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Discussions from IGF-USA 2019

· August 2, 2019

Every year, civil society organizations, academics, and policymakers from across the world come together to hold a global Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The IGF is a multistakeholder dialogue which creates a platform for discussions centering around the micro and macro issues present in governing the Internet. Leading up to the global IGF event are a number of regional conferences dedicated to local Internet governance as well.

Last week was the regional Internet governance conference for the United States, IGF-USA 2019. Among the many topics discussed at IGF-USA, the focal points of panels in the day-long conference were digital inclusion, artificial intelligence (AI), antitrust concerns surrounding tech, the impact of 5G, Section 230 and intermediary liability, and cyber safety and the resiliency of the Internet’s infrastructure.

Some of the most bleeding edge topics at this year’s IGF-USA included: 

Artificial Intelligence

Many aspects of AI were discussed at IGF-USA but the focus of the panel on AI governance was on balancing the benefits of the technology with the concerns present in its implementation. While panelists agreed that AI requires further improvement before it can reach its full potential and scrutiny to ensure it does not cause harm, they were optimistic about the future of AI. Lynne Parker, Director of Artificial Intelligence at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) discussed the recently released American AI Initiative, which aims to encourage AI development. DisCo discussed the initiative, outlining its key areas of focus and comparing it to other countries’ actions.

Antitrust

One governance concern of many stakeholders is antitrust enforcement relating to large tech companies. Panelists at IGF-USA spoke to some concerns emerging from big tech but recognized the value of current antitrust policy. History shows us that broad and swift remedies pose a substantial risk to competition, often failing to produce the intended results, and that market forces play a more central role in maintaining healthy markets and incentives to innovate.

5G

One IGF-USA panel covered the perennially attractive topic of 5G. IGF-USA panelists discussed the impact of 5G on current and emerging technologies. The next generation of 5G-enabled technologies requires spectrum from low to high bands, so allocating more spectrum for existing and emerging commercial uses is important. Additionally, 5G reaches beyond smartphones to a set of technologies that will enable new applications and innovations. 

Section 230 and Intermediary Liability

Finally, one IGF-USA 2019 afternoon panel addressed Section 230 and intermediary liability. A swell of debate has recently risen centering around a short provision in the Telecom Act known as Section 230. Detractors misunderstand or misrepresent the functions and limits of Section 230. In actuality, Section 230 protects online services from liability for content their users post and provides great competitive benefits for U.S. companies and the internet economy. Furthermore, Section 230 (along with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) serves to govern speech online.

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.