Posts tagged "China"

Who’s Making the Rules About the Internet?

Governance – who makes the policies and rules (but NOT the technology) on how the Internet runs – is one of the “invisible infrastructure” activities that just happen and keeps the Internet from failing. With the explosive growth of the Web and its importance to the world economy (coupled with the fact that the Internet is global and doesn’t recognize national borders), the last decade has seen governments and policy makers start to look more closely at who actually makes the rules that run the Internet and wonder if perhaps there isn’t a better way. Things like taxation, censorship, privacy, intellectual property, libel, economic stability, and financial dealings are all aspects of Internet governance the world is coming to recognize. And governments are loathe to grant U.S. based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) (such as ICANN and ISOC and IETF[1]) the right to make the fundamental rules that impact these sovereign rights.

Part of the reason for this is the importance of the Internet to the world’s economic well-being. The global (and globalized) economy depends in large part on the instantaneous communications afforded by the Internet, which are now reaching ever-broader audiences.

However, the major impact of the Internet is on governance of nations – and not just of the individuals of the Internet. The “Arab Spring” movement showed the power of the Internet to galvanize public reaction. This can be a worrisome thing to a government trying to maintain economic or political stability. Wikileaks also illustrated the power of the Internet to disseminate governmentally unfavorable information that impacted governmental foreign policy, and the use of malware (e.g. Stuxnet) has become a tool for both industrial and military espionage and sabotage.

But in the international geopolitical arena, governance has expanded to mean more: It also means that all nations have an equal say and stake in the creation of the rules and deployment of the Internet. Note here that the term is “nations” – not individuals – because how the Internet is governed can have a tremendous impact on a nation’s ability to pursue a national growth and governance strategy.

One of the countries most concerned about this area is China. It was noted that the non-regulated nature of the Internet, and what could be viewed as favoritism to the developed countries, poses a long term and large problem for developing countries. On September 18, 2012, the Chinese government hosted an “emerging nations Internet roundtable,” where issues of Internet governance, content management, and cyber security were discussed. The governments of Russia, Brazil, India, and South Africa all participated, and together looked at Internet governance so that the needs of developing nations are taken into consideration.

Following the meeting, a statement was released that said that participating governments would continue to meet on a regular basis and that consensus has been reached on the following four major topics:

1. Internet governance must become a governmental mandate, and the impact of social networks on society (good, bad, and otherwise) is of particular concern.

2. Content filtering needs increased regulation and legislation to both protect and promote the interests of developing and emerging nations.

3. The whole area of cyber-security needs increased transnational cooperation and coordination – but this must be balanced with the economic needs of emerging states.

4. Emerging and developing nations offer the greatest opportunity for Internet growth, and these nations must take responsibility for managing this growth.

This conference clearly delimits the debate between those who seek an unfettered (open and based in information technology) Internet and those who would like a more regulated (in the style of the regulated telecommunications industry) model.

The issue of who controls a tremendously powerful communications force is, of course, a matter of high interest to nearly everyone. But the essential issue is that this policy and governance issue is being fought in the standards arena – that is, who has the right and duty to make the rules about the standards that will drive the next generation of innovation in the massively connected world. Currently, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)[2], is proposing to assume an increased role in making rules for the Internet, with support from many of the G-30 nations. And ISOC, the IETF, W3C, and the IEEE are responding with the Open Stand (http://open-stand.org) initiative. Europe is moving to recognize consortia specifications – and the national standards bodies (with implicit support of their governments) are trying to slow and limit this change. And we will see this same type of standards-based activity in policy decisions on privacy, security, accessibility, and others. As the world becomes more and more highly interconnected, the need for and control of who creates and who mandates standards – their creation, implementation, testing, and IPR status – will become major issues in national and international policy. And this is the lesson that is being learned from the internet governance discussions.

(1)Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); Internet Society (ISOC); Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)

 (2) The ITU is a specialized U.N. Treaty Organization responsible for Information and Communications technology. It creates standards to regulate telecommunications.

Technical Standards during ‘China’s 12th Five Year Plan’

 

A little over two months ago, the Chinese government’s Ministry of Science & Technology released a document entitled “The Special Planning Document for Technical Standards during China’s 12th Five Year Plan.” For short, I’ll call this the “SPD.” This SPD is one of a series published in recent months by the Chinese government on standards and standardization.

A little background is necessary to understand why the Chinese government is emphasizing standards—especially technical standards. China first emerged as a powerful global economic force largely as a foundry nation. In other words, it produced manufactured goods based on others’ designs – the classic commodity provider. The keys to competitiveness in this area include price, scale and flexibility of manufacturing, and the availability of the right workforce.

Perhaps realizing that China could not become a major player in the international information and communications technology (ICT) arena solely as a foundry nation, Chinese government policy now appears aimed at moving the country up the value chain to become a designer and creator of its own ICT products. It has also come to realize that standards, in the era of the Internet and widely and massively connected systems, are essential to market success. The Chinese government examined the German use of standards after World War II to promote that country’s industrial export policy; at the use of standards by the EU to foster a single European market; and at the use of standards by United States companies to drive the direction and focus of the information and communications technology sector. In short, they have realized that standardization is an important element of national industrial policy. The investment in standardization education, the increased participation by Chinese companies in a wide spectrum of SDOs, and the creation of Chinese consortia all point to an understanding of the value of standards to set direction in an industry.

The SPD opens with a bold assertion – “Technical standards are the technical basis of social and economic activities, a strategic resource for national development and a core element for international competitiveness.” This statement is the key to understanding the remainder of the document – which sets forth how technical standards are to be used and considered in planning, R&D, Advanced Development, Testing and Certification, Intellectual Property, and a host of other areas that are typical of life cycle planning in technology companies. More importantly, the Chinese government sees standards as encouraging innovation by limiting duplication, encouraging sharing, and making innovative ideas and products more available to other developers. Standards are also seen as coordinative activities, allowing disparate groups to develop solutions – but with the added caveat that these solutions must/may be applied to social, legal, and economic issues more easily. In total, the document presents an ideal and optimistic vision of standards as a strategic planning mechanism that can be used to spur their economy and various industries, both new and established.

However, it must also be remembered that this is a formal governmental planning document. Planning documents – especially long-term documents – can change, not because the original plan was faulty or incomplete, but because the market conditions upon which the plan was predicated have changed. For the Chinese strategy to succeed, the government will have to be flexible and adaptive in implementing the strategy, as there is no longer a static landscape in the world of ICT standardization.

The Information and Communications Technology sector standards environment in the United States and Europe is highly dynamic – as illustrated by activities like the creation of WebKit and open source; the appearance of W3C community groups; the increase in different Intellectual Property Rights rules within Standards Setting Organizations; the constant creation of new consortia; and the appearance of ad hoc standardization (as shown by social media). Over the last five years, ICT standardization has changed dramatically. Because formal standards organizations (ISO, IEC, and the ITU-based) move slowly, the ICT sector often relies on consortia and ad-hoc groups (WebKit, WHAT WG, and the like) for innovation and leadership in standards development. Additionally, planning in a period of significant change is challenging – and planning for standards is a second derivative of ICT planning. It both leads and is led by technology and technological planning – but with a healthy dose of marketing and economic and social strategy thrown in.

With that said, the SPD is a fascinating statement of Chinese governmental policy. One only wishes that there were corresponding standards strategies from other countries, recognizing the criticality of standards for national competitiveness, with which to compare with that of the Chinese government. There is an old saying in the standards world: “If you don’t play, you can’t complain.” If this document serves the purpose of causing others to re-examine their approaches and seek consensus, then it has served not only China, but also the world.