Policy

ITU Internet Resolution Draws Fire

Computer, Web Firms Angered by Perceived Internet Power Grab in Dubai 12/13/2012 7:56 AM Eastern
The Computer & Communications Industry Association was sounding the alarm over what it said was a vote at the ITU WCIT 12 conference in Dubai on having the UN agency take a more active role in governing the Internet.

"Under no circumstances should the stewards of the Internet be forced to hand over the keys to Internet governance mechanisms to a body where the short-sighted political considerations of morally questionable regimes hold more weight than concerns of the very engineers and programmers who have built and maintained the Internet since its birth," said Black in a statement. "The controversial circumstances that gave rise to yesterday's Internet power grab should be illuminating. Giving this body control over the future of greatest input to the world's economy should be a non-starter."

CCIA members include Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft.

ITU representatives categorically denied Thursday that there had been any vote on what they said was only a resolution to foster development of the Internet. According to ITU spokesman Paul Conneally, the group merely "took the temperature" in the room and adopted the resolution into a white paper, but there will still need to be two more readings and a blue and pink paper before it is fully approved. 

Conneally said the resolution was nonbinding at any rate, and not part of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) that are being updated in the treaty conference scheduled to end Friday.

Still unresolved in the treaties is expanding the definition of who the treaty covers from recognized operating agencies to operating agencies. The U.S. wants to preserve "recognized" in the definition so that it remains applicable to network operators, rather than Internet content providers like Google and Yahoo, which could be brought under the treaty's ambit via the expanded definition.

Also unresolved are sender pays, nondiscriminatory access, and security issues, or still most of the ones that implicate the Internet and thus trouble the U.S. and a number of allies at the conference on the issue, including Canada.

Conneally said there had been progress on security, where the term had been expanded to "security and robustness" of networks, which seemed to have gained more support.

He also pointed to consensus on transparency in roaming costs, a global emergency number -- they will decide between 911 and 112 over the next couple of years -- accessibility and energy efficiency.

"While denying that this was a vote, the resolution text is a deeply troubling, as it expands the ITU's role with regards to Internet governance," said Rey Ramsey, president of TechNet, in a statement Thursday morning. TechNet represents many of the same companies.

"The ITU is government-centric, lacks transparency, excludes key stakeholders including civil society, and fails to promote a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance that was embraced by the world's governments at the 2005 World Summit on Information Society, and has been a pillar of the industry's innovation and growth," he said. "While it is our understanding that the resolutions made at the WCIT are non-binding, the Secretary-General might treat them as binding, which effectively creates a dangerous mandate for the ITU to continue to hold discussions about Internet policy into the future."

Joining the chorus of concern was Shawn Osborne, president of TechAmerica, which includes Dell and Apple.

"The decisions that have taken place in Dubai have the potential to take us down a path towards state-led regulation of the Internet," said Osborne. "If the future governance of the Internet were in the hands of a statutory international body, there is no doubt that more autocratic countries would attempt to undermine the multiple underpinnings that ensure Internet freedom. Allowing the U.N. or any other authority to regulate the Internet makes it subject to the political whims of those actors that may seek to stifle the spread of free speech and clamp down on Internet commerce."

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