Regulating the Internet is a dream of autocratic governments and international organizations alike. This week and next, Internet governance will be the hot topic of the World Conference on International Telecommunications.
The conference began on December 3 in Dubai and is hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a U.N. organization. The conference is experiencing tension from the outset between those who support Internet freedom and those who believe that the ITU should be the Internet’s global governing body.
The event, which hosts 193 countries, marks “the first time [the ITU] has overseen a major overhaul of telecommunication regulations since 1988.” The 12-day conference and its nearly 1,500 delegates—including representatives from national governments, industry experts, and civil society advocates—is virtually split into two groups.
One group is comprised of those who want to see the private California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) limited in its global powers. (ICANN’s main function is to issue domain names.) Countries of this mindset are expected to advocate for ITU to take over global Internet governance.
The opposing group—which includes the U.S., the European Union, Canada, and firms such as Google—oppose the new proposed ITU Internet regulation, saying it would inevitably threaten an open and globally connected Internet. Terry Kramer, head of the U.S.delegation to the conference, has said that the proposals that the ITU should enter the Internet governance business “fundamentally violate everything we believe in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we’re going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature.”
The U.S. and EU are up against proposals such as that submitted by Russia, which argues that member states should have “equal rights to manage the Internet”—a devastating move toward more censorship if accepted. The Internet has become a powerful tool for individual expression in open and even closed societies. That advance should be protected.