The World Wide Web turned 30 this year. Over the last thirty years, the global internet has become an important part of our daily lives, partly because of the needs of individuals, but also for the economy and governance.
For ordinary users, the internet is self-evident. Most people probably do not look upon the internet as the operation of thousands of networks with their own functions and different protocol services. However, the World Wide Web is not just a route to video streaming or banking services – behind the internet, there is an ecosystem where there is neither a central control room nor a main switch. So, consequently, we could ask the question – who is in control of the internet, or is anybody? We know that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for the domain name systems – but the internet overall is a much more extensive ecosystem.
Today, more than 70% of Europeans use the internet every day. The number of different services and applications has increased and this has created great new possibilities for the development of new digital services. The internet has become a necessity for us.
The first steps towards creating the internet were taken in the 1960s. Originally, the internet was established to serve a common good. The idea of the pioneers of the internet was to connect people all around the world, regardless of their location. Within these years, it has taken on new dimensions. Therefore, the internet has to be analysed from different perspectives, taking into consideration the long-term futuristic view but also recognising the risks.
Common rules needed
Today, when digital services are developing and data plays an even more crucial role, it is essential to ensure the stability of an open, safe and undivided internet. There is a need for common rules because of the increasing number of internet users.
What if there was no regulation concerning the internet? How would we make sure that the internet still serves the common good? But at the same time, how could we make sure that legislation would enable technological development, and not be too detailed? It is important to focus on finding a balance between these two. It is important to remember who it is that we develop services for and make the regulations. In the end, it is the people, all of us.
I would say that it is important to have base regulation of the internet. A so-called ”Telecoms Single Market Regulation” that guarantees an open internet in the EU, was introduced in 2015. It was a great achievement towards digital single markets as it brings end users right to access internet content and services of their choice. The aim of the Regulation was to confirm the rules of equal and non-discriminatory internet traffic. The regulation also aims to ensure that Europeans can use reasonably priced mobile internet services when travelling.
Net neutrality is essential to securing the internal market and civil rights such as the freedom of speech and the right to obtain information. The internet has to be a platform of learning, developing and innovation. Safeguarding the ecosystem of the internet as an innovative engine can be seen as a benefit for everyone. Therefore, the internet has to be technology neutral, encourage trust and secure the internal market of the European Union and global trade.
People at the centre
The availability of the internet in Europe is also supported by the universal service obligation. That means that Member States must make sure that end users have the opportunity to have an internet connection irrespective of their geographical location. What does it tell us? It tells us that the internet has become so crucial to our lives that the right to internet access had to be regulated.
But who is at the centre of internet use? It is people and businesses, the ones who the services and content are made for. Therefore, customer-oriented digital business requires decent data protection and trust. Trust is a key word in digitalisation, which, in the end, is an advanced human-centric way of communicating. But, at the same time, we need to highlight media education as well, to help people to adapt to the digital world. Media and information literacy are considered important for every citizen from an early age in Finland. It is essential to understand what are our rights online.
In recent years, when it comes to the internet, the EU has mainly introduced regulation concerning the rights of natural persons, but also regulations protecting intellectual property rights and markets. The amount of increased content services has increased the pressure on the legality of content and its supervision.
Opportunities for data economy
There are a lot of things which will change our future, especially 5G. It will provide significant higher capacity, shorter delays and lower energy consumption. The opportunities that new technologies like data economy, blockchain and artificial intelligence offers us will revolutionise our daily lives. We can see that in future, the internet will create possibilities to increase and utilise intelligent solutions, for example in traffic, health care, and industry, to improve our quality of life. For better solutions, collected data will play a big role.
As digital time goes forward, the amount of collected data will only increase in parallel to its value. Data can be used, and is required, to meet the needs of the markets, authorities and people. In order to make sure that the data economy and intelligent solutions can develop, the availability, quality and interoperability of data should be stressed. We must highlight that the data economy of Europe should be human-centric and allow the role of the internet to be an active part of the internal market.
We believe that the data economy can play a key role in increasing stability, growth, employment, competitiveness and innovation in the EU. As a matter of fact, if we want to develop new digital services and businesses, we should highlight the efficient and productive use of collected data in Europe.
Today, the data economy market is underdeveloped, and in the hands of a few players. It is important to make sure that all service providers and consumers have the right to access the necessary data with fair, non-discriminatory and reasonable conditions. It would help us to boost healthy competition among businesses of all sizes.
Critical factors must be recognised
But, unfortunately, data and networks are sometimes vulnerable. Today, we do indeed have to acknowledge the growing need to invest in the safety and security of internet services, collected data and the infrastructure behind them. People should trust the internet and not be afraid of it. The downsides can appear as cyber and hybrid attacks, as well as illegal online platforms and use of data.
We must ensure that we recognise critical factors. Because, at the end of the day, protecting our human-centric and empowering mindset in the future of the internet will help us to go forward. For example, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation includes an obligation that the processing of personal data should be designed to serve mankind. Ensuring respect for human autonomy, the prevention of harm, fairness and transparency can also be seen in the Commission’s Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI, which were published in April.
When it comes to safety and security, we must not forget our physical communications infrastructure behind the internet. It is important that we secure the base of the communications services. We believe that the ability to recognise possible threats to the internet and its infrastructure is based on EU-wide co-operation and that of the global network. Information security is not a new thing; we already have a regulation for that. But the world is changing and we must foster our ability to answer challenges.
“Finland wants to keep its role as a pioneer in mobile networks and technologies”
Finland will take up the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at the beginning of July. It will be a unique opportunity to support the fulfilment of a common agenda in the EU. We also want to become actively engaged in the discussion on the future of the EU. Promoting better regulation and openness are considered important for future development. We should not be a barrier to new technology. We must see opportunities for new ways to operate.
We should give space to new technologies to enter and operate in internal markets while respecting data protection to a sufficient level. Therefore, we need to be careful to avoid overregulation and the fragmentation of markets. European regulation should not be a barrier for European businesses to operate in the internet’s global arena. For example, electronic trade markets are important for us. Fair competition usually helps markets to develop cheaper and more innovative services for end-users.
During the past thirty years, the internet has developed into a network of specialised services, which has revolutionised our life. The internet has become a crucial part of global co-operation, the data economy and information: A place where we can express our opinions and create new possibilities and innovations for the world of the present and the future.
I feel great pride because of the fact that the Finnish communication policy approach has kept its progressive and forward-looking point of view, which ensures a reliable and broad communication network in Finland. The amount of data in the mobile networks of Finland is the highest per user in the world. Finland wants to keep its role as a pioneer in mobile networks and technologies. The latest proof of this was the award presented at the Mobile World Congress. A few magic words have been advanced spectrum policy, technological neutrality and good co-operation with active dialogue within the sector and authorities.
We have to adopt the role of an enabler. The internet will be a big part of our lives in future, and therefore we need to take full advantage of it. The question is how can we utilise EU-wide and global co-operation to develop the internet even further?
Director-General, Networks department
This article is based on a speech given at the Finnish Internet Forum in Helsinki on 6 June 2019.