WASHINGTON — Tech experts warned Wednesday that increased regulation could limit further Internet growth and inhibit economic benefits of the Web.
Speaking at a Brookings Institution panel, several Internet specialists listed economic and intellectual advantages of increased Web freedom. They praised the 34 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which adopted its Recommendation on Principles for Internet Policy Making in June. With that move, member countries, including the U.S., agreed to take a decidedly hands-off approach to governing the Internet.
Danny Weitzner, deputy chief technology officer at the White House, said the Internet’s multi-stakeholder make-up will continue to be the core of its economic promise in the future.
“The Internet is very much a work in progress,” Weitzner said. “We want it to stay that way.”
The calls for maintaining a hands-off approach came only months after legislation to deter online piracy was proposed in both houses of Congress.
The House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP Act are intended to curb intellectual property theft online. The bills have drawn widespread criticism from web-based businesses, online media and Internet giants such as Yahoo and Facebook.
Bob Boorstin, Google’s director of corporate and policy communications, said at Wednesday’s panel that the U.S. could lose web supremacy if either bill became law.
“We do not have to choose between anarchy in cyberspace and laws that would effectively ruin what we have to date,” he said.
The panelists said such heavy-handed regulation would not only reduce America’s Internet footprint, but also set a dangerous precedent for other governments proposing similar laws. Discussion of such action is part of the digital revolution’s “quarter-life crisis,” said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America.
“We really have to recognize where the worst dangers are,” Cooper said. “Governments can really break the Internet. Companies — not so much.”
The recommendations by Organization for Ecomomic Cooperation and Development illustrate the importance of the flow of high-speed information across international boundaries. The guidelines also encourage continuation of the Internet’s ground-up approach to policymaking — a firm rejection of any national or international organization regulating the Web.
Panelists focused on the economic benefits of a free Internet, especially in developing nations. Kathy Brown, a Verizon Communications Inc. senior vice president, said attempted regulation in such countries are usually due to unfamiliarity with the cyber world.
“Folks who are on the net tend to think this is an open-user community,” she said. “For countries where there’s still not a lot of folks on the net…there’s still a split about what this thing’s doing.”
But “the Internet is transforming the economic ability for folks who never had it before,” she added.
Google’s Boorstin emphasized the organic growth of the Internet as the main factor of continued economic benefits. His employer has famously grappled with China the last two years for repeated attempts by the People’s Republic to hack Gmail accounts.
“Countries trying to govern the Internet will ultimately fail,” he said.