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White House Adviser: Government Needs To Be Involved In Net Policy

The Obama administration's chief communications policy advisor says the government should definitely be involved in sorting out the policy tensions--like network neutrality--between competing interests on the Internet in order to insure it remains an open and innovative platform that can be trusted by its users.

That is according to National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) head Lawrence Strickling in a speech to the Media Institute Wednesday (Feb. 24) in Washington.

"I answer the question whether the government should be involved with an emphatic 'yes,'" he said, adding immediately that that role does not have to be as a heavy-handed regulator, saying the current regulatory regime is "too slow, backward looking and political," to be effective.

Strickling said that despite the currency of the "broadband ecosystem" metaphor, the Internet is not "a natural park or wilderness area that can be left to nature." He said he didn't believe that anyone in the Media Institute audience believed the government should leave the Internet alone.

He said that hands off was the right policy when the Internet was first developed, but that this was a new century, with an Internet that had morphed into the "central nervous system" of the economy and society.

He called the Internet a large and growing organization with "no natural self-regulatory equilibrium...The cacophony of human actors demands that there be rules or laws created to protect our interests," he said. President Obama has long been a proponent of network neutrality regulations.

Those interests include privacy and protection of legal content, he said, as well as network neutrality. "You want to know you can make a transaction online without your credit card information falling into the wrong hands," he said. "If you are a content owner, you want to be allowed to take action against users who infringe your copyright...If you are a network owner, you may be against net neutrality rules. But that doesn't mean there aren't any rules; it just means the network owners get to create their own rules about whether and when to discriminate."

The government needs to be a sort of pro-trust regulator, rather than an anti-trust regulator of the Internet, he suggested, even proposing a possible name change of NTIA to the National Trust the Internet Administration.

"In the absence of some level of government involvement, we risk losing the one thing the Internet must have, not just thrive, but survive, and that is the trust of all the actors on the Internet."

In addition to continuing to hand out broadband stimulus grants--he said March 15 will be the deadline for the second round of bids, no exceptions--NTIA will focus on Internet policy. NTIA is not a regulator, but it is the White House's chief telecom policy advisor with a role of "preserving and building trust on the Internet" and "balancing out" those policy tensions.

That will include initiatives on privacy (including eventual policy recommendations), child online protection, cybersecurity, and copyright protection.

On the content-protection front, he said NTIA was working with the Patent and Trademark Office on "foreword-looking set up policies to address online copyright infringement in a balanced, Internet-savvy manner."

He said while the product of those efforts could be government action, it will be a flexible and collaborative approach with the NTIA serving as a "convener" involving commercial entities, academics and other stakeholders. "The solutions that emerge may well be recommendations for legislation or regulation, but if they result in individual actors accepting new processes, so much the better."