The world’s most powerful join the digital revolution

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report Broadband: driving recovery?.

G8 leaders face the difficult challenge of both maintaining freedom on the Internet and coming up with appropriate regulations on child protection and intellectual property rights, writes European Commissioner Neelie Kroes. 

Neelie Kroes is a Dutch politician, businesswoman and current European commissioner for the 'Digital Agenda'.

This commentary was first published on Kroes's blog.

"You've probably seen all the coverage of the G8 summit, which […] discussed as a main theme the Internet.

Apologies that this blog post is a bit long, but the G8's messages gave me much food for thought!

The G8 leaders together represent nearly two thirds of the world economy. It's great to have an acknowledgement from them about how important the Internet is – for education, for the promotion of freedom and democracy, and as an essential and irreplaceable tool for business and the wider economy.

And leaders also give resounding support for the idea that broadband is, these days, part of the essential economic infrastructure. I think we need to go one step further and facilitate and encourage investment in high speed broadband. Otherwise, we will miss a major opportunity for growth and jobs and part of our society will be excluded; Europe is already lagging behind some of its competitors.

It goes to show what I've been saying all along – that the Digital Agenda holds the key to Europe's future.

Beyond that, leaders got down into some pretty thorny and difficult issues.

Like regulating the Internet – an issue on which I've seen some rather extreme positions being taken on both sides of the debate. We have to strike the right balance between freedom and chaos. The freedom of the Internet is a major factor in its success as a driver of innovation, creativity and growth.

At the same time, it cannot be lawless, or a space where there are only rights and no responsibilities. As I said at the e-G8, ICT markets move very quickly and therefore when you come with regulation the landscape may have changed completely.

I firmly believe in the engagement of stakeholders, so that they can take their own decisions. However, if necessary, I am ready to take my responsibility and intervene with regulation if it is justified, as we do for example on privacy and service transparency. Even then, regulation should leave room for different forms of compliance that can be adapted over time or to match the characteristics of different sectors of the Internet ecosystem.

Many of the other issues they discussed are also ones that will be familiar to you if you're a regular follower of the Digital Agenda. For example, on intellectual property we're committed to a proper framework to increase the offer of legal material online. We will come forward with proposals for real changes in the current copyright licensing system. Remuneration of authors is essential, but it can only grow if legal content is widely available. The current system in Europe is not adapted to the Internet and it frustrates citizens.

I wholeheartedly embrace the G8 conclusions on child protection: we need to move up a gear in addressing child abuse content on the Internet, not just by removing it from the web, but also – and first and foremost – by making the best use of advanced technologies to identify the perpetrators of such horrible practices. More generally, it is also important that children be offered access to a safe Internet.

The tools exist to prevent their exposure to harmful content. By putting together all the Internet players that have a role in producing services and content that end up in the hands of our children, I am confident I will be able to present in the autumn a series of actions to protect children online."

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