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On Wednesday, September 28, 2011 a panel led by Lillian Nalwoga looked at Mobile Internet, its regulation and its connection with Internet Governance. The purpose of the session was to look at the main question of “Is governance different for the mobile Internet from the wired Internet?” 3 sub questions that were also explored were: (a) what are the key development issues given strong mobile penetration in developing countries and the use of new equipment and applications that did not exist before? (b) How do Internet policy and regulation choices in the mobile internet context impact the range of human rights, openness and neutrality? (c) What are the policy and governance choices and opportunities in the mobile Internet space that foster innovation, skills building, entrepreneurship and maximizing the Internet for economic development? This was the first time that an emerging session focused on the mobile Internet.
One issue that differentiates mobile internet from the wired internet is the requirement for additional wireless spectrum to address the nature and cost of mobile access especially for rural and remote areas. This is especially important for developing countries that are experiencing exponential growth in mobile penetration. This is an area in which regulatory leadership is required to ensure that enough of the right quality of wireless spectrum is available at appropriate prices to spur growth in mobile Internet. The transition towards digital broadcasting in developing countries needs to be amplified so that the analog broadcast spectrum can be re-farmed and made available for mobile Internet as one way of addressing the need for additional spectrum.
The policy issues around mobile Internet addressed in the session are not too far removed from those issues confronting wired Internet. Both require an enabling legal and policy environment that can foster healthy competition and creates a level playing field capable of attracting investment. Both mobile Internet and wired Internet have benefitted from light-touch regulation which, in turn, has stimulated innovation and creativity. The light-touch regulatory approach needs to be continued with mobile Internet with an emphasis on open source technology that facilitates creative innovations based on what Steve Song has termed interoperability standards at the device, application and service levels. As Zahid Jamil noted, this has to be done with the assistance of the banking sector in developing countries through the provision of funding for the development of local applications and content. Regulations would also have to be strong in the enforcement of 3 basic principles: (1) open access, (2) no monopoly control, and (3) affordable pricing.
An exciting development prospect raised by N. Ravi Shanker is the voice Web or semantic Web with strong local content and applications. The emergence of the new Web would offer tremendous possibilities for the participation of large percentages of the population of developing countries that are not literate and open up totally new worlds and horizons to them.
The panelists did a pretty good job of addressing the sub questions but could have done much more with reference to how policy and regulation choices in the mobile internet context impact human rights. This was echoed by the question by a participant of what considerations have been made for equal access by persons with disabilities, in the context of mobile Internet. This question I don’t believe was adequately addressed. These and other questions regarding human rights, privacy and security online need to be adequately addressed to ensure that Hossein Moiin’s dream of every human being having access to one gigabit of data daily for less than a dollar a day can be actualized and have the intended impact on the lives of individuals of all cultures, races, and religions in our globally connected and shared networked world. I think that Jacquelynn Ruff got it right when she stated that a step in the right direction has to be a consumer-centric focus.