At Techdirt, Nick Masnick recounts some of the wonderful things the International Telecommunications Union would like to “help” regarding that pesky “internet” thing:
We’ve been talking about the ITU’s upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) for a while now, and it’s no longer “upcoming.” Earlier today, the week and a half session kicked off in Dubai with plenty of expected controversy. The US, the EU and now Australia have all come out strongly against the ITU’s efforts to undermine the existing internet setup to favor authoritarian countries or state-controlled (or formerly state-controlled) telcos who want money for internet things they had nothing to do with. The BBC article above has a pretty good rundown of some of the scarier proposals being pitched behind closed doors at WCIT. Having the US, EU and Australia against these things is good, but the ITU works on a one-vote-per-country system, and plenty of other countries see this as a way to exert more control over the internet, in part to divert funds from elsewhere into their own coffers.
Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU, keeps trying to claim that this is all about increasing internet access, but that’s difficult to square with reality:
“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.”
Of course, internet access has already been spreading to the far corners of the planet without any “help” from the ITU. Over two billion people are already online, representing about a third of the planet. And, yes, spreading that access further is a good goal, but the ITU is not the player to do it. The reason that the internet has been so successful and has already spread as far as it has, as fast as it has, is that it hasn’t been controlled by a bureaucratic government body in which only other governments could vote. Instead, it was built as an open interoperable system that anyone could help build out. It was built in a bottom up manner, mainly by engineers, not bureaucrats. Changing that now makes very little sense.
Canada is also on the record as being against the expansion of the ITU’s role.
Canada will look to prevent governments from taking more power over the Internet when governments sit down for 12 days of negotiations on the future of the Internet next week, but the government didn’t say Thursday where it stands on a contentious proposal that could see users pay more for online content.
Canada’s position going into the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) mirrors a number of Western allies in opposing having governments control how the Internet functions, leaving it to the current mix of public and private sector actors, according to documents released to Postmedia News under access to information laws. That stance is in contrast to proposals from some of the 193 members of the International Telecommunications Union, such as Russia, that want greater control over the Internet — more so than they already have in some cases — including more powers to track user identities online.
The meeting in Dubai will determine whether the ITU, an arm of the United Nations, will receive broad regulatory powers to set rules of road in cyberspace. The potential to centralize control over the Internet into the hands of governments has some users and hacktivists concerned that freedoms online would be crushed should a new binding international treaty change the status quo for how telecommunications companies interact across borders.