Commission vice-president for the digital agenda Neelie Kroes has warned that attempts to reorganise the governance of the internet could lead to a "digital cold war".
Desmond Hinton-Beales, Parliament Magazine, 01.03.2013 Kroes, in a speech read on her behalf by Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, told a Parliament Magazine roundtable on Thursday that internet rules will increasingly impact on the EU's foreign relations. The event - organised in association with the internet corporation for assigned names and numbers (ICANN) - heard that last year's world conference on international telecommunications (WCIT) had seen growing "distrust" over the governance of the internet. "In Dubai, last year, at the WCIT conference, some countries sought to change how the internet is governed, to give themselves a greater role," said Kroes, adding that Europe had "stood united" in its rejection of "control of the internet by governments". The Dutch official, however, stressed that Europe's position was not about "western cultural supremacy", but about keeping "one internet" and preventing it from degrading into a "fragmented series of national intranets". Schaake, who hosted the roundtable event in the European parliament, also said that it is vital to "keep an open inclusive internet alive", stressing that the EU has "a lot to do" towards achieving this aim, including "practicing what we preach". National governments and the private and public sectors currently come together to discuss internet policy through the multi-stakeholder internet governance forum (IGF) established by the world summit on the information society in 2006. "There is a multi-stakeholder model," said Schaake, "but governments take decisions that impact on the structure of the internet and go beyond the countries where the decisions are taken". The ALDE deputy said that it is vital that "core democratic principles" are included in the multi-stakeholder process, adding that "the stakes have increased to critical levels". President and CEO of ICANN Fadi Chehadé voiced his support for Kroes' comments, saying the fight over governance of the internet "is getting hotter, not cooler after WCIT". Contacting another person via the internet requires the use of unique names or numbers that allow computers to communicate with each other - ICANN is the global organisation that coordinates this system of unique identifiers. Chehadé said that he "felt terrible" about how little ICANN had done to engage governments that were yet undecided on their stance towards internet governance, adding that "many countries have no opinion and are looking for clarity". There are several countries who are "definitely not convinced" by the multi-stakeholder model, he said, but highlighted that many of the countries who reject this form of governance "have different motivations for their positions". "We must get beneath why countries support or don't support the multi-stakeholder model," he said, adding that "people are looking to the EU position" on this issue, so "Europe's voice" is vital in the process. "Internet governance is a powerful enabler," said Chehadé, who insisted that nothing must be done to "restrict access to the internet" and that ICANN would be "listening at the local level" to concerns over internet governance. French S&D deputy Catherine Trautmann warned that the world is facing a fragmentation of "the internet as a global, tangible infrastructure", adding that there are "reasons to be concerned". "I'd like to call upon what we all need to safeguard: the initial idea of co-ownership of the internet, not only as a tool or an infrastructure, but as an idea which must continue to be the foundation on which we can build an open, inclusive and free network," she said.