August 6, 2012

U.S. Prepares To Fight For Control Of ITU, Internet

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Ahead of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)'s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai this December, the U.S. is bracing for a call to revise internet treaties to spread control to nations other than the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to support ITU, unanimously voting (414-0) that the "Internet doesn't need new international regulations," according to a report by PC World.

The issue is that the this year's WCIT is calling for a rewriting of the treaty-level International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). The ITRs govern the arrangements for exchanging international telecommunications trafficking among countries. It was originally revised in 1988, and has remained unchanged since its original drafts 24 years ago.

A need for changes to the treaty-level arrangements that the ITRs operates under is not under question. In the past 20 years the internet has seen great changes, and moved to new platforms including mobile phones and tablets, connected TVs and other devices.

Other countries, including Russia, China and India have submitted proposals, which BBC News reported. ITU typically does not publish submissions by each country, in order to let individual governments regulate the internet. However, a wiki site that reports on the ITU, published leaked documents submitted by Russia, as well as documents submitted by other countries including the United States.

In addition to documents submitted to the ITU, the United States Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs published a fact sheet on its website explaining what the U.S. submitted in its proposals to World Telecom Conference.

The U.S. proposal discusses several points.

  • Minimal changes to the preamble of the ITRs
  • Alignment of the definitions in the ITRs with those in the ITU Constitution and Convention, including no change to the definitions of telecommunications and international telecommunications service
  • Maintaining the voluntary nature of compliance with ITU-T Recommendations
  • Continuing to apply the ITRs only to recognized operating agencies or RoAs; i.e., the ITRs' scope should not be expanded to address other operating agencies that are not involved in the provision of authorized or licensed international telecommunications services to the public
  • Revisions of Article 6 to affirm the role played by market competition and commercially negotiated agreements for exchanging the international telecommunications traffic

While the internet is governed by a non-profit U.S. body separate from the government, it still falls under the Department of Commerce. One concern the U.S. organization and government have in opening governance of the internet to a more international body is censorship.

"We will not support any effort to broaden the scope of the ITRs to facilitate any censorship of content or blocking the free flow of information and ideas," said Ambassador Terry Kramer, Head of the Delegation for the World Conference on International Telecommunications. "The United States also believes that the existing multi-stakeholder institutions, incorporating industry and civil society, have functioned effectively and will continue to ensure the health and growth of the internet and all of its benefits."

There is a fear that some countries will look to place more surveillance of internet users, saying measures are in place to fight spam or fraud.