Friday, April 24, 2009
We were proud to host a celebrity this week in Brussels -- Dr. Vinton G. Cerf. Vint holds one of the great job titles ever invented, Google's Chief Internet Evangelist. He is responsible for identifying new enabling technologies and applications on the Internet and other platforms for our company. Vint is best known as a "Father of the Internet," the co-designer of TCP/IP protocols and basic architecture of the Internet.
At the Open Forum Europe summit "The Future is Open" today, Vint gave the keynote address. He explained that the conscious choice to design an open and neutral Internet turned out to be the main ingredient for its tremendous success. If the Net stays open, he predicted that it will help us getting out of the present economic gloom by unleashing creative ideas and helping create successful businesses, small and large, in Europe and elsewhere. Before Vint took to the podium, Professor Ziga Turk had explained how the first communication revolution - cheap paper from China - empowered the masses and helped unleash the Renaissance's creativity, and how the Internet is provoking a second communication revolution by spreading knowledge across the globe. Vint took up the train of thought and offered an analogy to the French Revolutionary goals of liberté, egalité and fraternité, saying openness, open standards, and open source must be the three guiding principles for the Net to achieve this revolutionary promise.
The most timely element of Vint's talk concerns open and non-discriminatory network access, commonly called net neutrality. While the European Union is close to a deal on European Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding's electronic communications package, it so far has failed to reach agreement on a provision ensuring that the ones controlling the physical layer do not favour their own or affiliated content or services at the application layer of the Internet. Vint acknowledged that telecom operators should have the necessary flexibility to manage traffic on their networks to keep them functioning in a smooth and secure fashion. Also, Vint acknowledged that an effective way of ensuring fairness in resource allocation is to charge more for faster than slower data transfer rates. This will help avoid congestion.
But it is crucial to ensure that flexibility does not lead to abuse. As "Skype Evangelist" Sten Tamkivi pointed out at the same conference: competition law and transparency may provide certain safeguards - but chances are this won't be enough, especially not for start-ups. A recent consumer survey that Google helped commission, showed that an overwhelming 91% of consumers in the UK, France and Germany expect their Internet Service Provider to avoid blocking or limiting their service. We have joined with a group of Internet companies including France's Dailymotion and PriceMinister, as well as Yahoo, eBay, Skype and Amazon, in favor of maintaining an open Internet. Together with them, we have signed a position paper urging the EU legislator to avoid eroding end-users rights to access the content, applications and services they choose.
Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, traditional or unconventional – can compete on equal terms to serve users. Those providing the highway shouldn't be able to decide who gets to drive in the fast lane. As Vint said, "the Internet must stay open. That’s where new ideas come from. That’s where new entrepreneurs come from. That’s what creates new jobs, new wealth, new knowledge. The openness of the network is going to be the engine to create new wealth. If we do anything to hurt that, we will do untold damage."
Posted by Sebastian Müller, European Policy Manager, Brussels