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India could lose opportunity to have greater say in the way Internet is governed worldwide: Fadi Chehade ICANN

India could lose opportunity to have greater say in the way Internet is governed worldwide: Fadi Chehade ICANN

NEW DELHI: Fadi Chehade, chief executive of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), sees India’s role in shaping the future of the Internet as critical because it is among the fastest growing Internet economies. Now is the time for the country to take a stand on the world platform to ensure it has a greater say in regulating the flow of online information, Chehade told ET an interview.

“… India since Nehru’s time has been a country that very aptly helped people find the middle ground. Now is the time for India to play that role in this digital economy, to show the world that not everything is 0 or 1, black or white,” he said.

ICANN manages the Domain Name System (DNS), which helps organise the Internet with the allotment of domain names such as .com, .org and .net. It is in the middle of an exercise that will transfer control of Internet governance from the US government to a multistakeholder model.

The deadline for the new model is September this year, and if India doesn’t become part of the dialogue now, it could lose out on the opportunity to have a greater say in the way the Internet is governed worldwid . So far, talks have been hindered due to a lack of consensus among different ministries involved in the process, and little involvement from civil society.

The Ministry of External Affairs, Department of Telecommunications and the Department of Electronics and Information Technology have had divergent views on issues of Internet governance, but industry experts and activists believe its high time India makes its stand clear at global platforms.

“If that foundation (of the Internet) starts cracking under political weight, under any other kind of intrusive … or badly managed care, the impact will be huge. There are issues of security, scalability and fairness that are significant,” said Chehade.

He said ICANN had been on a “pause mode” in its conversations with India as it went through a change of government last year. Now is the right time for India to take a stand as things start shaping up within the new government, he said. “It is important that India engages now – not in a year, not in two years. If India takes that bull by the horn now, India will have a big say.” In the digital world, where everything is getting “uberised”, it is important that government interests do not overlook the need to provide public interest and security, and it is imperative that India takes a clear stand on its position on Internet governance. “Indian stakeholders should have a national platform to also engage with each other,” he added.

It is important also to engage businesses that are increasingly going digital, as well as the civil society, in the discussions, Chehade said. ICANN is in talks with industry associations such as Nasscom and Ficci, in addition to reaching out to business leaders such as Tata Consultancy ServicesBSE -1.44 %, and wants to take the dialogue to civil society.ICANN is also working towards a more inclusive model with the use of local language domains in the geographies that it operates in. In 2009, ICANN cleared the use of non-Latin languages at the topmost level. As a result, India launched its .bharat domain in the Devanagari script last year. Chehade said giving users the option of being able to type in their own language was empowering. “Making the domain name system diverse is very powerful, and in fact some linguists are telling me that some languages that are dying are coming back because of the Internet.”

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