The battle for the Internet continues

Joseph Menn of Reuters reports at Stuff:

A landmark attempt to set global rules for overseeing the Internet threatened to fall apart on Friday as a rift pitting the United States and some Western countries against the rest of the world widened, participants in the talks said.

A 12-day conference of the International Telecommunications Union, taking place in Dubai, is supposed to result in the adoption of a new international treaty governing trans-border communications.

But in a critical session at the midpoint of the conference on Friday, delegates refused to adopt a US-Canadian proposal to limit the treaty’s scope to traditional communications carriers and exclude Internet companies such as Google, the said on its website.

Further complicating the negotiations was what a US official at the talks called the “surprise” announcement of an accord among some Arab states, Russia and other countries to pursue treaty amendments that are expected to include Internet provisions unacceptable to the United States

A still-secret draft of the coalition’s proposals is to be introduced soon by the United Arab Emirates, the official said.

I have a simple test on Internet issues that rarely fails me. If the proposal comes from Russia, China or an Arab state, then it will be really really bad.

The emergence of the new coalition, whose members are generally seeking greater Internet censorship and surveillance, is likely to harden battle lines separating those countries from the United States and some allies in Western Europe.

And New Zealand!

The United States and others objected to the introduction of complex new material midway through the conference.

This is the danger. That something get slipped into a working group under the radar. They have no rules requiring proposals to be made in advance, let alone in public.

That would potentially isolate America and its allies from much of the world, and technology leaders fear that the rest of the globe would agree on actions such as identifying political dissidents who use the Internet and perhaps trying to alter the Net’s architecture to permit more control.

Identifying political dissidents who use the Internet? Sounds like the Labour party caucus!

The 147-year-old ITU, which is now under the auspices of the United Nations, historically has set technology standards and established payment customs for international phone calls. But under Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, it has inched toward cyber-security and electronic content issues, arguing that Internet traffic goes over phone lines and is therefore within its purview.

Which is nonsense. The proportion of the Internet that goes over copper phone lines is diminishing anyway. The future is over fibre, plus mobile, satellite and wireless.

At the ITU meeting, the American delegation had counted on support from at least Japan, Australia and other affluent democracies.

But its effort to stave off wholesale changes has been hindered by complications in Western Europe, where some countries were supporting a change to the economic model that would have Google, Facebook and others pay for at least some of the costs of Internet transmission.

Equally repugnant. They already pay for website hosting and for connections to their local ISPs. What the telcos want is termination charges like you have for toll calls, so countries and telcos can collect revenue on not just their customers, but on people who send data to their customers. It would cripple the Internet model.

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