Digital economy

[Future of the Internet workshop] OECD Discussion Forum -- Roland J. Cole, Sagamore Institute for Policy Research.


[Future of the Internet workshop] OECD Discussion Forum -- Additional issues, Roland J. Cole, Director of Technology Policy, Sagamore Institute for Policy Research.

1. The Internet is now a critical infrastructure and a global platform for communication and commerce. What should be the role of governments in its development and management?

All levels of government could play a very constructive role by being a demanding, innovative user (both sender and receiver) of high-speed and/or ubiquitous connectivity, both for internal purposes (government office/worker to government office/worker) and external (government office/worker to its citizens, firms, other governments, et al.).

2. The Internet is challenging existing business models. How can we ensure there is sufficient investment to meet the network capacity demands of new applications and of an expanding base of users?

Here again, governments that are demanding users can also be "anchor tenants." They can invest for their own purposes, but in a way that allows investment for others to be at much lower cost by allowing the resources they pay for to be shared with others.

3. Innovation is taking place at the edges of the network. How do we ensure that this continues and how can it be enhanced?

All large organizations (whether government, profit, or nonprofit) can help by demanding or rewarding innovation. I particularly like spectacular prizes, such as the awards for unmanned flight and robotic vehicles. These prizes could be offered by organizations such as Microsoft and Google as well as government agencies. At the same time, the governments involved should adopt a regulatory posture that is highly suspicious of "innovation-suppressing" activities by governments and private organizations, and supportive of trials, experiments, and other methods of testing innovations. The idea is not to accept all innovations without question, but to set the rules so people are encouraged to develop and test innovations.

4. The Internet is perceived as not being secure, nor does it protect privacy. What steps should be taken to improve security and privacy and by whom?

I am a big fan of public key/private key cryptography. National governments (and perhaps other levels) could help by licensing digital certificate providers (as they now do for notaries public). Microsoft and other OS vendors could help by making encryption a default in storage (maybe so it could be turned off). That would certainly help with missing laptop computers, backup tapes, etc. Laws such as HIPAA, which address the responsibility for security and privacy in a relatively technology-neutral way, are a good start as to requirements that could be imposed.

5. Ubiquitous networks are being deployed. What are the drivers of these developments? What will be the impacts on individuals and society?

The idea I would like to contribute at this point is to separate "personal data" from "item data." I can see all sorts of useful information from tracking items (merchandize, cell phones, PDA's, anything with an RFID tag) that could be useful WITHOUT knowing whose item it is.  If the rules made a distinction between the two types of data, then device manufacturers, software developers, etc. could operate in compliance with the separate rules (perhaps almost none with regard to non-personal data). The other idea I would like to strongly second is that we should probably develop some rules about NO NETWORK zones -- who can establish them, where, and with what postings about their existence. Currently, the presumption seems to be that WiFi will NOT be available but cell service and GPS will be. But theaters, restaurants, certain sections of hospitals, examination rooms of universities, and other spaces may well want to either suppress all radio waves or prevent their traveling into and out of the space.

Roland J. Cole, J.D., Ph.D.
Director of Technology Policy
Sagamore Institute for Policy Research


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