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Transatlantic Digital Cooperation Will Require Hard Debates

As the global Internet economy evolves and becomes more interconnected, cross-border policy tensions are rising, as is the need to resolve these tensions and conflicts in ways that continue to spur growth and innovation. To that end, I was honored to be a member of the Atlantic Council’s Task Force on Advancing a Transatlantic Digital Agenda. However, I was one of five members who, at the end of the day, could not have my name listed as endorsing the Task Force report.

First, it’s important to recognize the hard work of the commission members and staff and the significant parts of the report that will make a real contribution to better resolving transatlantic digital tensions. The report comes up with a number of creative and useful proposals, such as creating a new US-EU Digital Council, increasing cooperation with regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, lifting foreign investment caps in the telecom sector, and others. And its broad based support for transatlantic data flows and multi-stakeholderism for Internet governance is needed and welcome.

But there were other proposals and language I cannot support. The report’s discussion of net neutrality assumes that the U.S. FCC got it right (which, as we have pointed out, it did not) and that the only reason Europe didn’t embrace the U.S. model was lobbying by telco firms. It favorably points to the EU GSM standards process, implying, in my view mistakenly, that this was a more successful model than the U.S. one. This is important because the current proposal for the EU’s Digital Single Market contains some troubling language suggesting that Europe should develop EU standards for emerging technologies, like the Internet of Things. The report also discusses online copyright enforcement, suggesting that any effort to have ISPs and other intermediaries play a stronger role in stopping access to infringing content is completely inappropriate. To be sure, it is critical to get the balance right between copyright and intermediary freedom, but the report largely ignored the serious problem of digital content theft. And while I understand that getting a joint report approved by participants from both sides of the Atlantic is tough, I would have liked more discussion of how Europe’s general data protection rules represent a major threat to Europe’s ability to thrive in the next IT system of Internet of Things, big data, and machine learning.

Digital economy policy issues are complicated and politically charged. Which is why it is important that efforts like the Atlantic Council’s to bring together players from both sides of the Atlantic are so important. But if we are to make real progress, it is critical that we have vigorous debates on these issues.

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