January 3, 2013
An official statement by Terry Kramer sealed the deal, and the U.S. ambassador had this to say to those in attendance at the World Conference on International Telecommunications: “It is with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it is not able to sign the agreement in the current form.”
The proposed ITU treaty revisions included many deeply troubling limitations to the Internet. If passed, the self-contained global network we know and love would become, essentially, answerable to the United Nations.
Hence, this is a big deal for the world. The U.S. and its allies drew a line in the sand, and this bold move has brought the entire summit to a screeching halt. For those who need a little refresher course, let’s look at what exactly the ITU is, who’s fighting back, and what all this means for the future of the Web.
The ITU Conference: What’s Going On
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is one part of the United Nations. Its just wrapped up a meeting hosted in Dubai, and almost 2,000 delegates from all over the globe were in attendance. The core goal of the meeting was to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs). This treaty has been around since the 1980s, and according to a May 2012 Vanity Fair article, “The sprawling document, which governs telephone, television, and radio networks, may be extended to cover the Internet, raising questions about who should control it, and how.”
That grim forecast played out just as predicted in Dubai. A few countries offered up proposals that would allow the UN sweeping new power to regulate the Internet. However, the United States and its allies fiercely opposed such a plan. In fact, U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer has been speaking out publicly against the inclusion of an Internet provision in the treaty even before the conference began.
According to Kramer in a recent briefing, “[The] U.S. cannot sign revised telecommunications regulations in their current form.” He went onto note, “[The] ITR should be a high-level document, and the scope of treaty does not extend to the Internet.” [Source: u-s-announces-will-not-sign-itu-treaty-period-7000008769/”>ZDNet.com]
Kramer also pointed out, the “world community is at a crossroads of its collective view of the Internet. … [The] US will continue to uphold and advance the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. … The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefits during these past 24 years – all without UN regulation.”
The U.S. and its allies essentially have taken the stance that the private sector and the government-free Internet at large have a say in this matter as well, and it’s not the UN’s place to dabble with the architecture of the Web.
The Future of the Free and Open Internet
Governments were not the only ones opposing the proposed ITU treaty revisions. Internet companies went to bat to fight the proposal as well, and Google was of course the most vocal (and influential) of the bunch.
Anyone remember Google’s very public protest against the SOPA/ PIPA bills earlier this year? The search giant is the ultimate champion of a free and open Internet. Yes, Google’s motives may stem from self-interest (and money), but it is nevertheless impressive to see a private company fight so adamantly for freedom. G even set up a special page on its own domain to inform the public about the dangers of the proposed revisions to the existing treaty:
Google’s rallying cry was perhaps an influential factor in the decision of the US and its allies to oppose the signing. According to Google, the proposed changes to the ITU treaty had the potential to increase censorship and threaten innovation as we know it on the Web. In fact, some of the suggested proposals would have even permitted oppressive governments to censor legitimate speech or, even worse, allow them to cut off Internet access entirely.
Google pointed out that other proposals involved requiring services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay brand new “tolls” simply to reach people across national borders.
The worst part about all of this was the secrecy with which the talks took place. The treaty and proposals were all kept very hush-hush, and we the people did not get a vote. Luckily, the U.S. and its allies stepped up and did the right thing. For now, the free and open Internet is safe. For now.
This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet – expect plenty more wars like this one to play out more frequently as the years wear on. It’s up to the citizens of the world to make their voices heard to protect this beautiful virtual society of ours, the one we’ve all worked so hard to build together.
Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.