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UAE to host historic debate on Web’s future

Internet governance tops agenda at Dubai-based UN telecoms summit

UAE to host historic debate on Web’s future
Most ITU members favour a unified, binding policy framework for Internet governance.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is to convene the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai next week, from 3 to14 December 2012, and already the agenda is expected to be overshadowed by calls for the UN ICT watchdog to take a more active roll in Internet governance.

The argument has been characterised as drawing a line between the US and other Western governments on one side and authoritarian regimes and developing nations in search of economic growth on the other.

Reuters reported that anger from human-rights and free-speech groups has led to the US Congress and European Parliament passing resolutions calling for the decentralised policing system to remain in place. Reuters also reported that while many of the details of individual nations' proposals were secret, some leaked drafts show Russia to be advocating universal identification of Internet users while some telcos want to charge content providers for Web presence.

The WCIT aims to update a longstanding treaty that covers how telcos in different nations interact. Most of the 193 member nations in the ITU are in favour of a UN overseer and if a majority voices approval for the new proposals then it could lead to internal wrangling in member countries over whether to continue ratifying the ITU treaty.

"These persistent attempts are just evidence that this breed of dinosaurs, with their pea-sized brains, hasn't figured out that they are dead yet, because the signal hasn't traveled up their long necks," Google's Vint Cerf told Reuters, in an uncharacteristic outburst.

Google last week used social media to urge Internet users to pledge their support for the status quo. Similar movements scuttled American copyright legislation and a global anti-piracy treaty earlier this year.

ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré told Reuters that in practice no new measures would be adopted without nearly unanimous acceptance from member nations.

"Voting means winners and losers. We can't afford that in the ITU," said Touré, a former satellite engineer from Mali who was educated in Russia.

However, he also considered the ITU up to the challenge of policing the global Internet, despite its comparatively light role of managing global telcos.

"Because you own the roads, you don't own the cars and especially not the goods they are transporting. But when you buy a car you don't buy the road," Touré said. "You need to know the number of cars and their size and weight so you can build the bridges and set the right number of lanes. You need light-touch regulation to set down a few traffic lights."

"The decisions are going to be by consensus," said US delegation chief Terry Kramer, predicting anti-anonymity measures such as IP tracing would not be implemented because of objections from the US and others.

"We're a strong voice, given a lot of the heritage," Kramer said, referring to the US invention and development of the Internet. "A lot of European markets are very similar, and a lot of Asian counties are supportive, except China."

"From Dubai, what I personally expect is to see some kind of principles saying cyberspace is a global phenomenon and it can only have global responses," Touré said. "I just intend to put down some key principles there that will lay the seeds for something in the future."

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