It's Time to Build an Internet Policy Framework

Virginia recently developed an Internet policy framework that positions the commonwealth to address all the major Internet issues facing state governments. One of the goals in developing this policy framework was to consciously provide a model not only to bring Virginia up to date but to provide leadership for governments everywhere in dealing with Internet issues.

Why should Virginia lead this charge? In addition to being the birthplace of the Internet, almost half of the Internet backbone is in Virginia, and nearly half of all online service subscribers are served by companies located in the commonwealth. Accordingly, it is appropriate that Virginia take the lead in establishing model policies that will empower the world's citizens to reap the full benefits of this technology in the workplace, in the classroom and for personal use.

In becoming the first state to develop a comprehensive policy for the Internet, Virginia took the same approach that Gov. Jim Gilmore's administration has used to set all technology policy. We used a stakeholder-driven process. In this case, the Governor's Commission on Information Technology led the charge. The commission, which has 36 members drawn from business, government and academia, includes 24 chief executive officers or other senior executives from Virginia's Internet, computing and communications companies.

This group selected eight issues to address: growth of electronic commerce, World Wide Web-enabled government, Internet taxation, privacy in the Digital Age, unsolicited bulk e-mail ("spam"), the role of encryption in privacy and security, content concerns, and Internet crime and law enforcement.

The commission sought to build a framework of desired outcomes in each of these areas that could be translated into legislation, executive orders or other policy directives. That policy-making process is under way within the General Assembly and the governor's office. (The details of the commission's legislative framework and the current activities of the General Assembly in response to those recommendations can be found at www.sotech.state.va.us under the links to the commission or the General Assembly.)

Gilmore and I settled upon this consensus-building approach to formulate the policy because the Internet is at once global, national and local in scope and impact. Sound local policy is essential for the Internet to reach its full potential in bringing revolutionary new benefits to state communications, education and commerce endeavors.

Furthermore, we believe that Virginia's Internet policy could serve as the foundation for national and international technology policies. To start a dialogue on international harmonization of Internet policy, Gilmore is working with Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Commerce. The two have announced a global Internet policy summit to be held this fall in the Washington, D.C., area. The summit, a by-invitation-only event at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., will bring together senior business and government leaders from around the globe to start the process of developing a common understanding of how people from all nations might best benefit from this new medium.

By addressing Internet-related issues in a nonpartisan business/government environment, we can begin to understand where we need to focus attention to build a truly global policy framework.

Such a platform is necessary, I believe, because it is clear that governments have widely divergent views on how to deal with privacy, electronic-commerce issues, content, spam, Internet fraud and crime, security and access.

The Internet has become a global medium for a broad range of governmental, educational, commercial and individual interactions.

As more and more of the processes and activities of our daily lives become Web-enabled, local and national laws and regulations will require a fresh look to allow our citizens to reap the full benefit of this global medium. Virginia's technology leaders are convinced that two principles must guide our efforts to set Internet-related policies: a prudent reliance on market forces and a conscious effort to keep our focus on the benefits rather than the problems.

Don Upson is the secretary of technology for Virginia.

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