December 11, 2012
UN Ambassadors Meet In Dubai To Discuss Internet Regulation
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
At the beginning of the month, ambassadors from the United Nations headed to Dubai for the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). This conference has been taking place since December 3 and will continue on till December 14. Here, these ambassadors and representatives to the nations will be discussing the future of the Internet: Who pays for it, how it should be connected, and perhaps most importantly, who should oversee and regulate the Internet as it expands.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the part of the UN which deals with all things communication and information. This group was set up before the UN was created in 1865. Currently, 192 UN member states (as well as the Vatican) are represented in the ITU. The ITU does not currently focus on regulations for the Internet, but depending on what happens at the WCIT, this could change.
During this year´s conference, the ITU will review and update some regulations which haven´t been updated since 1988, before the Internet was as common and ubiquitous as it is today.
During the conference, the ITU will hear from members of the UN to decide if these regulations should be updated to include regulation of the Internet.
This is where some governments and companies become nervous.
The American House and Senate have both agreed that the US should oppose any UN “takeover” of the Internet.
As a large member of the UN, America´s stance against this regulation could have an effect on those smaller countries who don´t want to oppose the USA.
One US Ambassador said early on in the conference that the Internet shouldn´t even be discussed at this conference, saying: "Fundamentally, the conference should not be dealing with the Internet sector,” saying his colleagues are making the move to keep the “Internet out of this conference.”
One of the main proposals being presented during this conference involves setting a “Sender-Pays” model in place.
This Sender-Pays model is similar to some regulations on telephones set in place by the ITU in the 1980s. When a telephone call is placed, the sender is responsible for footing the bill, while the receiver only needs to pick up the phone and answer the call. The Internet, of course, does not work this way as both parties are busy sending and receiving data at the same time. As it is, networks will often “peer” with one another, or communicate with networks of similar size. By doing this, any charges from the sending and receiving are essentially rendered moot in the wash, with each network basically sending and receiving the same amount of data.
If the ITU institutes the same kind of regulation used for telephones, those companies which send out large amounts of data (i.e. Apple, Google, Facebook, YouTube) will be forced to pay more to have their content sent to smaller countries without the same kind of infrastructure. Many fear this could start a domino effect which ends with a breakdown in Net Neutrality and fractured ISPs.
Furthermore, some groups (Such as the hacking collective Anonymous) are upset that only the governments have a say in these matters.
Some of the governments which will be making this decision aren´t as excited about the idea of free speech either.
Russia, for instance, is seeking to take control of their own domain names, which means they can take down any site at any time. Other countries, such as China and North Korea famously censor their Internet and only allow certain types of information to be broadcast through their networks.
Many companies, particularly on the American front, are worried that giving this kind of decisive and regulatory control to an entity in which these governments have this kind of sway could ultimately lead to greater censorship on the Internet.
No matter what is decided at the Dubai conference, it could be a while before any changes take place as each country will be responsible for signing regulations into their national laws.