WCIT: Is It About The Internet Or Not?

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The debates are getting more heated with the December World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) in Dubai coming closer. Google today (21 November) launched one of its big campaigns to rally support against what it says is an attempt by some countries to “further regulate the internet” and potentially limit free speech through censorship.

The UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is not transparent, only gives governments a vote, and is “the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet,” Google drummed on its “Take Action” webpage.

One of the proposals Google demands to take action against is a new accounting regime based on a “sender party pays” model and a quality of service concept. The proposal originally from the European Telecom and Network Operators Association (ETNO) has already been rejected by many governments and regulators. The EU regulatory body BEREC recently emphatically wrote that this would be in opposition to public welfare. The BEREC text is here.

Given such opposition, the adoption of such regimes seems unlikely. Some civil society groups have started to argue that in order to protect internet neutrality against a market or the big players in the market, it has to be made a standing principle, perhaps in the WCIT deliberations.

On the other hand, despite speeches by ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré making assurances that WCIT is not about internet governance, the most recent proposal tabled by Russia is about this very subject.

The carefully worded Russian WCIT contribution asks for a new chapter on internet in the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which are to be revised at the WCIT. It addresses the longstanding complaints by governments like Russia, China and the Arab States – and even some European voices – that all governments should be equal with regard to the assigning of names and numbers and the operation and development of basic infrastructure.

It also touches on some more controversial issues like a definition of “national Internet segments” and a kind of a responsibility of nation states for ensuring the “integrity, reliable operation and security of the national Internet segment, direct relations for the carrying of Internet traffic and the basic Internet infrastructure.“ For the full text of the Russian proposal see WCITleaks, here [pdf].

Could the Russian proposal which does not forget to hail the multi-stakeholder model in one graph really somehow link global internet policy closer to the ITU? The answer might only be given in Dubai.

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