Confusion on Internet future after UN treaty split

Hamadoun Toure (C) addresses a press conference at the WCIT-12 in Dubai on December 14, 2012
Hamadoun Toure (C), secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), addresses a press conference on the final day of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai on December 14, 2012. The freewheeling, unregulated Internet seemed to survive a push for new rules at the UN treaty meeting, but the collapse of talks leaves unanswered questions

The freewheeling, unregulated Internet seemed to survive a push for new rules at a UN treaty meeting, but the collapse of talks leaves unanswered questions about the Web's future.

A total of 89 countries endorsed the on telecom regulations at the UN's gathering in Dubai on Friday, but the United States and dozens of others refused to sign, saying it opened the door to regulating the Internet.

ITU chief Hamadoun Toure insisted that the treaty had nothing to do with the Internet, despite what he called "a non-binding resolution which aims at fostering the development and growth of the Internet."

"This conference was not about the or Internet governance, and indeed there are no provisions on the Internet," the ITU secretary-general told participants at the signing ceremony.

But James Lewis, who follows Internet governance at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said backers of the treaty distorted the facts.

"They were lying," he said. "It was totally about the Internet."

Lewis told AFP the ITU lost credibility because "they swore up and down there wouldn't be a vote, that a decision would be by consensus, and then they took a vote."

The outcome underscored a deep divide between the US and its allies, which seek to keep the Internet open and unregulated, and authoritarian regimes that want to impose controls over online use and content.

Russia, China and have been among countries seeking such changes.

Still, Lewis said the World Conference on International Telecommunication, organized by the ITU in Dubai, failed to wrest control of the Internet addressing system from the global called , the .

US ambassador Terry Kramer, head of the US delegation, attends the WICT-12 in Dubai on December 14, 2012
US ambassador Terry Kramer, head of the US delegation, attends the final day of the World Conference on International Telecommunication (WICT-12) in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on December 14, 2012. The freewheeling, unregulated Internet seemed to survive a push for new rules at a UN treaty meeting, but the collapse of talks leaves unanswered questions about the Web's future.

It remains unclear, said Lewis, whether the treaty can even become effective without a majority of the 193 ITU members endorsing it.

"The ITU has to suspend consensus rules to say this treaty is to take effect, and then it becomes an issue for the lawyers," he said, adding that the matter could end up before the UN Security Council.

US officials, who led opposition to new Internet rules, said the document adopted in Dubai will have little immediate impact.

Countries can exercise control of online activity within their borders, but Washington and others objected to a treaty that would legitimize new Internet controls under UN auspices.

The head of the US delegation, Terry Kramer, walked out of the hall as the signing started after protesting that the treaty was "seeking to insert governmental control over Internet governance."

That position drew praise from lawmakers and activists back home.

House Cybersecurity Caucus co-chairs Jim Langevin and Michael McCaul said the treaty, if implemented, "would result in a significant setback for anyone who believes free expression is a universal right."

Google, another critic of the conference, said that many governments taking part in Dubai proved they wanted increased censorship.

"What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

"We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty and also with the millions of voices who have joined us to support a free and open Web."

Kieren McCarthy, general manager of the Global Internet Business Coalition, called the outcome in Dubai "a humiliating failure" for the UN agency.

"The collapse will come as a severe embarrassment to the ITU," McCarthy said in a blog post. "Efforts to bring its core telecom regulations into the Internet era had exposed the organization to modern realities that it was incapable of dealing with."

Milton Mueller, an Internet governance specialist at Syracuse University, said it's not clear if the new language is a threat to a free Internet.

"While I didn't like the resolution nor did most Internet rights advocates, I doubt if its passage would in itself be able to do much harm," he said.

But Mueller said the diplomatic efforts were complicated by concerns in some countries—mainly with "bad" human rights records—who object to US sanctions that can cut off access to certain Internet services such as those from Google.

"Weird and ironic, in that it is the pro-human rights nations that are using denial of access to Internet services as a form of policy leverage, and the anti-human rights nations that are claiming a universal right of Internet access," Mueller said.

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Dec 15, 2012
The UN's power derives from the respect it can command.

Dec 15, 2012
The UN's power derives from the respect it can command.

In other words there is no power at all.

It's the usual suspects, the USSR, China and various other tinpot regimes they seem to endorse.

To be fair, it's not the Russians living around the big cities that support Poo Tin, it's the people who are generally uneducated in the country side that keeps him in power.

Unfortunately for everyone else, we seem to be heading back to a cold war footing thanks to Poo Tin.

Dec 15, 2012
The once august ITU has beclowned itself. Once again pure politics subverts science and in this case engineering. The ITU's role in setting clear useful international technical standards so engineers of different cultures could build effective universally interoperating networks has been perverted for a socio-political agenda. Yes, the ITU was always somewhat political but in the end the technocrats set the standards. The ideologs now rule.

Dec 15, 2012
... I wouldn't be surprised if bbs's like Fido net from the 80's on the phone lines got popular there again because their government would have a hard time cutting those sites off.

Actually, cutting off phone service wouldn't be much more difficult than Internet access.

When one realizes that much of the Internet traffic uses similar, if not the same physical trunks as voice traffic, all that needs done is to break the trunks and no outside connections are possible. This could be either physical termination of the connections or filtering external country codes at the exchange and no outgoing or incoming calls to the country are possible.

TCP/IP is simply one layer laid upon others: SONET, etc. Those lower layers are capable of handling Internet and voice traffic, intermingled within one physical transport medium such as copper, fiber and microwave. There are very few pure analog communications systems in use today, with the exceptions mostly being POTS to the residence.

Dec 15, 2012
You know these bodies exist only to provide some kind of cohesion amongst the peoples of recognizance toward the understanding of the benefits of applying standard practices (SP's) and operating procedures (SOP's). Over the course of civilized history there are only three units of measurement standards which have their corro-lative equivalents in weights and measures: the cubit, the foot, and the meter, et. al. Detachment from the status quo and hoi poloi is of paramount qualification for getting another career.

Dec 15, 2012
If they even try to regulate the internet, I'll write software to circumvent it.

Dec 15, 2012
If this occurs some one will just make a new method to connect networks and give it to open source. Then some one will sell the hardware that uses the network, they make mega profit from that to build infrastructure then once again we have world wide web 2.0 without governments until they decide to clamp down... then repeat.

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