It depends on who you’re talking to. Some industry big shots aren’t very concerned about the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) making a grab to control the internet. Others, with perhaps an ulterior agenda, are seeking to ratchet up fear over the meeting, saying it will “change the internet as we know it.” Still others warn that even though the meeting won’t dramatically affect the way the internet works, there are plenty of countries that want more international control over the net and they need to be headed off before their ideas pick up steam.
That sounds about right. To hear IT experts talk about this meeting, it’s just a typical bureaucratic confab where little is decided and nothing gets done.
In a consensus-driven process, member states of the International Telecommunications Union, a branch of the U.N., will negotiate a new treaty on international telecommunication regulations. It’s only one vote per country, and, by definition, that will weed out extreme proposals, experts say.
At the end of the day, the U.S. doesn’t have to sign the treaty — it’s all voluntary.
So why all the hysteria about the Dubai confab?
“The idea that all 193 ITU member states want the Secretariat to run the Internet is ludicrous and impossible technically, legally and politically,” said Paul Conneally, an ITU spokesman, who cautions that the ITU is driven by what the member countries want. “It’s not something we are equipped to do or mandated to do, and it’s technically impossible.”
There is no mission creep going on here, Conneally adds.
“We have plenty on our plate without looking to take on this mythical task of regulating the Internet,” Conneally said.
Thus speaketh the ITU; “Pay no attention to those men behind the curtain. They’re just harmless technocrats who aren’t interested in running the internet.”
The truth is a little more alarming. Fact: China, Russia, and Brazil, among other nations, wish to see the internet severely censored. Fact: Muslim countries want all this dissing the prophet and “blaspheming” on the internet stopped. Fact: The way that other countries set up their own internet could severely restrict access for the rest of us.
“The ability of the Internet to grow is due largely to the flexibility of the multi-stakeholder approach that governs the Internet today,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). Government intervention would not only harm the Web but “endanger the global economy and freedom on a much larger scale,” he said.
You don’t need conspiracy theories about the UN trying to take over the internet for there to be a real threat to net freedom — perhaps not today, but 5 or 10 years down the road:
As Danielle Coffey, a government affairs executive at the Telecommunications Industry Association put it: “You can kill a document, but you can’t kill an idea.”
Web and telecom companies and public officials have serious concerns about the political and economic motives of other countries when it comes to the Internet. The Dubai conference presents an opportunity for states to get buy-in to principals that could legitimize censorship, to regulate global Web commerce to boost their bottom line, or to do both.
“The concern over WCIT was never that it would be the killing blow but rather the latest, and by no means the last, effort by repressive governments to kill the Internet any way they can,” said Larry Downes, a tech consultant quoted in the Politico article.
If “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” — and in the case of watching what one world government supporting bureaucrats are up to relating to internet governance, it certainly is — then we shouldn’t mind a little overblown hysteria. It’s a small price to pay for keeping the internet free.