My vision for Nominet over the next three years and my vision for the internet industry follow similar lines: Nominet's mission is to help shape the internet to ensure it has a positive impact on its end-users. We want to do all we can to ensure that the internet is a trusted and safe space that everyone can be part of, writes Lesley Cowley, CEO at Nominet, the internet registry for .uk domain names.
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The internet industry is entering a critical period. Right now, the industry faces challenges and opportunities in equal measure, but what's important at a time like this is for industry, government and wider stakeholders to prove that internet self-regulation can be truly effective. Ultimately, we all want the same thing - more representation for the end-user - so we need to keep talking to each other, sensibly agree the best way to achieve this and, mostly importantly, take responsibility and action and deliver on the promises made.
Here are my thoughts on the three areas that I see impacting the internet industry over the coming years:
To date, the industry and UK government have championed self-regulation. There is no doubt that both parties are still committed to innovation through self-regulation but I do hear statements about the representation of end-user interests and the protection of end-users much more frequently than ever before. To achieve this we are going to have to accept that more needs to be done. For the industry to remain free of red tape it will have to figure out a way to ensure end-users are at the heart of our self-regulatory regime.
Right now, we all need to accept greater responsibility for finding solutions. This will require much better participation and engagement from all involved. There also remains a huge need for better dialogue, better participation, better understanding and better solutions to meet the interests and wellbeing of end-users. All too often I hear people talking to each other, but not actually listening. I also see vested interest battle-lines being drawn, without the acknowledgement that real progress will need real compromise and new ways of moving forward.
If the industry doesn't take action we open the door to interventionist governments (both within and outside the European Union) that will capitalise on the perceived lack of Internet governance in the UK. The Digital Britain report is a recent example of this. The report signals possible legislation compelling ISPs to notify infringers of third party rights, and keep anonymous data, which seems to indicate a view that self-regulation has failed on this point.
Secondly, I see change being signalled by the US government in its approach to internet governance, particularly with the recent change in administration. There is also an end-user needs theme here and in the context of the new generic top-level domain (gTLD) process, the US Department of Commerce recommends that Icann should give greater consideration to consumer interests before creating new gTLDs and renewing registry agreements.
I have a lot of sympathy for Icann; it must feel as though you just can't please anyone at times. But with so many concerns being raised about the new gTLD process, I would be surprised if the US is able to agree to the transition of Icann to the private sector when the Joint Project Agreement expires later this year. Although there remains much support for removing the 'oversight' of Icann from one single government, there is little consensus on what oversight should replace that of the US. I predict that some governments will therefore push even more strongly for inter-governmental oversight of Icann.
Crucial stage of the IGF
Finally, we are coming to a crucial stage in the life of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The review of the forum has already begun and is due to report in early 2010. Nominet views this five-year experiment in global multi-stakeholder dialogue as being very successful. The UK IGF and the Nominet Best Practice challenge have helped to ensure that the UK has great involvement in the IGF and that there are real life contributions to inform the policy debate.
Whilst some would have liked the IGF to be a negotiating and decision making process, it has worked well as a space for the development of policy dialogue and the sharing of best practices. What seems to have escaped many is that this form of engagement is an innovative experiment for the United Nations, in that it seeks to engage all regions and all participants in policy dialogue. If that experiment is not seen to be working, there will be suggestions for alternative replacements.
There is an urgent need for greater awareness of the international issues currently facing the Internet industry. Industry, government, and other key stakeholders need to take responsibility and get involved. The future of the internet as we know relies on stakeholders to act as one in better understanding end-user needs and to continue to engage, encourage and provide examples of best practice industry self regulation.