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Monday, 12 November 2012 22:58

Greenpeace warns UN secretary general of Internet 'land grab' plans

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Greenpeace and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have joined forces to lobby against what they say is a move by "certain countries" to use the ITU to take control of the Internet.

They have written to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon (the ITU is an organ of the UN) to express their "deep concern about a potentially very damaging change to the governance of the Internet."

They claim that "certain countries" are planning to use the ITU's forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) to be held in Dubai in December to undermine the current multi-stakeholder approach to Internet Governance.

ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow told the ABC's AM programme: "Frankly a group of countries you wouldn't trust with democratic freedoms or political freedoms - China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and others are proposing internet restrictions."

However, according to Chris Disspain, CEO of auDA, the ITU - an organisation representing national governments - is trying to create a role for itself as custodian of the Internet.

"It is a combination of the ITU wanting to expand its mandate and for some countries it is about a belief they can control things more easily if they go through the UN."

He told iTWire "Some countries believe that if they control the DNS they can control content. They can't. [However] The ITU has been pushing for some considerable time to expand their mandate because, quite frankly, they don't have very much to do. Their funding model is reducing; they are looking at ways to get more money and one way to do that would be to grab control of the Internet."

He added: "WCIT will be followed by a series of meetings to May next year when there will be a meeting of the ITU that is designated as being about Internet governance. So getting through WCIT does not mean it is over. WCIT is the first formal attempt by the ITU at a meeting to grab control of the Internet. And they are trying to grab control."

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Greenpeace and the ITUC are not alone in voicing their concerns about WCIT-12. In recent months the OECD and telecommunications research and consultancy firm Analysys Mason have both warned about a possible adverse outcome from WCIT-12.

WCIT-12 is being held to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) that define the general principles for the provision and operation of international telecommunications. The current regulations - agreed to by 178 nations - were finalised in 1988 at the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference, in Melbourne.

In a statement issued earlier this year the ITU said: "WCIT-12 presents a key opportunity to increase collaboration between countries, to help countries reach new levels of economic and social development through efficient telecom services, and to make the ITRs more relevant and valuable to ITU members, to help them respond to the challenges of a fast-evolving ICT environment...Emerging themes for inclusion in the revised ITRs include: the right to communicate; security in the use of ICTs and the protection of national resources; taxation; international mobile roaming; misuse and hijacking of international numbers; and interoperability."

The Greenpeace/ITUC letter expresses concern at the lack of transparency in the WCIT-12 process. "The ITU Governing Council recently declined to accept the entirely appropriate proposal of the ITU secretary-general, Dr Hamadoun Touré, that all stakeholders should be given free access to all the preparatory documentation for the conference," the letter says.

However, Disspain claimed that this initiative was a sham. "The secretary general knew full well that no countries would agree to that."

The Greenpeace /ITUC letter says: "Several proposals have already been submitted for consideration by the WCIT which seek to undermine the currently free, open and inherently democratic governance of the Internet. This may just be the tip of the iceberg."

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Some of these proposals are starting to leak out. A web site, WCITleaks.org, has been set up anonymously "to foster greater transparency." It is offering "a way for those in possession of [WCIT] documents to make them publicly available."

The ITU, however, claims to have adopted an unprecedented degree of openness to WCIT-12. It has made the current version of the main conference preparatory document publically available on the ITU website.

According to the ITU, the document "gathers together more than 450 contributions that members have submitted during the preparatory process of WCIT-12."

However in reality it is a heavily amended version of the 1988 regulations and, absent the proposals underpinning these amendments their implications are far from clear.

According to Disspain, part of the problem is that governments send to ITU meetings representatives that are not familiar with the workings of the Internet and likely to not fully understand the implications of proposals.

The ITU has also invited anyone to submit contributions for consideration at WCIT-12. It says these will be made available to representatives of the ITU's 193 member states, who have been "urged to consider and take account of submitted content in their preparations for WCIT-12."

In a white paper released earlier this year  - funded by Amazon, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast, Google, Intel, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), News Corporation, Oracle, Telefónica, Time Warner Cable, VeriSign, and Verizon - Analysys Mason said it believed that the ITU was looking to use WCIT-12 to "extend to the Internet the current accounting rate regime that establishes how international operators compensate each other for terminating voice calls with the apparent purpose of providing additional revenues to increase the build-out of infrastructure in various types of markets."

It warned: "Any attempt to impose settlements, which are increasingly difficult to apply even to voice, to the Internet are likely to hinder its development and evolution.

The OECD added its voice of warning last month.  An OECD report on Internet traffic exchange said that the current model, based on voluntary contractual agreements, had been hugely successful and could be seriously undermined by attempts to impose the type of regulation that has governed international voice telephony for decades.

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