The online world is buzzing as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations Agency, holds a conference next week in Dubai that critics fear could be used to user in a new era of Internet censorship.
The ITU is responsible for promoting communication and information technology, and has its roots in telecommunications regulation dating back to the telegraph era. The meeting will consider revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty, which has not been updated since the advent of the Internet. Some countries are said to want the ITU’s scope extended to include Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the Internet.
Today, regulatory authority ultimately rests with the U.S. Department of Commerce, but is exercised by non-profit entities such as ICANN.
According to a report from InformationWeek, search giant Google is concerned about a UN takeover and has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and lobby against a change in the status quo. Google has set up an awareness site, called Take Action:
“…the site predicts that regulatory shifts could allow governments to cut off Internet access. Google also foresees that users of YouTube, Facebook, Skype and similar services might have to pay tolls before transferring information across borders.”
Other critics note changes to the status quo would require ITU members to achieve consensus, which seems unlikely on this issue. And Canadian Internet law commentator Michael Giest writes in the Toronto Stat that money should be the bigger concern. He sees European telecom companies looking to boost revenues through the imposition of “peering agreements” with charges incurred when Internet providers exchange traffic, in a “sender-pay” model.
“The long-term impact would be to either shift significant new costs to consumers or lead to a global digital divide in which the large content companies stop sending traffic to uneconomic countries where the financial return from sending traffic is outweighed by the new transmission costs.”
There is significant opposition to the European proposals, making it unlikely they would be accepted. So while businesses may see lots of smoke out of the conference and should keep an eye on developments, there doesn’t appear to be too much cause for concern at this point.