Internet governance under the spotlight

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The battle lines are being drawn over proposals by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which would give national governments more control over the internet.

The ITU yesterday adopted a resolution which it says would end discriminatory access to the internet by banning countries from impeding other member states from accessing public internet sites and using resources.

"Just days away from the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), the adoption of this resolution underlines ITU’s commitment to a free and inclusive information society," says ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré.

"This should send a strong message to the international community about accusations that ITU’s membership wishes to restrict the freedom of speech. Clearly the opposite is true. It is in this spirit – fostering an internet whose benefits are open to all – that I would like to head into WCIT-12."

But, innocuous as this may seem, many are concerned that the proposal, along with others on the table at the meeting, marks the thin end of the wedge, and could herald greater regulation of the internet.

European Commission vice president and commissioner for the digital agenda Neelie Kroes tweeted: "The internet works, it doesn't need to be regulated by ITR treaty. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Google's already said it's worried that proposals to be aired at the meeting could encourage repression. There's one from Russia, for example, calling for member states to have 'equal rights to manage the internet' - which Google believes could legitimize censorship

"Some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech — or even allow them to cut off internet access," it says.

"Other proposals would require services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders. This could limit access to information — particularly in emerging markets."

The WCIT-12 meeting, being held in Dubai, will run for two weeks.