UN internet regulation treaty talks begin in Dubai

Dr Hamadoun Toure The ITU's Dr Toure says his organisation does not need to take over "governance" of the internet

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A UN agency is trying to calm fears that the internet could be damaged by a conference it is hosting.

Government regulators from 193 countries are in Dubai to revise a wide-ranging communications treaty.

Google has warned the event threatened the "open internet", while the EU said the current system worked, adding: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But the agency said action was needed to ensure investment in infrastructure to help more people access the net.

"The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely [the] rich world's privilege, " said Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN's International Telecommunications Union, ahead of the meeting.

"ITU wants to change that."

Internet governance

The ITU traces its roots back to 1865, pre-dating the United Nations. Back then the focus was on telegrams, but over ensuing decades governments have extended its remit to other communications technologies.

It helped develop the standards that made sure different countries' telephone networks could talk to each other, and continues to allocate global radio spectrum and communication satellite orbits.

The current event - the World Conference on International Telecommunications (Wcit) - marks the first time it has overseen a major overhaul of telecommunication regulations since 1988.

Wcit key facts

Regulators and other delegates have until 14 December to agree which proposals to adopt.

More than 900 changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations have been put forward.

The ITU highlights proposals to block spam messages, cut mobile roaming fees and prioritise emergency calls as some of the event's key topics.

There have been accusations of "secrecy" because the ITU had left it to individual countries to publish proposals rather than release them itself.

Two sites - Wcitleaks and .nxt - have gathered together related documents from a variety of sources but many are still unpublished.

The resulting treaty will become part of international law, however the ITU itself recognises that there is no legal mechanism to force countries to comply.

The ITU says there is a need to reflect the "dramatically different" technologies that have become commonplace over the past 24 years.

But the US has said some of the proposals being put forward by other countries are "alarming".

"There have been proposals that have suggested that the ITU should enter the internet governance business," said Terry Kramer, the US's ambassador to Wcit, last week.

"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 in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we're going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature."

He added that he was specifically concerned by a proposal by Russia which said member states should have "equal rights to manage the internet" - a move he suggested would open the door to more censorship.

However - as a recent editorial in the Moscow Times pointed out - Russia has already been able to introduce a "black list" of banned sites without needing an international treaty.

Dubai skyline Regulators have been given a fortnight in Dubai to reach consensus over the regulations

The ITU's leader is also playing down suggestions that Russian demands will see him gain powers currently wielded by US-based bodies such as the internet name regulator Icann.

"There is no need for the ITU to take over the internet governance," said Dr Toure following Mr Kramer's comments.

Pay to stream

One of the other concerns raised is that the conference could result in popular websites having to pay a fee to send data along telecom operators' networks.

The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (Etno) - which represents companies such as Orange, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom - has been lobbying governments to introduce what it calls a "quality based" model.

This would see firms face charges if they wanted to ensure streamed video and other quality-critical content download without the risk of problems such as jerky images.

Overseeing the internet

No one organisation is "in charge" of the internet, but the following groups help ensure it continues to function:

Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)

Charged with producing technical documents to influence the way people design, use and manage the net.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann)

Defines policies for how the domain name and IP (internet protocol) address number systems should run to ensure the net's system of unique identifiers remains stable and secure.

Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (Iana)

Assigns net address endings (generic top-level domain names), and coordinates the allocation of IP numbers. It currently functions as a department of Icann.

Internet Society (Isoc)

Lobbies governments to ensure the internet's technical standards are open and non-proprietary, so that anyone who uses an application on it in a certain way has the same experience. It also promotes freedom of expression.

Internet Architecture Board (IAB)

Oversees the process used to create internet standards and considers complaints about the way they are executed.

Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

An UN-created forum in which governments, businesses, universities and other organisations with a stake in the internet can share dialogue.

Etno says a new business model is needed to provide service providers with the "incentive to invest in network infrastructure".

A leaked proposal by Cameroon which talks of network operators deserving "full payment" has been interpreted by some as evidence that it is sympathetic to the idea.

Mr Kramer has suggested that "a variety of nations in the Arab states" also supported the idea.

However, the US and EU are against it which should theoretically stop the proposal in its tracks.

The ITU has repeatedly said that there must be common ground, rather than just a majority view, before changes are introduced to the treaty.

"Voting in our jargon means winners and losers, and we cannot afford that," Dr Toure told the BBC.

Rejecting regulation

Such assurances have failed to satisfy everyone.

The EU's digital agenda commissioner, Neelie Kroes, has called into question why the treaty needs to refer to the net.

"The internet works, it doesn't need to be regulated by ITR treaty," she tweeted.

Vint Cerf - the computer scientist who co-designed some of the internet's core underlying protocols and who now acts as Google's chief internet evangelist - has been even more vocal, penning a series of op-ed columns.

"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 wrote for CNN.

Vint Cerf "Father of the internet" Vint Cerf claims the "free and open net is under threat"

Google itself has also run an "open internet" petition alongside the claim: "Only governments have a voice at the ITU... engineers, companies, and people that build and use the web have no vote."

However, the ITU has pointed out that Google has a chance to put its views forward as part of the US's delegation to the conference.

"They are here, and they're telling everyone that it's a closed society," said Dr Toure when asked about the firm's campaign.

"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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    New world order, here we come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Once again Private companies want to use Publicly funded and built infrastructure to turn themsevles a fast buck!

    Make no mistake about it folks, internet companies make money thanks to YOUR taxes.

    Public Investment for Private profits. No where have I heard that before?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    The internet doesn't belong to the EU,UN or any goverment,it belongs to the people who use it,this is all about goverments trying to accert control over the people,they need to keep out and stick to administration duties in their various countries not trying to control the population

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Nice to know that when millions of people in the world live without decent water supplies, heat or education the UN worries about something that does not concern them. I though the aim of the UN was to deliver peace and stability not tell people what they can or cannot access (as long as its legal).

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Ah.. that bastion of free speech Dubai, what an appropriate forum. It's a great place to avoid the input of the unwashed masses. They should hold talks for ACTA SOPA PIPA and TPP there. (behind closed doors of course, we don't want the public to know what is being discussed)
    TOR and other proxies are great services to prevent those who seek to control information from

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I fear something bad will come out of this by stealthy means.

    They mention a fee to ensure services are delivered properly. This will be next "people are against the idea of a multi-tiered Internet so we'll scrap that idea. How about mandatory registration of their website and its purpose so we deliver their traffic properly, for free..."

    File sharing and anti-government websites can't apply...

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Free. I can't but help think of the Finnish 9yr old whose laptop was seized for 'piracy' & her father fined 300 euros, even though the song she downloaded was in fact available from the artist for free elsewhere and her father bought the cd the day after the download was done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    the un want to rule the world and if they can't do it through the global warming scam then they will do it through this quango and then the CO² tax after they have blocked all discenting voices on the web

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Frankly, if they are anything like the rest of the UN, they'll simply spend the next 10 years just "discussing" this, in order to justify their own existence (and expensive salaries), before deciding to begin again, as the internet will have left them behind. Again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Perhaps they could enforce a rule that all tweets contain a disclaimer stating something to the effect that all tweets are meaningless gossip and should not be taken seriously by anybody nor reported on main-stream media as having any news value whatsoever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    64. MaGioZal
    "In fact, the ultimate control of what we know as “internet” is in the country where it was created and designed, the United States (ICANN). And I don’t think it’s bad, since they’re under the 1st Amendment…"

    Yes, obviously US/ICANN is the lesser evil (in this matter of overall Internet control), at least for now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    92 Fed Up "The internet is good when used sensibly'

    There is 'the rub', sensibly is a subjective term and means different things to different people. In the UK, holding hands with your girlfriend in a restaurant is ok, while in the UAE it would be offensive behaviour.
    It is not illegal to be gay in the UK but it certainly is in Malaysia.

    Now resolve those differences on the internet....

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Censorship does nothing but harm the average user, the people who have the technical knowhow will always find ways around censorship.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Wikipedia say Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one's opinions and ideas. Who is this “ONE’S”? do we real want to know who is this ONE’S ?
    For example do you know user dumindaam in BBC web site is? Do you know whether I am using someone else account? (already dead).Do you what happen to my account when I die? Are this valid question in context of freedom of speech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    A 'free' internet used to exist but it doesn't exist now. All governments want to control the net in some way/their way. Even the US, which trumpets about 'democracy' and 'opportunities for individuals' exerts its own censorship. One person's free speech is another's offense. There is no global consensus on what is offensive. China hates Facebook as a 'subversive' website and blocks it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The Internet is good when used sensibly, however, there are those who abuse the power of the Internet. In the right hands it is fine, however, with the mentality of the few it does pose as our worst enemy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    So, how do we keep the politicians' grubby little paws off the Internet? Because if we don't, we'll lose it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I don't understand all the issues but freedom for the ordinary person is a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The ITU exists - and has always existed - to control and regulate the technical aspect of communications, not the political aspect of international comms. In its attempts to do so, it is acting way outside its remit. So, does the 'Net need a 'political overseer'? No: but a lot of governments of all types would like one to be appointed: if you control knowledge, you control your people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    "Playing Devils Advocate here - how can you guarantee that each countries laws are abided by if there is the same internet globally?"

    On a physical level the Broadband you get in London is not the same as the Broadband you get in Herefordshire or Africa.

    And on a data level the Internet is not the same either. My Google Adwords ads in London are not the same as the ones I have in Barcelona.


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