Web access battles brew before UN conference

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 12:16 am •  Published: November 26, 2012
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The ITU says it has no interest in governing the Internet or restricting expression, but notes that it must update its communications treaty to incorporate the dramatic technological changes that have occurred since the last revisions in 1988. That was before the Internet in the public domain.

Among the topics to be discussed in Dubai: Internet security, combating fraud, preventing mobile phone "bill shock" with roaming charges and efforts to expand broadband infrastructures in developing countries.

"For every proposal, there is a counterproposal," said ITU spokeswoman Sarah Parkes.

She noted that U.N. treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights take precedence over any regulations ITU may adopt that could relate to freedom of expression.

"We will not support any effort to broaden the scope of the ITRs (International Telecommunications Regulations) to facilitate any censorship of content or blocking the free flow of information and ideas," said Terry Kramer, a former technology industry executive who was given ambassador status to lead a powerhouse 123-member U.S. delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications.

The groups include representatives from Facebook, Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Google — which has been leading an aggressive online campaign to warn about the risks of increased Internet regulations from the meeting.

The international Internet Society, a group headquartered in Virginia and Switzerland that maintains the Internet core protocols, also claims any tighter U.N. controls could "interfere with the continued innovation and evolution of the telecommunications networks and the Internet."

The American technology company envoys in Dubai also are expected to push back strongly against any sweeping revision in Internet charges. The proposal, led by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, would do away with the current system — called "net neutrality" — that now treats all Internet traffic equally, regardless of who is sending or receiving.

In its place, the European plan seeks to have content providers pay when their service is accessed across borders. The money raised, theoretically, could pay to expand broadband infrastructures in developing countries. Opponents, however, say companies such as Facebook could cut off access to countries where the extra charges are too burdensome.

Even the U.N.'s cultural agency, UNESCO, has raised concerns about proposals that are so broadly worded that they could be used to restrict freedom of expression under the guise of national security or fighting spam and Internet fraud.

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