World Conference on International Telecommunications: Paranoia Meets the Facts

by Jordan Richardson on December 6, 2012

The threat of the United Nations takeover of the Internet has been enough to send more than a few observers into fits, including the US’s House. They recently overwhelmingly passed a Senate resolution that calls for the government to oppose the evil scheme.

“The 193 member countries of the United Nations are gathered to consider whether to apply to the Internet a regulatory regime that the International Telecommunications Union created in the 1980s for old-fashioned telephone service,” Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said on the House floor.

Is that what’s actually going on at this week’s meetings in Dubai? Is a cabal of regulators meeting in darkened, secretive rooms to determine how to take over the Internet via “regulatory regime?”

Indeed, much of the talk over the subject has been clouded with the idea that countries like Iran, Russia and China could have regulatory say over what we “civilized folks” do on the Internet. Letting them have any clout at all is generally seen as a big mistake, but the so-called “UN takeover of the Internet” is just too much, right?

For starters, it has to be acknowledged (again) that this sort of takeover isn’t even really possible.

As The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore reports, “[t]he reaction seems to have left the International Telecommunications Union…somewhat befuddled.” Moore goes on to explain how the ITU attempted to even stream meetings on their website as a way of meeting the well-deserved criticism of their less-than-transparent conduct.

There are 193 countries at the conference and more than 2,000 delegates. The conference will go on over 12 days in Dubai and has an awful lot to do with how to manage global spectrum, how to manage satellite locations and, perhaps most of all, how to encourage development in order to get the resource of the Internet to more people.

Of course, having so many countries and so many delegates means that the ITU and the conference has an awful lot on its plate.

Most of the actual debates centre on definitions. The International Telecommunications Regulations treaty has been out of date since 1988 and needs an upgrade, so that forms the main thrust of the conference. But getting that done means working through the language (and the language barriers) to hammer down terminology that will cover everything from access fees to proposals over security.

In order for the ITU to seize the control that so many are certain it wants, definitions have to change. And while some countries, like Russia, are pushing to change some terminology in the treaty to further accommodate their respective agendas, the altered treaty must be individually ratified by each member state’s national government. Good luck with that.

Companies like Google have been leading the charge to preserve the current terminology, effectively spinning the uphill reality into a nefarious threat exacted not only by the UN but by backwater despots desiring to crush all that is right and good in the world.

But ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré, perhaps with a sigh of frustration, suggests that there’s more important work to be done. “Most people in the world cannot even access the Internet and avail of all its benefits and opportunities,” he said Monday. “It is out of reach…The brutal truth is that the Internet remains largely a rich world privilege. ITU wants to change that.”

For now, the conference delegates “overwhelmingly” supported the importance of freedom of expression and opinion. The ITU has made English transcripts and multilingual webcasts of the meetings available online for those seeking more information.

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