Internet Governance Forum

Oct. 30th - Nov. 2th, 2006

DRAFT: ICT Standards Statement

The following Statement elaborates on issues related to paragraph 44 of the WSIS Declaration of Principles, which is copied below. The supporters of this Statement believe this emerging issue requires the immediate attention of the IGF.

Paragraph 44: "Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society. There should be particular emphasis on the development and adoption of international standards. The development and use of open, interoperable, non-discriminatory and demand-driven standards that take into account needs of users and consumers is a basic element for the development and greater diffusion of ICTs and more affordable access to them, particularly in developing countries. International standards aim to create an environment where consumers can access services worldwide regardless of underlying technology."

1. We reconfirm the importance of Paragraph 44 of the WSIS Declaration of Principles. ICT Standards provide the technical underpinnings that enable interoperability and thus permit access to and full participation in the Internet. The technical design decisions that are encoded in ICT standards affect almost every aspect of a consumer's experience, capabilities and choices and thus have important implications for public policy.

2. ICT standards govern many crucial network participation "abilities": the ability to access the Internet, to view, edit and share an electronic document, to run a computer program on whatever operating system or hardware platform one might choose, to view an interactive map that provides information on emergency evacuation routes, to send an electronic order form, to upload tax information to a local government, and even to access data from a car's computer programs. These abilities are based on a level of interoperability, and this is what ICT standards are designed to provide.

3. Interoperability means the ability of a computer program to reliably communicate and exchange information with other computer programs and mutually to use the information which has been exchanged. This includes the ability to use, convert, or exchange file formats, protocols, schemas, interface information or conventions, in order to permit the computer program to work with other computer programs and users in all the ways in which they are intended to function. Interoperability leads to substitutability and interchangeability among products. It also permits products to work together in a joint activity ("connectability").

4. ICT standards, although not created by legislatures, states or courts, create regulatory structures that transcend international boundaries, affect numerous public policy issues and impact developing countries and many stakeholders who don't have a voice in their creation, management or adoption.

5. Non-discriminatory and demand-driven global ICT standards are the most efficient and fair method of promoting continued interoperability across the increasingly diverse Internet. Diversity in the Internet is evinced in the number of Internet-connected devices, the breadth of device types, the number of sources and recipients of Internet-delivered information, the level of interface interoperability, and - most importantly - the number of Internet-connected people.

6. In a network, the standards that matter to interoperability are those that define the interfaces between different program and network components: interfaces such as application programming interfaces, protocols, data formats and schemas. Network participants on either "side" of a standard interface can interoperate only because each fully and faithfully implements the same interface. They may vary widely in other aspects, such as quality of service or speed or memory usage, but with regards to the standard interface, they are the same. These interface standards enable participants to collaborate and create something "bigger" than themselves: a global community of networked individuals and groups.

7. As the Internet expands, so does its role as the key communication and collaboration tool in our daily lives and across business practices in all industries. This causes the value of these standard interfaces to increase at an exponential rate.

8. However, the future of the global infrastructure for ICT standards is in jeopardy. The social value of interfaces has increased; so has their business value. Software patents and discriminatory technical "hooks" are being introduced into ICT standards, and they are now being used to manipulate the direction of the network effect and to thwart widespread interoperability of computer programs. In many regards, ICT standards are being privatized, and there has been little public debate on this development. Ultimately, this hurts consumer choice, equitable access, competition and innovation. This negative impact will be particularly harmful to developing countries.

9. ICT standards are also increasingly fragmented, leading to costly inefficiencies that will also cause disproportionate harm to developing economies. Recently, this fragmentation has frequently been the result of trade battles over IPR.

10. Widespread, effective and efficient interoperability is required for the continued success of the Internet and the Information Society as well as for addressing the Digital Divide. However, as the complexity, breadth and scope of the Internet increases, it's not well understood how to best plan for and promote this interoperability. We believe that ICT standards will be pivotal to this goal and that the health of the global ICT standards ecosystem must be restored.

11. True open standards enable greater diffusion of technology and more equitable and affordable access to ICT. The failing health of the ICT standards ecosystem thus disproportionately hurts developing countries, which can ill afford the constraints on consumer choice and competition that are the results of this failure.

12. We believe that these issues are not being adequately addressed and that they are outside the scope of any existing body. Thus, we believe that they firmly fit within the mandate of the IGF, and we ask that the IGF work with the appropriate groups, including consumer groups and civil society, governments, the private sector, standards organizations, and intergovernmental organizations, to ensure that the global ICT standards ecosystem regains its health and its standards remain inclusive, non-discriminatory and supportive of interoperability.

13. We believe that the IGF should commit to promoting a definition of open ICT standards that supports economic and social development goals. We suggest that key components of this definition include that their development and management process be collaborative and democratic, that licenses to use intellectual property that might be infringed in implementation are irrevocable and free of royalties or other intellectual property constraints, that proprietary "hooks" that create technical or economic barriers (such as through normative references) are not permitted, and that multiple, competing implementations that can be verified against the standard are available. We also suggest that the IGF consider what incentives could be provided for standards organizations to meet these guidelines.

14. The creation and adoption of non-proprietary, non-discriminatory hardware and software interfaces should be encouraged through a combination of policy, legislation, regulation and procurement policies in addition to voluntary standards development actions.

15. We believe that government procurement policies should not require compatibility with proprietary technologies or proprietary ICT standards. Further, public government services and data should be based on open ICT standards.

16. We believe that ICT standards require significantly more consumer/user input in order to remain truly demand- and public interest-driven, and we request that the IGF consider what policies and recommendations could help achieve this goal.

17. We believe that the IGF should address the problem of a lack of a common methodology for assessing, evaluating and planning for interoperability. IGF should actively consider establishing a mechanism to verify that applications conform to Internet interface and protocol standards.

18. We believe that the IGF should advocate for limitations and exceptions to intellectual property and infringement laws that would promote entirely open interfaces and interoperability. For example, national patent laws could follow many national copyright laws, which permit reverse engineering of a software interface in specific circumstances in which interoperability is required. Another example would be permitting infringement in the context of developing and implementing a standard. This discussion is particularly timely in view of intellectual property law harmonization efforts.

19. We believe that IGF attention to the challenges to openness and interoperability as outlined above will help to re-establish the value of standards and consumer choice, which will in turn increase participation and innovation in the Information Society.