Every now and then, an exciting or controversial issue triggers a flood of online discourse. For our Noise Filter feature, the WHIR pans the raging rivers of opinion for shining nuggets of useful commentary.
Next week, representatives from more than 190 governments will meet in Dubai to update a telecommunications treaty that has not been touched since 1988.
The UN World Conference on International Telecommunications starts on Monday, and Internet service providers are worried that the decisions that come out of the summit will have a negative impact on the openness of the Internet.
Leaked proposals by some member states have alarmed Internet businesses and some governments, including the US. Grahame Lynch of Commsday says Russia is believed to be one of the strongest proponents of government control over the Internet.
Most observers finger Russia as the source of the most contentious proposals, one of which would seek to establish ITU and national governmental control over Internet regulation. Proposed revisions would also legalize government deep packet inspection of private communications carried over IP networks as well as provide for government regulation of Internet routing between countries.
Other proposed revisions, backed by African & Arab nations and European telcos, would see the re-introduction of the old settlement regime for Internet transit, based on a “sender pays” model.
The sender pays model would impact major content deliverers, including US companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Netflix. In July, eSP discussed the proposal and how it would impact end-users and communications service providers.
In this WCIT agenda is a proposal by European Telecommunications Network Operators to impose a sender tax on large-volume, over-the-top content providers. Yes, the telecom lobbying group craves usage-linked fees from content providers…Under this proposal, operators would also be allowed to charge “enhanced” fees for “value-added network services” such as “specified quality” (guaranteeing you get the bandwidth as advertised) and “reliability” (guaranteeing the broadband actually works).
One of the ITU’s most vocal opponents from the private sector is Google, who launched a campaign to raise awareness about what is at stake next week. It says the ITU is the wrong place to make decisions about the Internet, since governments are the only ones with a voice, and “engineers, companies and people that build and use the web have no vote.” The ITU disagrees with Google’s claims regarding its objectives in a blog post.
Since the ITU Constitution prevails over the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), nothing in the ITRs has the power to result in a reduction of freedom to communicate.
ITU’s mandate in the Internet is laid down by the Plenipotentiary Conference Resolutions which were agreed to by consensus in 2010. Nothing can be agreed at WCIT-12 to change this mandate.
Google has also incorrectly stated, on its official website, that governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct the Internet’s future.
The so-called closed-door meeting is however inclusive of 193 national delegations which are participating in WCIT-12. In addition, ITU is pleased to note that private sector companies and civil society organizations have registered to attend WCIT-12 in large numbers.
Andrew McLaughlin, former deputy chief technology officer in President Barack Obama’s administration, goes so far as to suggest that the ITU be dismantled, and that the US government should push for this to happen, as PC World reports.
The ITU’s structure, giving all countries one vote on some issues, allows tiny countries to have as big a voice on telecom and Internet issues as large countries such as the U.S. and China, McLaughlin added. And repressive regimes use the ITU and will use WCIT to push for censorship and repression on the Internet, he said…
The organization also fosters cozy relationships between regulators and large telecoms, he said. “The past and future role of the ITU has traditionally been to foster corruption, monopoly, to facilitate surveillance and censorship,” he said.
David Snead, i2Coalition co-founder and lawyer, wrote in a recent WHIR blog post on how an Internet controlled by a regulatory framework would restrict growth and innovation.
I fear that the undermining of the multi-stakeholder process will lead to a significantly more balkanized Internet. We’re currently witnessing a land grab between national governments, and non-governmental entities like the ITU. What underlies each of these entities’ efforts is not an altruistic effort to ensure that the Internet remains open, fair and free from unnecessary regulation; rather, it reflects a desire to supplant the contractual underpinnings of the current Internet with a traditional regulatory framework. Unlike the negotiated compromises that have characterized the development of the Internet so far, an Internet governed by a traditional regulatory framework will likely become much more subject to national boundaries, less open to business ideas that challenge traditional models, and less technically innovative and more standards based. Each of those changes will significantly restrict the ability of Internet businesses to generate the type of growth seen in the last two decades.
Talk back: What concerns you most about the leaked proposals? Do you think that the ITU is an appropriate way to govern the Internet? Let us know in a comment.