I've just come home from covering the CommunicAsia 2012 Conference and one of the more interesting topics being deliberated was the visionary keynote address by Ambassador David A. Gross, who spoke about the rising place Asia has in the Internet world as well as the fact that governments should not intervene directly in the growth of the Internet economy.
"There are about 2.4 billion Internet users [globally], half of them in Asia," Gross said in his keynote. "But yet, the penetration of Internet users here is only about 18 percent of the population, while the rest of the world is about 50 percent. Being here in Asia gives you [the industry] tremendous advantages."
The ambassador, who is now in private practice with Washington D.C.-based law firm Wiley Rein's international telecommunication practice, said the development of certain geo-political issues or technical challenges could potentially stymie this growth.
But by far, his greatest concern is the fact that certain forms of government intervention could affect the ability for Asian companies to innovate and create new markets, and do the things they want to.
"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 said.
He noted that governments have a role to play by ensuring 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.
He was 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).
He noted that lobby groups led by certain European-based operators are trying to revise the somewhat-outdated International Telecommunications Regulations.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.
ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET noted that revisions in this treaty will affect all in the Internet ecosystem since they are internationally binding.
This issue is indeed a big one. In the past, many of such issues were dominated by Western nations as so much of the technology was born in the West. But the inflection point for the Internet economy no longer resides in the West as the sheer size of the population and economy resides now in Asia.
What held Asia back 20 years ago was the fact it did not have the economic prowess or the innovation and inventive culture to spearhead the region into a powerhouse--neither economically, politically nor socially.
But the game is afoot now, as balance of power shifts to the East.
This was something Ambassador Gross made very clear at the end of his address.
"So it's important 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."
So what should Asian governments' and industry players' responses be?
While the issues of Internet governance remain complex, the first thing that needs to be done is to overcome the somewhat tepid and underdog status the region might have of itself.
Governments and industry players within national borders should get together and begin thrashing out what are the critical issues that affect them. Once streamlined, governments should then begin working within the region to bring this up at the international level, so that Asia can be represented with one voice.
Only then will Asia begin to be able to have a seat at the main banquet table of international telecommunication issues, determining what's best for the nations within her borders.