The Importance of a Free and Open Internet
Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Japan Association of the New Economy (JANE), New Economy Summit
April 7, 2015
Remarks as prepared
Good morning and my special greetings to everyone here at the New Economy Summit in this remarkable and bustling city.
The title of this conference, “The New Economy,” highlights a timely point for me about the Internet. It isn’t just an essential component of the new economy. It really is the economy.
As early as 2011, the global digital economy’s impact on GDP growth in G7 countries had already surpassed the energy and agriculture sectors. It is rapidly transforming the emerging markets that are the key to future growth and globally shared prosperity. More and more, everything we do in the economic, commercial and financial realms is either leveraged by, or dependent upon the Internet.
In fact, the Internet has become one of the greatest and most important change agents of our lives. Three billion people are connected to the Internet today. Some estimate that number will rise to five billion by 2020. More than two-thirds of us have mobile phones.
The Internet is not only pervasive; it can cross borders and time zones at the click of a mouse. Cross-border Internet traffic grew 18-fold between 2005 and 2012. It continues to flow, day upon day, hour upon hour, microsecond after microsecond.
Clearly, the Internet is indispensable in everything we do, whether we are communicating with those we hold dear, seeking economic opportunity, or addressing the greatest shared challenges of our time, from the effects of climate change to finding cures for chronic diseases.
With something so essential, beneficial and central, to modern life, it’s imperative that we do everything in our power to preserve this precious asset. We must do so thoughtfully and with our eyes firmly focused on the futures of our children.
I spoke yesterday before the Japanese National Press Club about the importance of preserving data flows, which is essential, if we are to truly safeguard the viability of the Internet. I told them that, in many ways, the Internet is like the golden goose in a well-known children’s story; one that has been retold across centuries and many cultures, from Aesop’s Fables to the Buddhist book of Vinaya.
The details differ, depending on the culture, but the story is essentially the same. A family comes into possession of a magical goose – or a bird – that provides golden eggs – or in some versions, golden feathers. But in their zeal to further exploit this remarkable goose, the family ultimately kills the bird.
The story serves as a cautionary tale for how important the Internet is to all of us – and how we must all work together to make sure we don’t destroy humanity’s golden asset. It’s timely too, for as we meet, this is a critical moment in the fast moving evolution of the Internet, when important decisions lie before us.
The world community – in multilateral and other forums – faces complex and difficult choices, such as whether states – and the intergovernmental institutions they control – should be in the drivers’ seat for managing how the Internet works. Also in the debate is how we can find a balance between protecting people’s privacy and preserving the free and open flow that makes the Internet so dynamic. These and other questions are hugely impactful; not only for the world but for both our nations.
My country is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Japan on so many issues in this space. Our two countries are more than partners in this effort and our faith in our alliance is strong. We are not only among the Internet’s biggest producers and consumers, we are some of its strongest advocates.
In multilateral forums and negotiations, and in our own continuing bilateral dialogues, we continue to promote and support the decentralized, multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance because it is in the best interest of continued innovation and broadly shared prosperity.
We also pursue other related agendas, such as how we can construct rules for the collection, use and distribution of data in our markets in a way that protects privacy while supporting innovation.
As Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, I am humbled to lead the office at the State Department which has such a leading and integral role, not only in Internet governance, but in trade and related matters, such as intellectual property rights. All three come to bear in one of our most important and ongoing negotiations: The Trans Pacific Partnership – or TPP.
This high standard multilateral trade deal will not only open new channels of trade and investment, and set high environmental, labor and consumer standards. It will encourage and support private sector investments in the transmission of data across borders. It will also work towards the certainty of a safe space where the Internet can continue to grow.
Whether we are engaging as bilateral or multilateral partners, or speaking on national issues in the U.S. Congress or the Japanese National Diet, we recognize that no decision can only affect our own nations and citizens. The Internet impacts everyone, for better or worse, and therefore must stay free and open. Japan highlighted this support for Internet openness when it joined the Freedom Online Coalition at its meeting in Estonia in April last year.
We know that, as we address what seem to be the most domestic issues, such as the privacy of our citizens, we must also consider their wider application and consequences. We must strike a balance between our understandable caution and the need for the Internet to be accessible to everyone.
The United States does not claim to have all the answers. But we strongly believe that, when it comes to the question of protecting data, corporations have some of the strongest motivations and the best resources to safeguard them.
By holding them accountable to best practices and sound rules, instead of creating walls, we believe we can provide a more dependable and enforceable defense. It is our hope that more countries, especially those who value democracy, openness and freedom, can adopt this or similar models.
As we work to maintain a free and open Internet, we are also focused on another critical issue: developing and expanding the Internet to create opportunities for developed, emerging, and developing economies alike.
According to many studies, more than half the world’s population is offline. It is also estimated that 1.8 billion people around the world will enter the consuming class by the year 2025. Almost all of them will be from emerging markets. This will create increased demand and global production, which means economic opportunities for both our countries, as well as improved goods and services for emerging and developing country consumers.
Digital technologies enable even the smallest companies and entrepreneurs to become “micro-multinationals” – selling products, services, and ideas across borders. In emerging and developing nations, whose small businesses are so often the backbone of their economies, this access to global markets would have dramatic results.
By linking more entrepreneurs and SMEs to global supply chains; and by connecting more people to each other and the information and services available, we could help ensure that all populations have access to technology. We can also ensure that no singular group is excluded due to barriers such as prohibitively high costs, lack of network connectivity, or social or cultural hurdles.
If you’ll permit me to return to my earlier metaphor, the Internet – like the goose of those children’s books – is something we cannot afford to lose. That is why the United States and Japan continue to expand connectivity, keep digital trade routes open, and make the Internet more accessible, as we also work to drive innovation and grow our economies.
There can be few more ambitious goals than these, but with partners like Japan, and the transformative potential of the Internet, we are confident that we can achieve them.
A generation ago, most of us would never have dreamed technology could leverage human aspirations at this kind of scale. It is a remarkable sign of our times that we can even think to do so. Let us not waste this unprecedented opportunity. Let us move forward together with vision, respect for one another, and an even greater sense of responsibility for our greater global community.