US resists control of internet passing to UN agency

Dr Hamadoun Toure The UN's Dr Toure says any change to governance of the internet must be supported by all countries

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The US has confirmed it would resist efforts to put the internet under the control of the United Nations.

At present several non-profit US bodies oversee the net's technical specifications and domain name system.

They operate at arms-length from the US government but officially under the remit of its Department of Commerce.

There has been speculation that other nations will push for a change later this year, but they cannot force the US to comply.

The US has set out its position in documents filed with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - the UN agency responsible for encouraging the development of communications technologies.

The ITU is hosting a conference in December in Dubai to which representatives from 178 nations have been invited to review the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR).

The ITR is a 1988 treaty which set out rules for how traffic should flow between different telecom networks, and how to calculate charges for traffic exchanged between carriers in different countries.

The rise of the internet and mobile devices has led to calls for it to be revised, but countries are expected to disagree over the changes needed.

The US's ambassador to the conference, Terry Kramer, outlined his worries in a statement published by the country's Department of State.

"The US is concerned that proposals by some other governments could lead to greater regulatory burdens being placed on the international telecom sector, or perhaps even extended to the internet sector," he wrote.

President Vladimir Putin Russia's President supports the idea of giving the ITU greater "control" over the internet

"The United States also believes that existing multi-stakeholder institutions, incorporating industry and civil society, have functioned effectively and will continue to ensure the health and growth of the internet and all its benefits."

Leaked documents

The ITU does not publish submissions by each country - leaving it up to the individual states to decide which material to release. But a site called has posted proposals leaked to it.

They include a submission from Russia suggesting the ITU could become responsible for allocating at least some of the internet's addresses as well as the "determination of the necessary requirements".

At present US-based Icann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) co-ordinates the codes and numbering systems, deciding which new internet address endings should be allowed as an alternative to .com. It then leaves it to ISPs (internet service providers) to assign individual addresses.

President Vladimir Putin has signalled Russia's final submission could go further. In 2011 he said he was keen to discuss "establishing international control over the internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union".

The Russia Today news service has since reported that China and India had backed this stance.

No votes

But the ITU has made it clear that any changes to the treaty must have unanimous support, and it would block members trying to put any matter to a vote.

"We never vote because voting means winners and losers and you can't afford that," Dr Hamadoun Toure, the ITU's secretary-general told the BBC.

Dubai skyline The ITU conference will take place in Dubai from 3 to 12 December

"Whatever one single country does not accept will not pass."

He acknowledged that some countries were unhappy with the way Icann had looked after the internet address system.

"Some people are saying the governments are not consulted enough," he said.

But he played down the idea that there would be a serious effort to seize control of its functions and pass them to the ITU.

"Has anybody suggested to take responsibility from Icann? No, it's never been done. I truly believe there is a complementarity involved between our work - we can work together."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    I really have no idea how the internet works, nor what these proposed changes would actually mean. I presume however, that like Syria, this is simply another front in the ongoing Cold War between the US and the USSR...ahem...Russia. Whichever solution keeps the free flow of information as open as possible - that's the one i support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    95.Dr Bob Matthews
    "Part of the US is controlled by neocon born again christians who have an unhealthy say on how science is taught, and you still trust the US?"

    Yet there are plenty of forums out there criticising the US in every way imaginable. Are you suggesting they would be better off handing control over to the likes of China, Russia and perhaps Saudi Arabia?

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Actually, as someone who basically lives on the Internet, I would like to assert my right as one of its citizens to democratically elect a ruler of the Internet.

    Ideally a cute kitty cat with his paw on a computer mouse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    The mistake here is in the notion of control. Those bodies in the US are not government bodies. They are more experts in the field who suggest ideas and methods for improving the "mechanical" operation of the internet. One analogy from what is suggested by the writing here is that British Standards (BS kite mark?) control all factory production in the UK. They don't they create working standards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Maybe if the UK put more effort into maintaining british control of its industries instead of selling them off to the highest bidder they would be in a better off! Who can blame the USA for wanting to hold onto their assets. Just like the Japanese, Chinese, French, Italians, Koreans, Germans etc...

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    At the moment, if they decide to, the U.S. can shut down the world's Satellite navigation system (and doesn't like Europe launching its own rival system), and can probably severely interfere with the internet's operation. A somewhat biased tv reporting network can be offset to a degree by checking facts on the net. Too much power in one set of hands methinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    If Russia and Putin want control to pass to a UN agency of any kind be VERY aware. Better the US "devil" we know

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Can't say i blame em, the UN are having a vote about how crap the UN are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I have lots of criticism of the world wide net. There is now so much danger and triviality on it I think it needs controlling. At the same time I cannot think of anything worse that the US relinquishing control to a load of jobsworths at the UN.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Before that bastion of corruption India gets anywhere near having the slightest influence on the net it should show some willingess to tackle the spam and other invasions of privacy emanating from there

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    "The UN is entirely fit for its purpose"

    I take issue with this. I agree wrt anti-conflict effect (China/Russia veto, irrespective of right/wrong, counters western military empirism)

    I take issue with remit encroachment (gun laws/env. planning)

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    if Putin is for it then anyone who believes in personal freedom of expression and international human rights should be against it. The US has a chequered history to say the least in international politics but here i stand with them. The UN is a terribly agency for this as it is so riven by partisan national political agendas. Russia & China have shown they do not respect freedom of expression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    The internet today is what to fifteenth century people Gutenberg's printing press was. People today are better informed of what is happening around them than ever before and the politicians don't like it.
    Allowing people to have access to information so they can make an informed choice is an anathema to governments.
    They would everyone to use it only for shopping and fill in your tax return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    “Each country should have a representative and their vote should be weighted by the population they represent.”

    Why? What would they even vote on? Once you've declared that the Internet should never be regulated (except in x situation), the last thing you want is an International Parliament chivvying away at that just to justify its continued existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Better the devil you know would be my assessment. I dislike one country controlling the net, but the UN's track record on most things is so abysmal that I would not wish to entrust the net to them. Nothing would get done in 1000years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    even if this were possible - if the UN did as great a job with the net as they do with everything else god help us all

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    ICANN does a good job of keeping things neutral. I fear that if government's had more of a direct input then we would see more and more restrictions on it.

    The worst case would be that international conflicts would split the internet into multiple networks instead of 1 huge one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    The idea of "governance" and "control" of the internet sounds scary, and very against the free uncontrolled ethos. Who are these people? As someone who is currently following a course in Internet history, I think there are big mistakes in the language and concepts described here, and the advisers of the "important" people speaking don't understand what they are talking about!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    A caveat: I don't understand the technology, and I don't know the extent to which the internet can be 'controlled'.

    But I would still rather this power (whether real of merely implied) remained where it is, rather than with some UN committee which could consist of diplomats from Zimbabwe/Saudi Arabia/Belarus/other states committed to opposing the free-exchange of ideas and information.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    117. PCServices “Each country should have a representative and their vote should be weighted by the population they represent.”

    So China should have 19.16% control, India should have 17.21% control etc.


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