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An overview of regulatory approaches to ICTs in Asia and thoughts on best practices for the future

Article Index
An overview of regulatory approaches to ICTs in Asia and thoughts on best practices for the future
Themes in regulatory approaches to ICT in certain asian jurisdictions
Key institutions and organizations
Key ICT policies,thrusts, and programs
Key issues shaping the regulatory approach to ICT markets in asia
ICT Regulations and improving access to education
The growth of open source in asia
Encouraging the growth of localized and indigenous digital content
Encouraging the Growth of Localized and Indigenous Digital Content

This section provides an overview of the issues facing developing Asian nations seeking to encourage the migration, availability, and accessibility of local content on the Internet, and suggests policy and regulatory approaches that can accelerate or catalyse this process.

The campaign for more online content could have the following objectives:

  1. To increase awareness of the content by making it easily accessible to a larger audience;
  2. To strengthen local identities;
  3. To reaffirm local identities particularly in the context of a people's diaspora; and
  4. To provide local content creators with an increased revenue source via licencing.

Another interesting motivator is that more local content may increase the penetration rate of ICT in developing nations. That is, people may well decide to access the Web more regularly if they know that the content they have grown up with and strongly identify with, and which is symbolic of their own culture, is available online.

However, increasing local content online faces several challenges. One of these is the ubiquity of English and the resultant gaps in the technology powering the Web. The Internet is no stranger to the laws of supply and demand, and it is those laws that have thus far dictated the major language of the Web - English. Much of the early development and evolution of the Internet took place in the United States, an English-speaking jurisdiction. Moreover, the demand for paid as well as unpaid Web content has been predominantly from an English-speaking audience. In addition, throughout the 1970s to the mid-1980s, the vast demand for information technology hardware and software was from North America and Europe (Japan being the only exception in Asia), which resulted in the vast majority of hardware, firmware, and software being designed with the English speaker and writer in mind.

However, lately the situation has been changing for the better, and while English remains the primary language of the Web, multi-language support has been built into applications powering the Web, content development applications, and browsers (both Internet Explorer and Open Source browsers like Firefox and Opera). These changes have come about again as a consequence of rational economic behaviour. As the multilingual world comes online, the technology they use to communicate, create, collaborate, and interact with must similarly become multilingual. After all they comprise a far larger market than the United States and other English-speaking populations.

Changes at the application and browser levels have come about due to the Unicode Consortium's development and adoption of the Unicode character set, which is capable of assigning unique numbers to up to one million separate characters for a given language or symbol set. Its adoption has resulted in popular Internet browsers having font support for most major world languages. This has also led to the building of hardware that makes it easier to encode in a local language. For instance, a keyboard with the Bhutanese and Tibetan Dzongkha script is now available. The keyboard mapping is based on the Unicode Dzongkha values.

Meanwhile, on the software development front, Microsoft has been publishing and educating developers on building "world ready" applications that will run in the Windows operating system. Microsoft in fact advocates that "world ready" applications running in Windows should be fully Unicode-enabled.

Are these steps enough? Arguably not, since at the end of the day, software and Web developers in developed nations are usually English speakers themselves. Consequently, it is only natural that their tendency would be to focus on developing a user interface that, while translatable into numerous languages, may not necessarily be appropriate to another language or sensitive to other cultural mores and norms.

Therein lies an opportunity for regulators in developing Asian nations to address a need. Arguably, there is an untapped demand for culture, language, and geography-centric user interfaces for various applications. These can layer on top of existing applications and complement the Unicode support that allows the application's original layout and user-viewed instructions to be displayed in a local language. The role of regulators and policymakers is to create an enabling environment for local entities to engage in these processes through a viable business model.

Another challenge that regulators in developing Asian countries need to address is the relatively low Web usage and penetration. A quick review of Internet penetration statistics in developing Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Laos, Mongolia, and Pakistan reveal that Web penetration in developing Asia lags well behind that in North America and Europe. According to International Telecommunications Union statistics, penetration rates in developing Asian nations can be almost non-existent (e.g. 0.2 percent in Bangladesh), very low (e.g. 3.5 percent in India), and low (e.g. 10 percent in China). Contrast this with penetration rates in developed nations like the European Union (51.9 percent), the Republic of Korea (66.1 percent), and the United States (69.4 percent).

As discussed earlier, increasing the ability of people to communicate online more easily in local languages, and giving them the tools with which to put local content online and create it online, may in fact lead to increased Web penetration. But such a policy ought to be implemented alongside policies that aim to encourage the build up of broadband infrastructure and the growth of Internet service providers via innovative licensing and cost sharing methods.

Indeed, there is scope for innovative regulatory strategies to accelerate the process by which local content can get online or be created online. Here we discuss a two-pronged approach that regulators and policymakers can customize and adopt to encourage the growth of local content online. The essence of this approach is that any set of policies aimed at achieving the increased migration of local content online must address the issue of building demand for local content and making it easier for such content to be supplied. The regulatory skill would lie first in deciding the right policies to address each side of the equation, and second in concertedly and effectively implementing such policies.

Demand side policies aim to increase the exposure of the local content. This can be done by increasing awareness of the content, and by making it more easily accessible. The appropriate licencing model plays a key role here. In addition, there is the issue of making local content viewable in other languages. This in turn increases the potential market audience for such content. The other facet of demand is increasing local demand via policies encouraging progressive and sustainable deployment of broadband and high-capacity bandwidth infrastructure. Public-private partnerships and innovative financing models in this context are well worth exploring.

Supply side policies cover policies like building localized user interfaces to layer onto applications (discussed earlier). In addition, there could be policies to encourage ventures that can digitize existing content easily, preferably in a form that is digitally modifiable (think MSWord and not Portable Document Format - PDF). This might be by offering subsidies or better tax rates to businesses engaged in the creation or digitization of local content (i.e. favoured tax rates on revenues from digitizing and creating local content). Additionally, consider encouraging research and development in Open Source applications. Open Source software is gaining increased acceptance, and there is a close to zero entry cost barrier (in terms of development licences) for developers who wish to develop software for Open Source platforms. For that matter, if a locally developed application is good enough, there are a number of cross-over programs that can allow it to run on multiple operating systems (although usability remains an issue). Examples of such cross-over programs are Wine and Cross-Over by Codeweavers.

The licencing model to be adopted is very important because it influences both the demand and supply of content. A balance should be struck between incentivizing increased production and development of original local content (via the promise of adequate economic return) and encouraging demand through a licencing model that is, and is perceived to be, fair to users.

Much content today is protected by rather restrictive copyright protection where even fair use often requires permission from content owners. Add to that the digital rights management (DRM) software that arguably extends protection to content beyond the intended scope of copyright and content starts to look more ring-fenced than was perhaps intended by traditional intellectual property rights regimes that allowed for fair use. Unless demand for content far outstrips supply, this may indeed drive people away from such content. Worse, it may lead people to circumvent DRM schemes and simply try and get content for free. Once others get content for free, those who actually want to use it commercially may also decide to go the free route.

Instead of the traditional copyright and DRM models, policymakers in the developing Asian nations can consider adopting suitably modified versions of the Creative Commons (CC) licencing model. This model differs from the traditional licencing models in the following significant ways:

  1. It is free for anyone to use and customize to suit their needs.
  2. It allows for a greater degree of flexibility in terms of what can be offered to those who wish to use the content noncommercially and those who wish to use it commercially.
  3. It takes what seems to be a more pragmatic approach that is more cognizant of the nature of online use of content.
  4. It allows for a content-owner-friendly approach to customization of licences if required.
  5. It tends to encourage an "open to full view and review" approach to content, with revenue derivation encouraged only for cases of commercial use. In this sense it discourages non-porous DRM.

The main Creative Commons licences9 are as follows:

  1. Attribution Non-commercial No Derivative: The work can be copied and shared as long as the author is identified. Permission is required before any derivative work based on this work is created or any commercial use is made of the work.
  2. Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike: The work can be copied, remixed, tweaked, and built upon non-commercially. All new work based on the original must also carry the same licence. Permission is required for commercial use.
  3. Attribution Non-commercial: This has the same terms as Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike except that derivative works need not be licensed on the same terms as the original work itself.
  4. Attribution No Derivatives: Redistribution of the work is allowed for commercial and non-commercial purposes so long as the work is passed on whole and unchanged with due attribution to the content author.
  5. Attribution Share Alike: This allows remixing, tweaking, and building upon work for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Attribution is required and new works must carry an identical licence, which means that derivative works would also allow commercial use.
  6. Attribution: The only condition is attribution. Any commercial or non-commercial use is allowed.

There are also specialized licences for specific types of content and content owners, as summarized by the following excerpt:

Sampling Licences allow for snippets (not whole work) to be remixed into new works, even commercially. Our Public Domain Dedication lets you free works from copyright completely, and our Founders Copyright lets you do the same, but after 14 or 28 years. Musicians looking to share their work with fans might want to look at the Music Sharing licence. The Developing Nations licence lets you offer less restrictive terms to countries that aren"t considered high income by the World Bank, and finally, for those licensing software, we offer the GNU GPL and GNU LGPL licences. (Creative Commons)

These models can be tweaked to suit the specific circumstances of a developing Asian nation. For instance, works can be offered on Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike plus Developing Nations licence terms, with the Developing Nations terms being offered to commercial users in developing and developed nations so as to reach a larger audience and increase the chances for collaborative derivative works.

One might also consider another strategy as follows: once local content online achieves a healthy level of mainstream acceptance, developing Asian nations may consider coordinating their licencing approaches and collectively offering less restrictive licence terms for local content to developed nation users, in exchange for less restrictive terms for access to content from developed nations.

In global knowledge trade today, licence fees are essentially tariffs and licence terms are the conditions of trade. In essence then, this is nothing more than trade block theory applied to knowledge goods and concrete intellectual property.

In sum, we argue that in the era of knowledge goods and knowledge trade, content is the product and the controllers of content are king. In such a world, it is wholly pertinent for developing Asian nations to consider devising strategies and policies to encourage the proliferation of their own local content online as the Internet is the world's unrivalled distribution network for content. Innovative tools exist for the development of local content online. The art lies in determining what will work for a particular nation in terms of improved demand and supply for local content online, and to then constructively and effectively implement those policies at the national and international level.


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