Debate of the hour: Censored Internet or the Uncensored one

The ITU meet a few days back in Dubai and there was the ITU wanted to revisit the 24year old agreement.An agreement to update 24-year-old United Nations telecommunications rules was approved against the opposition of countries including the U.S. and the U.K., whose officials walked out on the talks on concerns about Internet regulation and censorship.

The new pact includes measures that would give countries a right to access international telecommunications services and the ability to block spam, which delegations declining to sign the amended text argued would pave the way for government censorship and control over the Web.

Canada, Denmark, Australia, Norway, Costa Rica, Serbia, Greece, Finland and others followed the U.S. in refusing to sign on these grounds. The countries who won’t sign the new treaty will continue to be bound by the 1988 version, said Sarah Parkes, a spokeswoman for the International Telecommunication Union.

“What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet,” Google Inc., the world’s biggest search engine, said in a statement. “We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty and also with the millions of voices who have joined us to support a free and open web.”

Talks at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai this week were marked by disagreements between anti-regulation countries, including the U.S. and many European states, and a group that argued for some Internet measures to protect and advance networks, including Russia, China and several Middle Eastern nations.

Google Opposition

The conference has attracted criticism because of its one- country-one-vote model that ignores population size. Internet companies including Google have complained that they don’t get a voice in the negotiations. While technology groups are allowed to participate in the discussions and have joined as parts of delegations, they don’t get a vote in the proceedings.

“It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunity that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in its current form,” the U.S. delegation said in a statement at the plenary after the final changes were adopted last night. “We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model.”

The International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency, earlier had agreed that no measures would be adopted that gave the body increased control over the Web or the member states the ability to censor content.

Defection Support

Technology industry advocates also came out in support of the defectors today after many, including the Internet Society, a group backed by Microsoft Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and Google, had been critical of the amendments’ language.

“While progress was made in some areas such as transparency in international roaming fees, fundamental divides were exposed leaving a significant number of countries unable to sign the ITRs,” Internet Society President Lynn St. Amour said. “Statements made by a host of delegations today made it very clear that Internet issues did not belong in the ITRs and that they would not support a treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.”

Still, Hamadoun Toure, the UN secretary general to the ITU, said that he was disappointed in the results and disagreed with many countries’ assessments that the new treaty would increase government control of the Internet.

“The U.S. has weighed in very strongly in the debate. I couldn’t imagine that at the end they wouldn’t sign it,” he said today. “We wanted to show that we want to build bridges because the Internet and telecommunications societies need to work together.”

The ITU had said that Internet and content regulation were off limits throughout the conference and Toure argued that there were no provisions on Web regulation in the text. He said the resolution, which was disputed by the U.S. and others, that mentions fostering the development and growth of the Internet was non-binding.

“The word ‘Internet’ was repeated throughout this conference and I believe this is simply a recognition of the current reality -– the two worlds of telecommunications and Internet are inextricably linked,” Toure said. “History will show that this conference has achieved something extremely important. It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications.”

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