The Jakarta Post
During the recent Internet Government Forum held in Nusa Dua, Bali; UK Culture, Communications and Creative Industry Minister Edward Vaizey discussed with The Jakarta Post's Rita A. Widiadana the British government's role concerning Internet use in the country. The following is an excerpt from their meeting.
'As the minister in the British government responsible for Internet policy, I'm very well aware that at almost every level, Internet policy affects all other ministers in the government; whether it's health or education, home office security, foreign policy and so on.
'Before Brazil proposed the role of governments in Internet use at the World Telecommunications/ICT Policy Forum in Geneva last May, most governments in the world may never have thought of the actual roles they might play in the digital world.
'So, one always potentially runs the risk of being too amorphous, but when you drill down to where governments could play an important role, we've come up with four themes.'
'In the United Kingdom, we are lucky that we have a very competitive telecoms marketplace so the infrastructure has been built by the private sector, both fiber-optics established by BT [British Telecom] and Virgin [Media], and also among mobile operators, building a 4G network. But the competition framework that we've put in place means that this infrastructure is also accessible to most consumers because prices are low and the services they receive are very advanced.
'The government has intervened directly to support the building of networks to rural areas, which are not economic hubs. So we are putting a billion pounds-worth of funding into supporting the building of infrastructure. Although the majority of infrastructure is paid for by the private sector, I would emphasize that the government is supporting that by providing the regulatory framework to ensure competition and fair pricing.'
Fair and consistent domestic legal framework
'There are many clichÃ©s that surround the debates over the Internet, and most of them are clichÃ©s because they're true. One is that what is illegal offline is also illegal online. There's no peculiar exemption. If an activity takes place on the Internet, it should not somehow be allowed if it's not allowed in the physical world.
'We also intervene on particular issues where the Internet has perhaps exacerbated an issue. On the infringement of intellectual property rights, for example, we passed legislation to allow rights holders to warn people if they were infringing intellectual property.
'We work with the Internet Watch Foundation to combat the prevalence of child abuse images, and we work with Internet service providers to provide parents with suitable controls to protect their children from inappropriate content.
'It's important to emphasize that we work in partnership with the private sector and with civil society because we find that is the most effective way to get things done.
'Top-down legislation can often be behind the curve: unwieldy and bureaucratic. If you want an effective result, then it's important to work in partnership.
'A government can act as a broker, as a representative of its citizens, and it can intervene on issues that are causing great concern, but that is not the same as controlling the Internet.'
Freedom of expression
"It won't surprise you that the UK is a strong advocate of the right to freedom of expression. I think it's important, therefore, that the government plays a role in defending free expression on the Internet, defending cultural diversity, defending gender equality, and also helping its citizens to engage with the Internet by providing people with the opportunities for education and skills that they need to gain access to the Internet.
'The Internet, as we all know, is a massive force for good, but there are also dangers so once again, the government can help. In the UK, we find it very effective to work with civil society, particularly with children in schools, to give them the opportunity to ask questions and to learn effectively how to use the Internet, and to use the Internet safely. And that again is an important role for government."
Supporting the multi-stakeholder process
'The government has a role as a partner, not as someone that dictates how the Internet should develop. So we partner with the private sector to build infrastructure; we provide funding where the economics don't stack up and we provide the regulatory framework to ensure that that the infrastructure is competitive so that consumers benefit from low prices.
'The government partners with the private sector and civil society on key issues, such as the infringement of intellectual property, the protection of our kids online and combating child abuse, but we also emphasize the point that our legal domestic framework applies to the online world as much as it applies to the offline world.
'We strongly support freedom of expression on the Internet, and we are active participants and supporters of the multi-stakeholder framework, which we think is essential to the continued success of the Internet.'
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