Net governance stealing focus away from digital divide

Debate over how the Web should be governed has overshadowed the need to focus on bridging the digital divide, says head of international IT body.

MALAYSIA--Debate over how the Web should be governed, has overshadowed discussion about what the industry should do instead to bridge the digital divide, says the head of an international IT body.

According to Harris Miller, president of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA), people have become too focused on pushing for Internet-related policies and regulations such as censorship and e-commerce trading issues. A consortium of 67 info-tech associations worldwide, WITSA aims to drive policies toward the industry's growth and development and facilitate global trade and investment in IT products and services.

"The original focus on how to bring the Internet and the information society to the developing world is lost," said Miller, during his keynote address last week at the Global Public Policy Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "Instead the debate over Internet governance has taken the foreground."

"It is necessary to re-focus efforts on the building blocks that bring the benefits of ICT (information and communications technology) to developing economies and their citizens," he urged, noting that Internet governance activities are already being addressed by organizations worldwide.

Miller said that the priorities for the developing world should include basic IT education, the development and deployment of ICT infrastructure, application services such as e-government, e-health and e-learning, and stronger emphasis on intellectual property protection.

"We need to work in tandem with multilateral groups, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), industry and government to create greater ICT access," he said, adding that he preferred calling it the digital "opportunity", rather than divide.

The future is IT
Miller noted that information technology has spread more rapidly than any other technology, proving that the IT industry still has a bright future. For example, there are already 50 million mobile phone subscribers in India. According to figures from Digital Planet/Global Insight, he said, the global ICT marketplace is expected to increase to almost US$3.4 trillion by 2007.

And Asia will contribute much of this growth, Miller said, where the future and growth opportunities for IT continue to be dramatic in countries such as India, China, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

He encouraged governments and private sectors in developing countries to help nurture a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation and intelligent risk.

At the same time, economies worldwide must offer full market access and instill a nation-wide practice to be technology-neutral, he said. "We need to eliminate as many barriers to trade as possible," he said.

"If you take a look at China's ICT marketplace, its market revenue growth is approaching 20 percent by 2007," Miller said. Citing figures from research firm IDC, the country's IT market will increase from US$22 billion in 2002 to US$46 billion in 2007.

"That's a great market opportunity for multinational players. Yet, a great new wall is under construction," he said. "The government wants special rules and that's not good."

Aside from trade issues, cybersecurity is also a hot topic of discussion.

"Privacy and security must be market driven, and not government imposed," Miller urged. "And with the Internet being borderless, we need to have similar cybersecurity laws in every country so that there is no safe harbor for cyber criminals."

One of WITSA's key initiatives this year is to set up an International Information Security Coordination Centre to combat cybercrime and cyberterrosim, he revealed. The consortium is currently talking to various governments such as the United States and European Union to share more information on cybersecurity. The center will include inter and intra-industry information sharing, public education and communications, incidence reporting and coordination, and harmonization of national cybercrime laws.

Cordelia Lee is a freelance IT journalist based in Malaysia.