World Conference On International Telecommunications Draws Criticism
November 22, 2012

Google Warns UN Treaty Could End Free And Open Internet

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An upcoming United Nations conference threatens the "free and open internet,” Google warned this week, saying some countries will use the meeting as an opportunity to shift control of the Internet´s technical specifications and domain name system from US-based organizations to international bodies.

“Not all governments support the free and open Internet,” the Internet search giant wrote on its Take Action site, where it is asking web users to add their name to an online petition supporting its position.

“There is a growing backlash on Internet freedom. Forty-two countries filter and censor content. In just the last two years, governments have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression,” Google said.

Government representatives are set to agree to a new information and communications treaty during the World Conference on International Telecommunications in December in Dubai, although the UN has said any changes would require a broad consensus.

"The [UN agency] International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is bringing together regulators from around the world to renegotiate a decades-old communications treaty," Google said.

"Some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech - or even allow them to cut off Internet access.”

"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."

Google said it is concerned that "only governments have a voice at the ITU," rather than companies or others groups with a direct interest in a free Internet.

However, the ITU has said a new treaty is needed due to the growth of the Internet and the soaring adoption of mobile phones. The current treaty was adopted in 1998.

The new treaty would also encourage "the free flow of information around the world,” and would promote “affordable and equitable access for all and laying the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth,” the agency said.

The ITU's secretary general, Dr. Hamadoun Toure, said he will work to ensure all decisions have unanimous support.

Although the UN agency is not openly disclosing each government's proposals ahead of the conference, a site called Wcitleaks, run by researchers at George Mason University, has revealed some of the details from some proposals.

Most notably, these included a proposal from Russia suggesting that the US should have less control over the Internet.

"Member states shall have equal rights to manage the Internet, including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of Internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources and to support for the operation and development of basic Internet infrastructure," the country wrote in a document submitted last Saturday.

Such a change marks a dramatic shift from the way things currently operate, where such issues are managed by non-profit organizations officially overseen by the US Department of Commerce, but operate at some distance from the US government.

Dr. Toure said the new treaty should be designed to help promote broadband rollout and investment, but added that telecom companies had the "right to a return on [the] investment" needed to avoid congestion.

In addition to Google, other US based tech companies have expressed particular concerns over remarks made by Dr. Toure, who said the conference should attempt to address “the current disconnect between sources of revenue and sources of costs, and to decide upon the most appropriate way to do so".

Gary Shapiro, president of Consumer Electronics Association, said tech firms fear they may be required to pay a fee to send traffic through countries' data networks.

"Many countries are used to getting revenue from telephone calls, and those telephone calls have gone away in favor of various internet-based video services which don't produce revenue for them," Shapiro told BBC News.

"So they are looking to recover it and they are trying to put a charge on incoming Internet access. So if you have a website which is very popular worldwide you would have to pay to get access to them - we think that is wrong.”

"We think the value of the Internet is that it is available to everyone for free without international barriers."

Dr. Toure has suggested that he would try to avoid putting any serious disagreements at the conference to a majority vote.

"We never vote because voting means winners and losers and you can't afford that," he told the BBC News in July.

"Whatever one single country does not accept will not pass."

Terry Kramer, the US representative to the December conference, has already indicated he will not support efforts to put the Internet under UN control, saying the existing set up had "functioned effectively and will continue to ensure the health and growth of the Internet".