International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN agency charged with overseeing global telecommunications regulations, is making efforts to calm fears that the Internet could be trashed by the ongoing World Conference on International Telecommunications (Wcit), a conference it is hosting in Dubai, UAE.
Government telecommunications regulators from 193 countries are currently meeting in Dubai to revise an extensive communications treaty, marking the first time ITU oversees a major overhaul of telecommunication regulations since 1988.
Google is in record for having warned that the conference could threaten Internet freedom. The EU has remarked that the current system worked, commenting: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Google has been running an “open Internet” petition along with the declaration: “Only governments have a voice at the ITU… engineers, companies, and people that build and use the web have no vote.”
In response, the ITU commented that Google deserves the chance to express its views, as it is a part of the US’s delegation to the Wcit.
“They are here, and they’re telling everyone that it’s a closed society,” Dr. Toure said.
“We will challenge them here again to bring their points on the table. The point that they are bringing, which is internet governance, it’s not really a place for discussion [of that] here. Therefore we believe they will find themselves in an environment completely different from what they were expecting.”
The ITU maintained that the step it has taken to organize the conference is necessary to ensure investment in infrastructure, which is projected to enable more people to access the Internet.
Ahead of the meeting, Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU, said: “The brutal truth is that theInternet remains largely [the] rich world’s privilege. ITU wants to change that.”
According to the ITU, the “dramatically different” technologies that have become popular over the last 24 years need to be reflected upon.
The United States is recalled to have stated that the proposals put forward by other countries were alarming.
“There have been proposals that have suggested that the ITU should enter the internet governance business,” said Terry Kramer, US’s ambassador to Wcit.
“There have been active recommendations that there be an invasive approach of governments in managing the internet, in managing the content that goes via the internet, what people are looking at, what they’re saying.
“These fundamentally violate everything that we believe in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we’re going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature.”
He said he was principally concerned about a proposal by Russia, which recommends that member states need to have “equal rights to manage the internet” – a move he suggested would open the door to more censorship.
Russia has however been able to unveil a black list of banned sites without the need to consent to an international treaty, Moscow Times recently reported.
Dr. Toure is also talking down claims that the Russian demands could see him assume powers currently wielded by US-based agencies such as Internet name regulator the Icann.
“There is no need for the ITU to take over the internet governance,” said Dr Toure following Mr Kramer’s comments.
A notable concern raised is that the conference could cause popular websites to pay a fee to send data along telecom operators’ networks.
Some observers have construed a leaked proposal by African countries such as Cameroon, which suggests that network operators deserve full payment for sending data along their network, as proof that it is a “sympathetic to the idea.” Kramer has since said that “a variety of nations in the Arab states” also backed the idea.
The EU and the US are however against the idea, which some observers suggest could theoretically inhibit the proposal.
The ITU has maintained that a common ground must be sought, instead of just a majority idea, before introducing the changes to the treaty.
According to EU’s digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, the reason why the treaty needs to refer to the net should be held in question.
Vint Cerf, an IT specialist renowned for co-designing some of the Internet’s core protocols and who currently acts as Google’s chief Internet evangelist, has been even more expressive writing a series of articles that claim the “free and open net is under threat”
“A state-controlled system of regulation is not only unnecessary, it would almost invariably raise costs and prices and interfere with the rapid and organic growth of the internet we have seen since its commercial emergence in the 1990s,” he said.