Battling over the Internet

Binoy Kampmark, |

It was once deemed the ungovernable frontier, ironic for the fact that it, itself, arose as a feature of the U.S. state apparatus. But states have been attempting to impose some regulatory framework over the internet since it became a fundamental feature of public communication. As with any international framework, who is to decide?

These were the issues that cropped up at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a busy gathering in Dubai at which delegates attempted to hammer out an acceptable treaty. The United States, the UK, Canada and various other European powers don’t feel that equality is the rule of the game here in terms of Internet governance. Terry Kramer, the U.S. Ambassador to the World Conference on International Communications, stated the position. “It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form” (BBC News, December 13). No agreement, no treaty.

Various groups involved at the conference have registered their disappointment at the outcome. Lynn St. Amour, CEO and President of the Internet Society, outlined several concerns in a statement (December 14). “It was extremely important that this treaty not extend to content, or implicitly or explicitly undermine the principles that have made the Internet beneficial.” It was conceded that some progress had been made in various areas such as transparency in international roaming fees. The divisions lay elsewhere, though coherent statements about the disagreements have been hard to come by.

Delving deeper into this, one finds that the opposing countries would rather that other countries stayed out of dabbling in such matters as the net’s address system, a product of American derivation. Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, ahead of the Dubai WCIT event, were pressing for a greater equality of control in terms of the Internet’s technical development. That bone of contention will be hard to resolve. Creators are always reluctant to let others tamper with their goods.

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