Sibal for casting the Net wide - ‘We are wedded to freedom of expression’

The Hindu

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We are wedded to freedom of expression’

The Internet is the most ‘inclusive, transformative force’ ever discovered in the civilised world, which has done away with ‘borders and sovereignty,’ and India is committed to unfettered growth of the medium.

Minister for Communication and Information Technology Kapil Sibal made this point at the Big Tent Activate Summit here hosted by Google on Thursday to discuss the impact of the Internet on economy, politics, culture and society in the country.

Google has been organising such events to debate issues related to the Internet and society around the world. The event was attended by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger.

In the backdrop of concerns that the government had increasingly sought to regulate online content, the Minister said, “We are wedded to the freedom of expression… Internet governance is an oxymoron. You cannot govern the net. This is an evolving platform, and we do not know how it will look in 2023. There are rules of the game, but these rules cannot be imposed from the top. It needs to emerge from the net itself.”

He said the Internet was necessary for India, and India, with its population, was necessary for the internet. “It is the most powerful medium to bring equity between states, between states and citizens, and between communities,” he noted.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt gestures as he addresses the Big Tent Activate Summit in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: Kamal Narang

Mr. Sibal laid out three prerequisites for the growth of the medium. He said, “The first is state policy — to create an enabling framework to enthuse people to move to the net, to allow them to talk to each other without restrictions.” The second was enhancing connectivity through networks in the form of fibre optics and wireless for data to reach people. “The third is accessibility to these networks through devices. Making 3G devices accessible and affordable will give voice to the voiceless,” he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s adviser on public information infrastructure and innovations Sam Pitroda spoke of ‘democratisation of information.’ “The way we work, do business, entertain, govern, bank are all changing,” he said.

Mr. Pitroda highlighted the importance of the National Knowledge Network; the plan to connect 2,50,000 gram panchayats; creation of new platforms, including the Unique Identification Authority, as some of initiatives that would ‘redesign the government.’

But he admitted there were problems. “There is resistance within the government in opening up data sets, and we are not very good at collaboration across agencies.”

On an optimistic note, he concluded, “In three years, India will have the most robust, most advanced, public information infrastructure known to anyone in the world.”

Eric Schmidt’s favourites

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian Editor, asked Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to pick his tech-favourites at the Big Tent Activate Summit.

Kindle or BlackBerry?

I am a BlackBerry user. I like the keyboard, though BlackBerry is sorely in trouble.

Facebook or Twitter?

Twitter has a more distinct model because of the celebrity and publishing model. Facebook is in a transition, and I don’t know enough about what they are transitioning to. I will tell you, if you have a billion users, you will make money.

Amazon or Apple?

I was on the board of Apple and so have a soft spot for it. They are both going to do well. Apple will continue to be a tremendous technological innovator and build beautiful products, regardless of the market share of the product … Amazon has well passed any expectation of its ability to change its distribution or marketing. It is an important Google partner.

iPad Mini or iPad?

iPad. I have both ... Mini is too small.

India or China?

In the short-term, China gets all the attention. But maths favours India. And I am a mathematician.

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