Russia et al withdraw Internet governance demands

ITU conference stalemate abates; reasons for U-turn unclear

Tags: International Telecommunication UnionUnited Arab Emirates
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Russia et al withdraw Internet governance demands Some ITU members wanted tighter control over national Internets.
By  Stephen McBride Published  December 11, 2012

A Russia-led consortium of International Telecommunications Union (ITU) members that includes the UAE and Saudi Arabia, has withdrawn its controversial proposals for sweeping changes to Internet governance that would have given governments tighter control over Web content and more involvement in the process of Internet addressing.

A stalemate has built over several days at the Dubai-hosted World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) 2012, which ends on Friday, over calls for an Internet that would be overseen by the ITU. The US argued that the UN-affiliated body should adhere to its traditional mandate of facilitating international co-operation on telecoms infrastructure, such as phone lines and wireless networks. It expressed disappointment in what it saw as a diversion from the purpose of the conference, which was to revise a 1988 treaty establishing a framework of international rules for telecommunications systems.

"Member States shall have the sovereign right to establish and implement public policy, including international policy, on matters of Internet governance, and to regulate the national Internet segment, as well as the activities within their territory of operating agencies providing Internet access or carrying Internet traffic," read the leaked proposal document.

Signatories to the proposals were China, Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt, but Egypt tried to distance itself from the initiative through statements made on Twitter.

Internet naming and addressing should also fall under the control of individual goverments, the consortium said. Currently these powers lie with the US-based Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

An ITU spokesperson told TechWeekEurope that the Russian proposals were "off the table", but could not comment on the reasons behind the withdrawal.

While a vote among ITU members was expected to place the US and allies such as Canada, Japan and Australia in the minority the outcome would have been non-binding and nations would have had the option to not sign up to the amendments or to refuse to sign the treaty. Both the European Union and the US House of Representatives have already voted to reject an ITU-governed Internet and many organisations, including Google, have launched campaigns advocating a free and open Internet.

A prevailing criticism has been the lack of input in the conference from non-governmental sources, such as Internet companies, engineers and software specialists. The Internet Society (Isoc) said that it was important that ordinary users' views be heard.

"Ultimately, one of the greatest benefits of the Internet is its potential to ensure that all citizens of the world have the same opportunities to participate in public life," a blog post from Isoc read.

"As we celebrate Human Rights Day on December 10, let's seize this moment to remember the opportunities and challenges raised by the Internet for the ability of all stakeholders to have their voices heard."

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