Who is on top? The American-European struggle for leadership on the Internet


The new first meeting of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) in Pittsburgh at the end of September highlighted the differences between Europe and the US on how governments should approach the Internet. Broadly speaking, the United States and Europe have offered different perspectives on the rules of the road for the Internet for decades and, combined with the highly nationalist Sino-Russian model, offer three alternative avenues for the future of the Internet. . Most other countries, the Internet and computer industries, and billions of users around the world are watching to see who’s on top.

While trade, R&D and climate policy are also important parts of the TTC’s mandate, there are many other venues for discussion between the US and the EU on these three topics, suggesting that the real goal of the TTC is how to handle the internet. While internet policies are only one part of a much larger and increasingly strained Euro-American relationship, the struggle for internet control has its own history and – due to the impact of Internet on Society, Commerce, Security and National Politics – Internet policy has perhaps become the most important feature of the transatlantic relationship.

To understand the different perspectives, you have to start a few decades ago.

The third point of view on internet governance – the very nationalistic one pursued by China, Russia and a dozen other countries – for the sake of brevity, will not be discussed here. But it provides a third important approach to Internet governance.

In the mid-1990s, many European leaders recognized that the era of stand-alone and unconnected computers was drawing to a close and that in the future, networked computers would be a dominant industry on a global scale, as the ‘had been: Whoever hosts and controls the coming networked computing industry will hold a high standard in guiding and perhaps controlling the global economy, security and culture.

Many Europeans were determined not to let Americans dominate another industry of control, but, at the time, it was not clear whether private networks, like the French Minitel, or open networks, like the US NSFNET (also called the Internet), would eventually dominate network networks. IT in the decades to come.

By the time European leaders recognized that an open computer network, the American Internet, had won, the American Internet industry was already a decade ahead of that of Europe … and well on its way to world domination. . Unlike the aerospace and mainframe industries, however, this open global network was intimate within each country, bringing average people together and creating wealth within and between countries.

To dominate the Internet was to dominate commerce, media, education, wealth creation, political organizations and entertainment within every European country (which industries like aerospace or mainframes could never So, for more than two decades, European leaders have understood that they simply cannot grant unlimited control over the Internet to the US government and its industry without virtually losing control over their own identity and future.

Since Europe lost the first round of business / technology competition with America to dominate the global network computing industry (i.e. a new kind of competition with the Americans … that’s what he did.

For more than two decades, Europe and the United States have fought over the rules and regulations governing the Internet, with an alleged higher European intention to prevent the Americanization of everything until there is a truly competitive European Internet industry.

Notwithstanding the underlying strategic, economic, cultural, commercial and security issues that motivate US-European competition on a guiding philosophy for governing the Internet, it are real differences in values ​​and priorities between the two.

If the underlying stakes were not so high, however, specific rules of conduct on issues such as the taxation of digital services when they are used, individual consent for commercial surveillance, or ultimate control of content would have. probably could be easily resolved. But the underlying issues are high, making wholesale concessions on either side difficult.

During these decades, Europe and the United States fought for many basic rules governing the Internet industry (mainly American); the European mantra has been “value-based guide rails” while the American mantra has been “market-based innovation”. And although there has been common ground in such targeted areas as the fight against terrorism and cybercrime, above all there has been a growing sense in Europe that this is a fight between America’s strategic goal of preserving its world domination on the Internet and Europe’s goal of preserving its own identity. In decades of transatlantic negotiations on hot topics like security, trade, relations with China, and climate change, the separate transatlantic dialogue on regulating the (mostly American) internet industry has failed. that widen and deepen.

In their frankest moments, European leaders will point out that the US government would never tolerate a situation in which Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Apple, and nearly every other internet giant were located – and subject to the laws. and to authority. from – a single European country.

US leaders, in their frankest moments, will point out that this was primarily America’s non-regulatory ‘go fast and bust’ approach to the Internet – as opposed to European “better to get government clearance first” – which led to American rule. Americans will also sometimes claim that the European “my values ​​trump” approach to Internet governance only provides indirect support for the Sino-Russian national government control approach.

More than any recent US administration, the current one has been dedicated to improving US-European relations. Whether they are successful or successful is a matter of opinion. But, unlike transatlantic dialogues on defense, trade, China, Russia or climate policies, US-European dialogues on the Internet will be limited by the fact that any outcome will affect the daily lives of hundreds of millions of Europeans and average Americans – and that there is a third, purely nation-state approach that has gradually developed. Which suggests that, for better or worse, progress is likely to be slow.

Roger cochetti provides consultancy and consultancy services in Washington, DC He was a senior executive at Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) from 1981 to 1994. He also led Internet public policy for IBM from 1994 to 2000 and subsequently served as vice president Principal and Policy Director for VeriSign and Group Policy Director for CompTIA. He served on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy during the Bush and Obama administrations, has testified several times on Internet policy issues, and has served on advisory committees of the FTC and from various United Nations agencies. He is the author of Mobile Satellite Communications Manual.

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