Internet industry seen as winner at global conference in Brazil

SAO PAULO Fri Apr 25, 2014 10:22am IST

People hold a banner protesting against surveillance on the Internet during the NETmundial: Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance in Sao Paulo April 23, 2014. The meeting will be held in Sao Paulo from April 23 to 24 where new global guidelines on Internet governance will be discussed.   REUTERS/Nacho Doce

People hold a banner protesting against surveillance on the Internet during the NETmundial: Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance in Sao Paulo April 23, 2014. The meeting will be held in Sao Paulo from April 23 to 24 where new global guidelines on Internet governance will be discussed.

Credit: Reuters/Nacho Doce

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Big Internet companies were the clear winners at a global conference hosted by Brazil on the future management of the Web where most participants agreed it should remain a self-regulated space free of government intervention.

Convened by President Dilma Rousseff after revelations of U.S. surveillance undermined trust in the Internet, the NETmundial conference concluded that governments, companies, academics, technicians and users should all have a say in where to go next.

That is exactly what companies such as Google or Facebook say is essential to spur innovation, expand the boundaries of the Internet and keep their businesses growing.

"Our focus is on making sure the Net stays free and open," said Ross LaJeunesse, Google's head of international relations.

"The meeting was generally very good because it recognized the power of the multistakeholder approach and talked about human rights and the importance of innovation," he said in an interview on the sidelines of the event.

Companies had voiced concern about governments using the NETmundial meeting to push for regulation and interference that could inhibit investment and ultimately harm Internet users.

NETmundial called for less a U.S.-centric Internet, but it steered clear of granting governments greater control over the net, as Russia and China were pushing for.

"There was a lot of anxiety going into this meeting by all of the groups," said David Gross, a lawyer representing a coalition of companies including Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp and Telefónica SA.

Internet companies fear government intervention could harm their business in fast-growing markets such as Brazil. After revelations the United States had spied on her personal communications, Rousseff tried to force them to store data on Brazilian users in the country. The measure, which was eventually dropped, would have cost the companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The industry is satisfied," said Virgilio Almeida, Brazil's secretary for IT policy who chaired the meeting. "Google and Facebook see this as a very positive debate because it not only involves governments. It’s a debate that includes everyone."

While it is unlikely the two-day conference in Sao Paulo will change the way one-third of the world’s population uses the Internet, industry executives and government officials said they expect it will influence future debate.

The participants of NETmundial will meet again later this year at conferences organized by the Internet Governance Forum and the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union.

"We are hearing from a lot of the participants the notion of building on the momentum that is created here and we strongly agree and support this idea," U.S. Assistant Secretary for Communications Lawrence Strickling said.

Part of that momentum was facilitated by the U.S. government's decision to relax control of ICANN, a California-based non-profit that assigns Internet domains. While mostly symbolic, the move is widely seen as an overdue step toward a globalized administration of the Web.

(Reporting by Esteban Israel; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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