The debate over Internet governance for much of the past decade has often come down to a battle between ICANN and the ITU (a UN body), which in turn is characterized as a choice between a private-sector led, bottoms-up, consensus model (ICANN) or a governmental-controlled approach. The reality has always been far more complicated. The U.S. still maintains contractual control over ICANN, while all governments exert considerable power within the ICANN model through the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC).
While the GAC claims its role is merely to provide “advice” to ICANN, it often seems to take the view that its suggestions can’t be refused. Indeed, late on Friday, ICANN proposed a by-law change that would grant governments even greater control over its decision-making process. At the moment, ICANN looks to various supporting organizations to develop policies designed to represent the views of many different stakeholders, including the GAC. Where the GAC and the ICANN board disagree on a policy issue, the ICANN board decision governs provided that a simple majority of board members vote against the GAC advice and that ICANN provide an explanation for the decision.
ICANN is now proposing that the threshold be increased so that 2/3 of eligible ICANN board members would be required to vote against GAC advice in order to reject it.
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Milton Mueller offers an insightful take on the recently concluded WCIT. Mueller characterizes some of the extreme ITU criticism as “ITU phobia”, which he notes: One notable feature of ITU phobia is that it takes the alternative internet institutions off the hook. They are inherently good â€“ good by definition […]
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Should the Internet be treated like traditional phone services when it comes to regulation and pricing? That is the contentious question as the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency with roots dating back to 1865 and the interconnection of telegraph services, meets in Dubai next week for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). The WCIT is a treaty-writing event that has attracted growing attention given fears that the ITU and countries such as Russia plan to use it to press for greater control over the Internet.
My weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that there are certainly legitimate reasons for WCIT suspicion since the ITU lacks transparency and largely excludes public participation. For months, the ITU proposals scheduled for debate (known as International Telecommunications Regulations or ITRs) were shrouded in secrecy and the organization itself offered only limited opportunity for public participation. Moreover, some countries view the WCIT as an opportunity to increase their leverage over the Internet by proposing regulations that would increase governmental controls.
While these issues are cause for concern, proposals aimed at seizing control of Internet governance are unlikely to succeed and the reality is that governments already flex their regulatory muscles within the current U.S.-backed Internet governance framework.
The focus on a UN takeover of the Internet has obscured the real concern with the WCIT, namely efforts by telecom companies to find new sources of revenue by changing the way we pay for the Internet.
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Appeared in the Toronto Star on November 27, 2012 as UN Internet Meeting About Who Pays, Not Who Rules Should the Internet be treated like traditional phone services when it comes to regulation and pricing? That is the contentious question as the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency with […]
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In recent months the Internet has been buzzing about the prospect of a United Nations “takeover” of the Internet, including responsibility for governance of the domain name system. The concern hit a fever pitch late last month when the U.S. Congress held hearings on the issue. A steady stream of technology companies and consumer groups expressed fears with potential U.N. and foreign government involvement and members of Congress pledged to take a strong stand against the takeover.
While a U.N. takeover would indeed be cause for serious concern, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the reality is far more complex and somewhat less ominous. This issue has been festering for over 15 years and is less about whether there will be efforts at governmental control and more about which government controls.
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