Understanding the economic and social impact of the Internet is essential for policy making – this was the key phrase mentioned during WS 143, Measuring the economic and social impact of the Internet to inform policy making.
It was underlined that, although this is sometimes the common understanding, the Internet cannot do miracles itself. It can significantly contribute to political, economic and social changes, but proper policies are needed in this respect.
However, the Internet is a relatively new phenomenon and policy makers sometimes have the tendency of understanding it and the Internet economy in an old fashioned way (for example, through analogy with the telephony system, although there are considerable differences between the two communication means). But this understanding needs to be improved and policy makers need to understand how the Internet economy relates to the traditional sectors (banking, health, assurance, etc) and what is the impact of the Internet on these sectors. This improved understanding is essential for the elaboration and implementation of efficient and effective Internet-related policies, which can then contribute to economic and social development.
Also, it is essential for policy makers to be able to asses these policy before their adoption and implementation and to understand their potential impact. One example given here was related to the implications of policies related to blocking and filtering Internet content, especially with regard to restricting the exercise of human rights on the Internet.
The private sector, as well as inter-governmental organisations, have an important role in providing policy makers with the tools that can assist them in making informed policy decisions when it comes to the Internet. These tools can take the form of report, studies, benchmarks, etc which measure the Internet in terms of adoption, technical characteristics (like speed) and economic and social impact.
One very interesting point that was made during the workshop was related to the relation between the national regulatory framework and the decisions of businesses to invest in a certain country or to choose a certain country as the governing law of their interconnection agreements. The more “Internet friendly” the national regulatory framework is in a country, the more chances are that the respective country is chosen as location for Internet-related business and as jurisdictions for multilateral agreements between Internet operators. And this, in turns, would have a positive impact on Internet development at national level and on the entire Internet economy. This rather evident fact, I would say, should act as an incentive for policy makers to adopt “Internet-friendly” legislation.