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Comms minister Vaizey reads internet script excellently

Coalition government sticks with existing line

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In his first outing in the minefield of internet politics, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey stuck firmly to the script.

Speaking at the UK Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Whitehall yesterday, Vaizey basically repeated the civil servant line that has been formed over the past five years, pleasing everyone.

The “multi-stakeholder” approach to deciding internet policies (where government, business, the tech community and civil society all have an equal voice) is the right one, Vaizey reiterated.

The internet touches every aspect of our lives… Government needs to work with business and internet users… Government doesn’t want to impose unnecessary regulation… We shouldn’t second-guess the internet but leave it open to innovation… The domain name industry has shown it can effectively self-regulate… and so on.

Things got a little spicier when it came to the high-politics going on at the moment with respect to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and overseer of the domain name system, ICANN, although all of it was calculated to soothe UK souls.

The new agreement that ICANN has with the US government is a “significant step in the right direction”, and its independent reviews are on schedule – demonstrating that ICANN is willing to be accountable. The latest power-grab by the ITU in October at its big meeting in Mexico may be “overstated”, but either way, it is not welcome.

Further careful balancing was provided over ICANN’s plan to introduce hundreds of new internet extensions next year. It is a “major test” and it’s important that the organization “gets it right” but the expectation is that introduction of new domain names will achieve greater competition and innovation.

And as for the most controversial aspect of global internet governance – the contract owned by the US government to basically run the internet’s address book, the “IANA function” – Vaizey says it “has to be addressed” and he will discuss it with his US counterpart when he heads to Washington soon, but that he appreciates the “sensitivities”. This basically means the UK is stuck between the US government wanting to retain control, and Europe wanting the US to give up control.

It’s clear the minister had been warned not to stray from the nuances, none of which he currently understands, so he couldn’t help himself but to offer to take questions, even joking that he was giving his staff a heart attack by doing so.

He handled the toughest question well. “We inherited the Digital Economy Act,” he began, “but that’s no excuse because we did vote for it.” As to the question about his claimed laissez-faire approach to the internet fitted with the copyright infringement measures in the Act, he characterized the law as “wanting to put in place framework that allowed for the enforcement of existing law” rather than introducing new laws.

And then he was off, and the room gave a collective sigh of relief. When it comes to internet politics, it’s business as usual with the Con-Lib government. ®

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