in terms of what we talked about, which is what happens when you don’t have the Internet,” he said.
While these are topics at the IGF, Alhadeff doesn’t think people recognised them enough, because the IGF is not just about protecting human rights online which is “tremendously important and completely legitimate,” but it is also about how you capitalise on the opportunities of the Internet.
“How you do that for the purpose of economic growth, for enhancing societal benefits, for accessing medical care that may not be available locally?
“How you do that for any number of things that may extend life, improve life or make life better and that resonates probably more directly with business and politicians from sectors that aren’t ICT – for whom the nuts and bolts of exactly how it’s done is less relevant, and the fact that it has to work is the important issue,” he said.
This need to expand conversation beyond the traditional realms of ICT was echoed by Ivo Ivanovski, Macedonia’s Minister of Information Society and Administration during his opening speech at IGF, where he questioned the lack of presence of public sector representatives from sectors outside ICT and telecommunications.
“Does this mean that the Internet is not interesting for them? I beg to differ. They all know it and they all appreciate the power of the Internet, and they all use it to the maximum of their capabilities to improve their sectors. They are just not well aware of what is at stake these days,” he said.