Elon University

Plenary Panel Session – Where Are All Those Digital Dividends We Expected From the Internet?

IGF USA LogoBrief session description:

Monday, July 24, 2017 –  This panel took place during the plenary session of IGF-USA 2017 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Read the print story and see video highlights on this page. You can view the full, archived video of this panel session here.

Remember the optimism we shared about how the Internet would deliver all sorts of “digital dividends” to advance global public interest? We imagined the Internet could unite a diverse world with information sharing and social connections. We looked for broader and better education, economic opportunity, transparency, free expression, and productivity, too. This panel examined the extent to which these digital dividends have been delivered and what’s standing in the way of realizing the positive promises of a connected world.

Details of the session:

The session was moderated by Evan Swarztrauber, director of public affairs at TechFreedom, where he leads communications and outreach and hosts the Tech Policy Podcast, publishing more than 180 episodes since its launch in January 2016. Panelists included:

  • Robert Pepper, head of global connectivity policy and planning at Facebook
  • Daniel Castro, vice president at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and director of ITIF’s Center for Data Innovation
  • Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, where he helps members define and execute the tech agenda, and an expert on Internet governance, online consumer protection and Internet taxation
  • Nilmini Rubin, vice president at TetraTech, leads engineering and consulting projects to increase energy and Internet access in developing countries
  • Christina Sandefur, executive vice president at the Goldwater Institute, develops policies and litigates cases advancing healthcare freedom, free enterprise, private property rights, free speech and taxpayer rights

In this plenary session, the panel examined the extent to which the Internet’s digital dividends have been delivered and whether they have exceeded expectations or fallen short, considering the net’s technological growth and innovation.

Steve DelBianco, director of Netchoice, explained the role digital dividends take to help individuals.

“You start with economic liberty and you multiply it by Internet technology and connectivity,” DelBianco said.

This leads to three sub factors. One is a two-sided market that matches producers with consumers such as eBay buyers with eBay sellers. The other two are peer review and portability.

“Those three aspects are what we have designed in our industry,” DelBianco said. “The payoff in digital dividends is supposed to be income opportunities for those who produce and then the consumer benefits.”

According to DelBianco, Internet platforms should enable Americans to use their skills and their assets, as well as to sell goods that others can’t find.

But barriers exist within local and state governments. Christina Sandefur, executive vice president at the Goldwater Institute, explained how licensing or legacy industries shutting down technologies is a problem when people are trying to earn income.

“The Internet has really had unbelievable effects on our ability to share with each other,” Sandefur said. “It’s really not revolutionary that it doesn’t tend to bring new products or services to light, we’re just talking about sharing more information.”

Sandefur cited examples of privacy regulations from New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Hawaii that were implemented on applications such as Airbnb or Homeaway—regulations that were never inflicted on hotels. She said that regulations like these do not occur because of consumer safety issues but because more established industries fear these new digital applications.

“These regulations are violating people’s Constitutional rights,” Sandefur said.

Dividends Panel Discussion PhotoRobert Pepper, head of global connectivity and policy planning at Facebook, mentioned how limiting digital applications is harming the abilities of countries to innovate.

“Many of the incumbent operators are going to their government and saying, ‘regulate these applications because we need a level playing field,’” Pepper said.

Pepper also emphasized that Internet inclusion is not the same as being connected.

“You cannot have an inclusive Internet if half of people on the planet are not connected as the other half,” Pepper said.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, explained how an individual can recognize an economic dividend from the Internet.

“We do see this division of where technology can take us and then there’s the reality,” Castro said. “And we see these gaps and we keep on asking ‘why are there these gaps?’ because it is really not the technology that is going to be performing.”

Castro explained that the problem is some companies have specialized data and use their access in ways that are anti-competitive. Restrictions like these interfere with the vision of stakeholders using the Internet to empower consumers. But questions about what the government should do also arise, and Castro believes there should be a solution to what the government is doing wrong to crack down anti-competitive behaviors.

“The technology is there, the data is there, but sometimes there is a barrier,” Castro said.

Some of the barriers that exist are in education.

Nilmini Rubin, vice president at TetraTech, has worked extenstively on Internet education in developing countries.

“Education hasn’t been transformed immediately with the Internet,” Rubin said. “We’re still in the early stages, so we still have ways to go.”

Rubin said that to find the answer to the debate on whether Internet education is a success, it is essential to think about where the education is and what it is being used for.

Dividends Panel Discussion Photo“There is key potential for key classes throughout our life cycle instead of just education and get a degree and we’re done,” Rubin said. “There are openings of this that we can take people in different stages of their lives and in different locations.”

Aside from education and economy dividends, the panel also debated whether the dividend of public disclosure has been lost.

Pepper said that e-gov applications, e-commerce and e-entertainment are becoming relevant.

“E-gov applications, especially in the developing world, is a huge driver,” Pepper said. “Those are the applications that make the Internet really relevant in a real way for people.”

Sandefur explained that there is more of an incentive to sensationalize information today because companies focus more on clicks and money, as well as decentralized information.

“There is not a regulatory solution for this whether we think this evolution is good or not,” Sandefur said. “Information is power and whenever we decentralize power we empower competitors.”

– By Diego Pineda

Click here to return to IGF-USA 2017 homepage.

The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2017 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:

Janna Anderson, Bryan Baker, Camille Behnke, Liam Collins, Diego Pineda Davila, Colin Donohue, Maya Eaglin, Christina Elias, Meagan Gitelman, Alex Hager, Tommy Kopetskie, Deirdre Kronschnabel, Jared Mayerson, Emmanuel Morgan, Grace Morris, Jackie Pascale, Mariah Posey, Alexandra Roat, Ginna Royalty, Alexandra Schonfeld, Jamie Snover, Erik Webb, Brooke Wivagg