U.N. vs. The People: Who Should Rule The Internet?

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U.N. vs. The People: Who Should Rule The Internet?

The International Telecommunications (ITU), an agency of the United Nations responsible for ensuring the growth and sustainable development of information and telecommunications network, globally organizes the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai.

The conference will be attended by 192 member states and 535 sector members to review and update the existing International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), a treaty established during the 1988 World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference (WATTC-88). It was designed to facilitate the global interconnection and inter-operability of telecommunications traffic across all borders.

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The ITR is important because it sets rules for traffic flows between telecommunication network operators, quality of international services, sufficiency of facilities, international routing, charging, accounting and billing between operators, avoidance of harm to networks and services, health and safety, and many other issues.

The ITU implements the ITR, which was not modified since its development in 1988. During the upcoming WCIT, the members of the ITU are expected to introduce the inclusion of the Internet in the ITR, and make decisions regarding the future of the international internet and telecommunications regulations. Many are concerned that some of the ITU members would revive their proposal to expand the authority of the ITU and change the existing Internet governance structure. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible in governing the Internet under a multi-stakeholder process.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is one of the companies against the proposal of some governments to transfer control of internet governance to ITU. Some organizations are questioning the transparency of the conference because access to preliminary reports and proposed changes to the ITR are limited to the ITU members.

WCITLeaks, a website dedicated to bringing transparency about the conference published a document from Russia regarding its recommendations for the Internet. Russia recommended that member states shall have equal rights to manage the Internet, including the allotment, assignment, reclamation of Internet numbering, naming, addressing, and identification resources, and to support for the operation and development of basic Internet infrastructure.” In addition, Russia also suggested that the member states shall have the sovereign right to establish and implement public policy, including international policy, on matters of Internet governance, and to regulate the national Internet segment…”

On the other hand, the United States noted the changes in the global communications sector and expressed “the changes can be addressed and accommodated with limited revisions to the ITRs.” In addition, the United States emphasized, “it will not support proposals that would increase the exercise of control over the Internet governance or content,” and it will oppose efforts to broaden the scope of ITRs to empower any censorship of content, or impede the free flow of information and ideas.”

The United States pointed out that he multi-stakeholder institutions, incorporating society, and civil society had been effective in their functions in maintaining the vibrancy of the Internet and positive impact to individuals and society.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s 27 member states agreed to block proposals giving ITU more control over the Internet. Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of European Parliament said, “Some international telecommunications regulations reform proposals being presented by the ITU member states would negatively impact the Internet, its architecture, operations, content & security, business relations, Internet governance, and free flow of information online.”

Technology companies, such as Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) joined as charter members of Internet Association, a lobbying group dedicated to influencing policy and assert their positions in the development of regulations. The Internet Association will make sure that the technology companies are well represented in the development of policies and regulations related to the internet such as the issue on SOPA/PIPA, and the fight to keep the Internet free from governments and ITU control.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) had been vocal against the ITU control of the internet. The search engine giant launched the  Take Action website to campaign for a free and open internet. Google pointed out. “The ITU is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet.”

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