ITU: Nobody proposes giving us regulatory power over the Internet
No member state of the International Telecommunications Union has proposed that the United Nations body be imbued with worldwide regulatory authority over the Internet, an ITU official said June 22 during a press conference webcast from the ITU secretariat's Geneva headquarters.
"There are no proposals along those lines," said Richard Hill, a counselor to the ITU and Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. The ITU and its 193 members are due to meet this December in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunication--aka the WCIT 12--in order to revise regulations governing international telecommunications. Changes must be ratified by national governments in order to come into effect, which in the United States' case requires Senate consent and presidential approval.
The organization called the press conference after the Council Working Group on WCIT held its final preparatory meeting and "to set the record straight on a number of important issues," ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré said.
The proposals do touch what ITU officials acknowledged are "delicate issues" that in some cases "have raised significant discussion," but the secretary general predicted that the conference would be able to establish a consensus among members.
"We expect an agreement that will satisfy all our member states," he said, "we have a very long tradition of cooperation."
Among the proposals that have provoked concern is one that would task telecom authorities with setting up agreements so that the cost of international Internet traffic is paid according to "value of elements such as traffic flow, number of routes, geographical coverage and cost of international transmission, and the possible application of network externalities." (WCIT-12 proposals are online at WCITLeaks.org; Touré said he will advocate for the proposals to be officially released by the ITU.)
"Data volumes are increasing much faster than the infrastructure needed to carry it, and there is currently a risk of an infrastructure investment shortfall," Touré said
Critics have said the proposal, if successful, would impose a traditional point-to-point cost-sharing mechanism on a routing method that inherently resists closed circuits. Telecommunication carriers have in recent years criticized Internet content providers, in particular streaming video and music sites, of benefiting from the Internet's physical infrastructure without paying for it.
"Costs would go up for end users, traffic simply wouldn't go to certain places. It really would have dramatic impacts," said Sally Wentworth, the Internet Society's senior manager of public policy, in an interview earlier this month.
Other proposals include more incendiary language, such as a Russian proposal to restrict international telecommunications when they are used "the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other States, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature."
"WCIT will be the catalyst for the free flow of information," Touré said, while noting that the ITU cannot prevent sovereign nations from cutting off international telecommunications in accordance with national law.
Syracuse University Professor Milton Mueller notes in a June 21 blog post that the Russian proposal "sounds quite reactionary in today's global public sphere," but likewise notes that countries already have the power to do act in that way. "We seem to forget that such proposals are not much of a departure from the legal and normative status quo," Mueller adds.