Closing remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy


Remarks on Future Work by the OECD in the Closing Session by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

18 June 2008, Seoul - Korea
Thank you Chairman Choi. Dear Ministers, Heads of Delegations and participating government officials.

We are assembled to discuss the future and how to seize the opportunities that have been described over the last two days, as well as positioning ourselves to take advantage of opportunities that no one has yet dreamt of.

I would like to discuss the work going forward, especially that undertaken by the OECD in response to the meaningful discussions of the last two days. 

Foremost we need to better understand the role and contribution of the Internet and related ICTs as drivers of productivity and economic growth.

Central to this is analysing the increasingly important role of the Internet in the innovation process which is lowering barriers, broadening collaboration and the exchange of ideas – the essence of innovation. 

The OECD needs to better understand this as a key element of its work to develop an Innovation Strategy – a project launched at the Ministerial Council Meeting of the OECD in 2007. Hand-in-hand with this analysis is the need to improve statistical systems to track changes in, access to, and use of, the Internet and related ICT networks.

What is very clear from our discussions is that the Internet economy is becoming a key driver of the economy as a whole. 

Policies affecting the Internet can no longer be seen as narrow sectoral policies having to do with telecommunications, but as mainstream economic policies reflecting the fact that the Internet has become a fundamental economic infrastructure. 

Given that this infrastructure has become critical to our economies and societies, we should all engage in developing better, more broad-based, governance arrangements and policies.

I echo the comments made by Commissioner Reding: “network operation is not a technical question but a broad-based political issue.”  How do we implement this new perspective?

Just as we have upgraded our communications systems, the way we conduct business and the way we engage socially – we now need to ensure that our policies keep pace – to ensure that the Internet Economy can deliver.  As Chairman Martin and others have said – the hallmark of communication policies must be to stimulate competition and empower consumers.

I agree and welcome the call for the OECD to develop instruments that will guide policies for the development and use of converged “next generation” communication networks – both from the side of supply and deployment of these networks as well as from the side of demand and use by consumers.

But we need to proceed in these areas heeding the warning of Professor Lessig to do so with humility, recognising the rapid, unpredictable nature of change requires that policies be fashioned in a flexible, upgradeable manner.

I have heard repeated calls over the last two days that one of the most pressing needs for harnessing the “wisdom of the crowds,” lies with addressing the global challenge of climate change.  

It is clear that we need to change government, business and individual behaviour on a massive scale. The Internet and networked ICTs are a powerful technology for making this happen and I welcome the proposal from Denmark for the OECD to organise a high-level conference on this issue in 2009 in support of the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP15). 

As the individual becomes more of a focal point of the Internet economy, it is not a surprise that the currency of the Internet economy is personal information. OECD recognised the importance of personal data 25 years ago when it issued the Privacy Guidelines which form the foundation for most countries’ privacy standards. 

The guidelines have stood the test of time. But the growth of business models built around the mining of this data and the explosion of social networking sites, require us to better understand and analyse changes both from an economic and a social perspective – what are the risks, what are the benefits? and how do we adapt policy to this new environment?

Thus, we need to assess our policies and instruments in this area. This assessment needs to be conducted on a global scale with the active involvement of all stakeholders.

The global reach of the Internet challenges nations whose policies are geographically limited.  This is especially the case when it comes to building confidence in the Internet economy which as Minister Conroy reminded us requires “the global community to manage the risks.” 

We need to enhance support for informal networks that link authorities and stakeholders in a flexible manner that is responsive to the dynamism of the issues. More should be done in partnership with other public and private organisations to combat information security threats and identity theft.

A more decentralised, networked approach to policy formulation for the Internet Economy that includes the active participation of stakeholders needs to be the norm. We appreciate the participation of the stakeholders in this Ministerial meeting. I recommend that we begin the process of formalising the participation of civil society and the technical community in the work of the OECD on the Internet economy. 

Let me conclude by saying that over the last two days, we have heard many references to the 1998 Ottawa Ministerial meeting on E-Commerce. That meeting was a landmark in the development of the Internet and set a high standard. This meeting has been nothing less and I thank all of you for your participation. 

A more permanent dialogue is needed to advance the issues we have discussed and that cannot occur if we only sit down to talk about the importance of the Internet every ten years which in “Internet time” is an eternity. 

I welcome the invitation from Ministers to review the declaration in 3 years and the progress made towards the achievement of its goals and principles. I pledge today the OECD’s support for another meeting of this kind, should countries find it necessary and timely.