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U.S. and Allies Work to Block Increased Internet Regulation
December 10, 2012

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
December 7, 2012

A huge conference hall with projector screens
The main conference room at the WCIT meeting in Dubai

The United States and allies from Europe and the Western Hemisphere are standing firm against proposals that might allow increased government regulation of Internet content and content providers at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) under way in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The main focus of the conference is revision of the 1988 International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), rules adopted before the burgeoning growth in mobile communications and the Internet. The United States and its allies are intent on maintaining the conference focus on how to find “the best ways to accelerate broadband availability globally,” said Ambassador Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation to the conference.

Kramer says the United States and its allies agree that creating a successful environment for continued growth and expansion of these technologies should confine ITR governance to the “recognized operating agencies…[that are] public providers of telecommunications services.” That approach precludes governance over Internet companies that are primarily providers of content.

Speaking to reporters December 6, Kramer said the United States and its allies want to ensure free and open debate and discussion on the Internet. He said some proposals for increased government monitoring of Internet content, made in the name of security, can open a door to censorship.

Government regulation of content would allow bureaucrats to use their own judgments about what’s appropriate, Kramer said. That approach, he added, can result in “suppressing people’s freedoms and rights to express themselves, to share points of view, to access information, et cetera.”

Several governments have withdrawn proposals that caused the most concern prior to the WCIT meetings, including government regulation of content.

Kramer said another matter of importance for the United States and its allies at WCIT is the issue of governance. In most countries, current Internet governance is focused mostly on technical and operability issues, and governments, private sector companies and user organizations are involved in the “multistakeholder approach” of governance. Some proposals are circulating at WCIT for the ITU or some other U.N. body to take on a stronger role in governance. Kramer said the current arrangement provides the greatest potential for innovation and expansion online.

“We see a common alignment about the need for multistakeholder organizations driving a lot of the successes in the market,” Kramer said, “and also the importance and criticality of liberalized markets, liberalized markets where there are competitive alternatives, where there are a variety of providers, providing a variety of alternatives that drives down prices and creates better availability.”

The ITU has built an extensive website for the conference, but hackers successfully crashed the site for a few hours this week, giving some 2,000 delegates a real-world experience in the importance of cybersecurity.

ITU wanted to host a “paperless conference,” in the interest of environmental responsibility. The site features live Web-streamed debates and a massive document cache, including proposed regulation amendments and position papers. The website is the main source of information for delegates to know what’s going on as the conference unfolds.

“The incident blocked civil society, media and other interested parties from following the proceedings,” according to an ITU new release, “and prevented access to the wealth of online information on the ITU’s WCIT home page and newsroom.”

The outage continued for several hours before the site was restored, and the ITU news release said that “some hacker groups” claimed they pulled the stunt. ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré had to point up the irony.

“It is ironic that the very people who claim to be fighting for a free Internet are preventing those around the world trying to follow the event online from getting access,” Touré said in the news release.”Do they believe in one rule for them, and one for everyone else?”

The ITU has a membership of more than 190 governments and 700 private sector organizations. The Dubai meeting continues through December 14.