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WCIT Talks on Internet Governance Deadlocked
Source: totaltele.com
Source Date: Friday, December 07, 2012
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Internet Governance
Created: Dec 10, 2012

A deadlock in negotiations over the scope of international telecom rules risks triggering a vote, forcing the hand of Western nations trying to preserve the freedom of the Internet, the head of the U.S. delegation at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai said in an interview.

Ambassador Terry Kramer says proposals to bring Internet companies under the remit of the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, could be "disastrous" for U.S. companies and put the Internet at risk of censorship and control.

The debate has split delegates into two camps and if consensus can't be reached, a vote will be taken.

Mr. Kramer said the U.S. is prepared to walk out of the event and refuse to sign the treaty if ITU member governments try to seize Internet control.

"There's a variety of nations here that have a variety of views and quite a few don't have views the same as ours," he said."They believe it is OK to censor and not just censor for national security reasons but censor for basic free speech and democracy reasons."

Mr Kramer said that state control of the Internet would open the door to governments to block content or require large Internet companies such as Google Inc. and Skype tp seek licenses to operate in their country. It would permit states to force Internet firms to pay fees to telecom operators for network use, damaging profits or increasing prices for their users.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications, meeting in Dubai, is seeking to draft a new treaty to update international telecommunications rules that were agreed more than two decades ago.

The 12-day event, which started Monday, has been convened by the 193-nation International Telecommunications Union, which does the job of allocating global radio spectrum and developing technical standards to ensure seamless interconnection of networks and technologies.

Drawn up in 1988, the regulations at present limit the scope of the ITU to telecoms operators across the globe. But expansion of the Internet has recast the IT landscape since then and blurred the lines between telecommunications and Internet services.

A large body of nations at the conference, including Russia, China, the grouping of Arab states and the grouping of African states are calling for a broad range of different entities and companies to be included in the definition of telecom operating agencies and so fall within the ITU's governance.

The definitions of telecom operating agencies that come under scope of the ITU proposed by these states are vague and could be interpreted to encompass any company, application or website providing a service on one of the country's local telecoms networks, Mr. Kramer said. His views are backed by EU nations, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, among others.

Tariq Al Awadhi, head of the Arab States delegation, said however that the widening of the ITU's remit to include Internet service companies wasn't about censorship or control.

"We are talking about applications and websites that are providing services, but we are not talking about control," Mr Al Awadhi said."We are talking about coming to a commercial agreement with telecoms operators on how to provide those services. If they are using the telecoms network, there should be some compensation."

Fees raised in this way from Internet firms would allow more investment in expanding and upgrading network infrastructure, he said.

The conference has until Dec. 12th to agree a deal.

(By Rory Jones)
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