Sunday, November 04, 2012
UN to try to regulate Web next month
Better enjoy Facebook while you can. A U.N.-sponsored conference next month in Dubai will propose new regulations and restrictions for the Internet, which critics say will censor free speech, levy tariffs on e-commerce, and even force companies to clean up their “e-waste” and make gadgets that are better for the environment.
Concerns about the closed-door event have sparked a Wikileaks-style info-leaking site, and led the State Department on Wednesday to file a series of new proposals or tranches seeking to ensure “competition and commercial agreements -- and not regulation” as the meeting's main message.
Terry Kramer, the chief U.S. envoy to the conference, says the United States is against sanctions and believes management of the Internet by one central organization goes against free speech.
“[Doing nothing] would not be a terrible outcome at all,” Kramer said recently. “We need to avoid suffocating the Internet space through well-meaning but overly prescriptive proposals that would seek to control content.”
The conference will be run by the International Telecommunications Union (ITC), a U.N. agency that has typically provided a welcome service by making sure that the Internet works across countries.
To dispel concerns, the ITU played damage control in early October. “There are no proposals submitted to create new international regulatory agencies, or mechanisms, and hence no proposals to put ITU in control of the Internet!” said Malcolm Johnson, ITU's telecommunication standardization bureau director, in a written statement.
Despite those reassurances, key experts remain concerned. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) is one of just five groups that assign numbers to Internet names, a key part of making the web tick. Cathy Handley, executive director of government affairs at ARIN and a conference attendee, said the meeting is meant to exert some sort of controls.
“Some of the proposals that could clearly have consequences address the high cost of mobile roaming, taxation of calls, issues associated with the routing of calls, cybersecurity and combating spam,” Handley told FoxNews.com. “A major concern is with any attempt to make the International Telecommunication Regulations prescriptive and force regulation.”
Indeed, the same statement in which Johnson urges calm mentions a possible vote for more regulation.
At the conference, the ITC will even propose regulations that go offline, further than the Web. Emrich said one proposal, to be funded by $53B in U.S. dollars, is to connect North and South America using a massive telecom pipeline. Another rule would cover cell phone batteries.
Handley told FoxNews.com that it is likely some of the proposals at WCIT will be enacted over the next five years. What were formerly considered rough guidelines will become more precise governances, she said.