The internet must continue to be self-governed if it is to be an engine for economic growth, delegates at the internet Best Practice Challenge 2009 awards ceremony heard last week.
The internet, which has regulated itself for the past 40 years, faces mounting pressure from politicians and law enforcement agencies who want greater control over who can use it and for what. One proposal doing the rounds is to give the role of governing the internet to the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body.
MP Alun Michael, who heads the UK Internet Governance Forum, said the internet industry needed to respond to calls to tame the internet. "It is better to do that than to wait for legislation and regulation," he said.
Michael said the UK government wanted to retain the internet's self-governing arrangement. "This was set out in Chapter 7 of [communications minister] Lord Carter's Digital Britain report," he said.
Making a strong plea to continue the present self-regulatory regime, Lesley Cowley, CEO of Nominet, the .uk domain registrar, said the internet was the greatest contributor to British and world economic development since the Renaissance. This was possible only because its management was relatively free of red tape, she said.
Nominet, which is owned and run by some 3,000 members - mainly internet service providers - managed some eight million domain names, she said. This made the UK the world's fourth largest domain after .com, China and Germany.
She said Australia and New Zealand had followed Nominet's lead in sponsoring a best practices competition that encourages firms to improve the quality, usefulness, accessibility and safety of the internet.
Michael said he would be helping to showcase the UK's winning efforts from this year's competition in November when the UN Internet Governance Forum meets in Sharm el Shaik to consider the future of the internet.
The winners of Best Practice Challenge 2009 were:
• Rafi.ki, for improving education development
• Business Crime Reduction Centre, for helping mainly small businesses to improve their online security
•Internet Service Providers Association, for raising internet standards
•Childnet International, for improving children's personal safety online
•Screenreader.net, for improving access to the internet for the blind
•British Library, for enhancing access to cultural artefacts
•Get Safe Online, a special award for cooperation.