Why the Internet is everybody’s business

May 24, 2011

By David Barroux
The opinions expressed are his own.

LES ECHOS/Worldcrunch — The first-ever E-G8 summit, beginning Tuesday in Paris with a notable lineup of government leaders and a “digital Who’s Who,” has been hit by a range of criticisms, from political hijacking to state censorship. But these attacks reveal only part of the truth. Sure, Nicolas Sarkozy, struggling in the polls, sees this as a chance to “presidentialize” his image while attempting to make his mark on this subject so attractive to the younger generation. But the self-interest driving his approach doesn’t necessarily mean it is uninteresting.

Long considered a free space that could develop on principles of self-government, the Internet has become so crucial to democratic life and economic growth that today it is legitimate for political players and large industrial groups to be involved in its management. States and multinationals would be wrong to want to plan and regulate everything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should simply stand back and watch.

Working in tandem, states and businesses can first act on the infrastructure. In past centuries, states financed the construction of roads or railways. Today, mechanisms should be found that allow private actors to invest in indispensible broadband information superhighways.

Faced with a global online market, governments will also have to set up rules to allow competition among actors from different countries to be as fair as possible. On subjects such as management of personal data, taxation and geo-localization, they will have to reach agreement on a lowest common denominator.

Finally, it is good that heads of state are becoming aware of the importance of the digital economy. Rather than focusing on filling their coffers by taxing this booming sector, public authorities must support the digital world, a veritable motor and accelerator of economic growth. And so much the better if the foundations of this new dialogue are laid in Paris.

This piece originally appeared in Les Echos. Read the original article in French.

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