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December 03, 2012

Controversial UN Conference Begins in Dubai on Internet's Future

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

Just as a UN organization begins a major conference on a possible regulation of the Internet, Google (News - Alert) has come out with a statement to “keep the Internet free and open.”

The UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is holding a conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from Dec. 3-14, where governments may vote on changes to an existing treaty than has been in force since the 1980s.

The conference may take up proposals that would allow governments to censor speech or block Internet access, critics claim. But the Internet is open, and many want to see it remain that way.

“This openness is why the Internet creates so much value today,” Google’s Vint Cerf, who is a company vice president and chief Internet evangelist, said in a recent blog post. “Because it is borderless and belongs to everyone, it has brought unprecedented freedoms to billions of people worldwide: the freedom to create and innovate, to organize and influence, to speak and be heard.”

Also, Google is sponsoring an online petition for members of the public who want to support a free and open Internet.

On the other hand, Hamadoun I. Touré, the ITU’s Secretary-General, has just released his own commentary on the conference. He said the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) “has the crucial task of reviewing the International Telecommunication Regulations.”

“Contrary to some of the sensationalist claims in the press, WCIT-12 is definitively not about taking control of the Internet, especially in terms of the management of the Internet’s critical resources, such as names and addresses,” he said. “Also WCIT-12 is not in any way about restricting people’s freedom of expression or freedom of speech.”

Nations in the Islamic world and China are among those governments that currently restrict Internet offerings, TMCnet reported.

“WCIT-12 is about laying down the principles to ensure global connectivity – not global Internet governance,” he added.

Topics to be discussed are: lowering costs related to mobile roaming; preventing fraud; stopping misuse of telephone numbering; consumer issues; and extending Internet to those who do not have access, such as the disabled.

Energy efficiency with broadband, investment in networks, services and applications, and innovation are additional topics on the docket for the event.

The head of the ITU also rejects claims that the process lacks transparency. ITU members have control over the release of documents to the public, he said.

“I firmly believe that WCIT-12 will create the right conditions for a ‘broadband miracle,’ and will set us on the road to the knowledge society of tomorrow,” Touré said.

Members of the ITU include government regulators from 193 countries, and some of their proposals are generating concern.

"There have been proposals that have suggested that the ITU should enter the internet governance business," Terry Kramer, U.S. ambassador to WCIT-12, was quoted by The BBC. “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.

Another proposal would force popular websites, such as YouTube (News - Alert), to pay new fee for delivering their Web content across networks, according to The Hill. The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association wants websites, such as Google or Facebook (News - Alert), to pay fees to network operators globally. 

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Braden Becker

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