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December 4, 2012

Should the United Nations Control the Internet?


iStock_000015498827XSmallThe United Nations International Telecommunications Union is holding its World Conference on International Telecommunications this week in Dubai UAE, running through December 14th.  What are they going to talk about?  The Internet, but beyond that we’re not entirely certain.  And that has more than a few people concerned about the future of a free and open Internet, not the least of which is the U.S. House of Representatives, the European Union, and perhaps more relevantly Google.

The ITU is a union of government representatives from dozens of member countries including names you can probably guess like USA, India, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and Australia.  But other member countries have a less than spotless reputation for maintaining a free and open Internet including Russia, China, Iran, Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan.  In the ITU each country stands on equal footing with only one vote and so countries with a more established open policy on the internet will not have any advantage over those that routinely want to censor it.  Are these the people we want making decisions on the future of the Internet?

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this meeting is that the proposals being discussed and voted on are not open to the public.  There have been a few rumored leaks that include proposals for cutting off the internet for undisclosed reasons, allowing more government regulation and monitoring of traffic, and rules to charge content providers for providing content to various regions.  There is even talk that the ITU might push to take Internet governance away from ICANN and other organizations.  In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to send a message to the ITU to butt out.  Google is lending its voice, and web traffic to the cause with their Take Action site dedicated to keep the Internet free and open.

Of course there are two sides to this story.  Many of the nations represented by the ITU are fighting against what they feel is a monopoly of control and influence over the Internet by the USA.  What’s more, censorship and government monitoring of Internet traffic is nothing new and is routinely done by many countries including the China, Russia, and the USA.  So one could question what impact any new rules established by the ITU would have beyond what is already being imposed.  And the ITU itself is responsible for advancing broadband and telecommunications in countries that might have otherwise remained disconnected.

What do you think?  Do we need an internationalized regulatory body or is the Internet best left unregulated; spam, viruses, and all?


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About the Author

is a Chief Architect specializing in large scale distributed system development and enterprise software processes. Paul has more than twenty years of development experience including being a former Microsoft MVP, a speaker at technical conferences such as Microsoft Tech-Ed and VSLive, and a published author. Prior to working on the Windows platform, he built software using a vast array of technologies including Java, Unix, C, and even OS/2.