The Fate Of The Free Internet Goes Up For Vote In December

    November 30, 2012

The fate of the free Internet will be decided at a private meeting in Dubai on December 3. UN member nations will argue for or against a plan that would give control of the Internet to the ITU, instead of the current NGO multiple stakeholder approach. Some within the US government have already voiced their opposition, and now the EU is joining them.

Wired UK reports that the European Parliament has issued a resolution against a potential takeover of the Web by the ITU. The resolution contains many of the same arguments that people like Vint Cerf have said about the proposed UN regulation.

Should the UN and its member nations be given absolute authority over the core framework of the Internet? Let us know in the comments.

There’s a lot of good stuff in the EP resolution, and other nations, including the US, would be wise to wied these arguments during negotiations next month:

1. Calls on the Council and the Commission to ensure that any changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations are compatible with the EU acquis and further the Union’s objective of, and interest in, advancing the internet as a truly public place, where human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and assembly, are respected and the observance of free market principles, net neutrality and entrepreneurship are ensured;

2. Regrets the lack of transparency and inclusiveness surrounding the negotiations for WCIT‑12, given that the outcomes of this meeting could substantially affect the public interest;

3. Believes that the ITU, or any other single, centralised international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either internet governance or internet traffic flows;

4. Stresses that some of the ITR reform proposals would negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations and governance, as well as the free flow of information online;

5. Believes that, as a consequence of some of the proposals presented, the ITU itself could become the ruling power over aspects of the internet, which could end the present bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model; expresses concern that, if adopted, these proposals may seriously affect the development of, and access to, online services for end users, as well as the digital economy as a whole; believes that internet governance and related regulatory issues should continue to be defined at a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder level;

6. Is concerned that the ITU reform proposals include the establishment of new profit mechanisms that could seriously threaten the open and competitive nature of the internet, driving up prices, hampering innovation and limiting access; recalls that the internet should remain free and open;

7. Supports any proposals to maintain the current scope of the ITRs and the current mandate of the ITU; opposes any proposals that would extend the scope to areas such as the internet, including domain name space, IP address allocation, the routing of internet-based traffic and content-related issues;

8. Calls on the Member States to prevent any changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations which would be harmful to the openness of the internet, net neutrality, the end-to-end principle, universal service obligations, and the participatory governance entrusted to multiple actors such as governments, supranational institutions, non-governmental organisations, large and small businesses, the technological community and internet users and consumers at large;

9. Calls on the Council to coordinate the negotiation of the revision of the ITRs on behalf of the European Union, on the basis of inclusively gathered input from multiple stakeholders, through a strategy that primarily aims at ensuring and preserving the openness of the internet, and at protecting the rights and freedoms of internet users online;

10. Recalls the importance of safeguarding a robust best-effort internet, fostering innovation and freedom of expression, ensuring competition and avoiding a new digital divide;

11. Stresses that the ITRs should state that the ITU recommendations are non-binding documents which promote best practices

There’s a lot here, but the central fears of an ITU takeover are two-fold. For one, the proposed Internet tax system would greatly affect how companies do business around the world. A leaked document said that some nations are pushing for a global Internet tax. In effect, nations would have the power to tax companies like Google in return for being allowed to operate in those nations. One can already see the potential abuse this system would bring.

The other is far more serious, and one of the reasons why nations like Iran and China are pushing so hard for this. It would allow individual nations to control how the Internet operates in their country even more thus leading to even more censorship. Iran is already developing its own private Internet, but a change to the ITU would make that internationally endorsed.

Do you think nations should have the right to charge an Internet tax to companies like Google? Let us know in the comments.

As you can see, there’s a lot at stake here and many are concerned about the potential impact the ITU meeting will have on the Web. Companies like Google are already beginning protest movements and asking for people to submit their stories on why a free and open Internet is important to them.

Following Google’s lead, Mozilla has also started its own campaign to help organize protests against an ITU takeover of the Internet. The non-profit put forth a compelling reason to reject any potential takeover of the Web:

Whether the Internet is regulated by governmental treaties via the ITU and to what extent, is a vitally critical question. In fact it is so critical it can’t be done behind closed doors. The Internet as we know it today is just too fundamental to our lives to leave it to governments to decide its fate.

Mozilla’s mission is to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web. We do this first and foremost by building great products. But, as any Mozillian knows — the story is much more than the latest release or coolest hack. The Internet depends critically on a human network of communities and relationships, and Mozilla builds movements that strengthen the Web.

ACTA and SOPA were expected to pass with little to no resistance, but the Internet proved those assumptions wrong. The ITU would be wise to heed the voice of the Internet, and not go forward without taking its users into account. If not, it’s only a matter of time before it’s deemed irrelevant alongside everything else that refuses to acknowledge the Internet as a living, breathing entity that can’t be contained.

Are you concerned over a potential ITU takeover of the Web? Are people worried for nothing? Let us know in the comments.