Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Who regulates the internet - the $100bn question

Hamadoun Touré is secretary-general of the ITU

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has always prided itself on being one of the most pragmatic organisations of the United Nations. Engineers, after all, speak a similar language, regardless where they come from. Even during the cold war they managed to overcome their differences and negotiate the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR), a binding global treaty that even today governs telecommunications between countries.
But the internet seems to be an even more divisive than cold-war ideology. The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, where the ITU met to renegotiate the ITR, ended in failure in the early hours of December 14th. After a majority of countries approved the new treaty, Terry Kramer, the head of the American delegation, announced that his country is “not able to sign the document in its current form.” Shortly thereafter, at least a dozen countries—including Britain, Sweden and Japan—signalled that they would not support the new treaty either. Of the 144 countries which had the right to sign the new treaty in Dubai, only 89 have done so.
America’s willingness to stand up for the internet should be welcomed. But it has to be said that in doing so it also defended its interests: no other country benefits as much from the status quo in the online world.
The main issue was to what extent the internet should feature in the treaty. America and its allies wanted to keep it from being so much as mentioned—mainly out of fear that any reference to it whatsoever would embolden governments to censor the internet and meddle with its infrastructure. For some time a compromise among the more the 600 delegates, who were confined to an oppressive convention hall, seemed possible: the binding ITR would indeed hardly make any mention of the internet, but China, Russia and many Arab countries would get a non-binding resolution on the internet (with the awkward title “To foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet”).

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(The Economist)
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