Latest World Economic Forum report: Bringing benefits of the digital economy to all

 |   Microsoft Corporate Blogs

Expanding our vibrant digital economy and empowering everyone to realize its benefits is an important goal – and one that requires collaboration between many players. That’s why we have participated in the World Economic Forum’s Digital Infrastructure and Applications 2020+ initiative for the past two years. We’ve worked together with industry partners – including network operators, equipment vendors and other application providers – to identify common goals and productive actions for industry and governments to take to ensure a healthy, growing digital ecosystem.

People are by far the most important participant in the digital ecosystem. We commend the focus in the Forum’s recently released report, “Expanding Participation and Boosting Growth: The Infrastructure Needs of the Digital Economy,” on the needs of users to securely access and transport their own data with appropriate privacy protections. People need to trust that their data stored in the cloud will remain accessible to them and to those they designate, while not being disclosed to others without their permission or knowledge.

We agree. That’s why Microsoft became the first major cloud provider to adopt the world’s first international standard for cloud privacy, ISO/IEC 27018, in February. Compliance with this standard ensures that enterprise customers are in control of their data – for example, that their directions are being followed for how personally identifiable information is processed, they know where their data are stored, their data won’t be used for advertising, and that unless prohibited by law, they will be informed of law enforcement requests for disclosure of personally identifiable data. Microsoft is also active in the development of the ISO/IEC 19941 standard to address cloud interoperability and data portability, which benefits customers by assuring them they won’t be locked into any single cloud vendor.   Standards like these are key to addressing the “sources of friction in transporting, using and accessing data” referenced in the Forum’s report as barriers to user adoption of networked, cloud-based applications and services.

Uncertainties in cross-border legal regimes create another important source of friction. For example, a U.S. federal court has ordered us to disclose customer data that is stored in our Dublin data center. Microsoft has strong support from a large number of technology and media companies, academics and civil society groups in appealing this ruling. We do not believe it follows the established legal procedure for cross-border situations. The U.S. legal regime now in place dates from the 1980s and could not have anticipated today’s cloud-based architectures. The problem is not unique to the United States: Laws around the world are also woefully outdated. That’s why we are part of a broad coalition of companies and associations in the technology, telecommunications, manufacturing and cloud computing sectors advocating for passage of common-sense updates to laws to better balance the protection of public safety and personal privacy. These issues need international solutions if we are to protect the global nature of the Internet while respecting the legitimate national sovereignty of governments. One thing is clear: Antiquated laws will neither keep the public safe nor provide strong privacy protections.

Microsoft also welcomes the report’s focus on future users, in particular the nearly 5 billion people, mainly in developing countries and emerging markets, who have not yet had the opportunity to experience the Internet and cloud-based services. As the report recognizes, innovative approaches need to be pursued to reach users in areas that are challenging to serve. Starting over a decade ago, Microsoft Research pioneered technologies that today make it possible to deliver Internet access using license-exempt wireless spectrum, including so-called “TV white space” – channels that are not being used by local broadcasters but are part of the vast swath of spectrum that regulators dedicated to over-the-air TV in the age of vacuum tubes. Today’s technologies are smart enough to enable more efficient utilization of the spectrum, using “Dynamic Spectrum Access” techniques that can find the local empty chunks and use them for data connections on a license-exempt basis, without causing interference to TV broadcasts or other licensed uses.

Since 2012, we’ve been partnering with governments, local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and development agencies to bring Internet access to people who don’t have it in at least 13 communities around the world, including six projects in Africa as part of our 4Afrika initiative, and five projects in Asia. Typically, these projects extend the facilities of a local ISP to reach users through a combination of TV white space and Wi-Fi equipment. While each project is unique, common threads include significant positive impacts on education, health care and economic opportunity. None of this would have been possible without the flexibility that regulators in these countries provided to send Internet access over otherwise-unused airwaves. We are encouraged that regulators in the U.S., Singapore, Canada and the U.K. have made this flexibility permanent, and look forward to users in more countries reaping these benefits too.

The Forum’s report captures a range of useful insights on the changing nature of the ecosystem and significant ways for participants to collaborate to accelerate progress and innovation, spur investment, and connect those not yet connected. We look forward to continued collaboration to bring the benefits of our digital economy to all.

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