EU and US display unity on information society issues

At the annual EU-US information society meeting
on September 17, both delegations stressed similar positions on
most issues, including internet telephony (VoIP) and Digital
Rights Management (DRM).


  • Voice over Internet (VoIP)

     

Asked if the Commission was considering regulating
VoIP, The 
head of the Commission’s Information Society
DG, Fabio Colasanti

, said it should be regulated “as little as
possible”. “We are confident that, by and
large, [the new] regulatory framework will allow the
development of VoIP without many problems,” as it
“does not depend on a specific technology”. A
public consultation was closed at the end of August and
the Commission is now examining the answers to see if it
needs to issue guidelines or a communication on the
issue. Asked about VoIP’s potential adverse impact on
traditional telecoms companies’ revenues, Colansanti
said “they will probably have to adapt the way they
work” but felt confident that they will do so in the
same way as with previous technological breakthroughs.
“It will be a spontaneous movement and we have to
make sure that the regulation will allow this spontaneous
movement provided a certain number of social and public
needs are safeguarded”.

Michael D. Gallagher

, from the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration at the 
US Department of Commerce

, underlined that the EU and the US were “looking to
industry first to help chart the course” of VoIP
because there is “much greater knowledge of how that
path will go forward in the private sector”.
Although Gallagher admitted that VoIP presented
“regulatory questions”, he said it “may
not” result in a “regulatory decision”. In
the US, Gallagher said he expected that 22 million US
consumers would have access to VoIP services by the end
of 2008, generating 13 billion dollars of revenue for
industry. He recalled a pledge by George Bush that
“universal access to broadband” is available in
the US by 2007 as a necessary first step in the take-up
of VoIP. 


  • Digital Rights Management (DRM)

     

Colasanti said the European Commission’s approach
has been to “force stakeholders” to discuss the
subject in a High-level Group on DRM which he says has
“brought the positions much closer”. He added
that discussions in the group “may be leading to
results in terms of acceptance of the DRMs usage”
and perhaps to “the possibility of DRMs to replace
other forms of levying” of rights in Europe. Asked
about the European consumers’ organisations (BEUC)
disagreement with the 
final report 

drawn up by the stakeholder consultation group, Colasanti
said he was “not surprised that any compromise text
will leave people unhappy”. He said “the
important thing is that there is progress” although
he admitted that “there is still a lot of work to be
done”. “At the end of the day, this is
essentially an area where industry have to take
position,” he pointed out.

On EU-US cooperation on DRM, Gallagher said that
“cooperation will be through the industry
standards”. “DRM is one of the key issues that
must be resolved for the adoption of broadband, simply
because of the attraction of the content. We’ve seen
that with music, now we’re encountering it with
video”. But he pointed to the risk for the video
industry that it becomes “Napsterised”, saying
“there is a risk component which is driving them
towards a solution”. The answer, he said, “will
be technical”, “driven by the industry”
and “will be by definition a world
standard”. 


  • Spam

     

US Ambassador David A. Gross

said he hoped industry would solve the problem but that
his government considered it very important to address
the issue at international level. “If [spam] is
deceptive and unlawful, governments should make it
unlawful”. “We’re looking to work country
to country in order to make sure that laws are
enforced”. Gallagher added that the fight against
spam was a top policy priority because it is a “drag
on our economy” and “retards the adoption of
broadband”. He referred to the US CAN spam act as a
“strong policy” but said it “only is as
good as the weakest link because of the nature of the
internet transcending national boundaries”. He said
the answer to spam will ultimately come from technology
but that consumer education and enforcement measures also
needed to be addressed.

Director General Fabio Colasanti said the fight
against spam required “action on many fronts and
from many sides” and referred to the EU’s
‘opt-in’ approach that already makes commercial
communications illegal without prior customer consent.
But he added that “most of the work will have to be
done by industry in developing filter mechanisms”.
“Governments and law-enforcement agencies have to
recognise the problem,” he added, saying that there
is “huge scope for diplomatic action because most of
the spam comes from outside our countries and unless we
have the cooperation of these countries, no action will
be successful”. But he declined to comment on
deadlines set to industry to provide so-called black and
white lists of spammers.”I don’t think that the
problem is so much about giving deadlines. Industry
already has an enormous economic incentive to fight
spam,(…) so I don’t think that there is any great
need to exert a different pressure” Colasanti
explained.


  • World Summit on Information Society (WSIS)

     

Ambassador David A. Gross, the US coordinator for
international communications and information policy, said
he was looking forward to working closely with the EU on
identifying the issues and the documents that should be
issued by the summit in November 2005. He said the US
concern was to ensure that the financial support given
for the development of ICT in developing countries does
not create “bureaucracies that would take the
resources away from the intended beneficiaries”.

Colasanti added that the way to support the taking up
of ICT in developing countries is “not to set up ad
hoc funds” but the creation of “the right legal
environment”. “We do not feel that it will be
useful to set up a new machinery (a new ad hoc fund) but
it is important that the existing funds be used in a way
that is consistent with the opportunities offered by
ICT,” Colasanti said. “In Europe, we don’t
have a specific ICT fund but we have guidelines that make
sure that the available funds (the structural funds) are
used as much as possible in the direction of ICT. We feel
that this approach would be very useful at world
level”.


  • Cybercrime

     

Referring to the US war on terrorism, Gallagher said
“the Bush administration is very clear that those
that would seek to do us harm will not be able to use
21st century networks without us being able to access
their communications”.

In Europe, Colasanti pointed to the the newly set up
European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA),
which will deal with the issue.

The information society dialogue between the US
and the European Commission has been ongoing for the past
ten years. It allows exchange of information on regulatory
issues and on respective positions adopted in the wider
international context (World Trade Organisation,
International Telecommunication Union).

  • The World Telecommunication Standardization
    Assembly will meet from 5 to 14 October in
    Florianópolis, Brazil
  • The second phase of the World Summit on the
    Information Society will take place in Tunis from 16 to
    18 November 2005

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