The End of the Free Internet?


Until now, the work of the U.N. negotiators pondering how to regulate the Internet has been shrouded in secrecy. But as 1,950 delegates from 193 countries gather this week in Dubai to consider 900 proposals to regulate the Internet, their game is becoming clear.

The Russian-educated head of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the U.N. body seeking to control the Internet, Dr. Hamadoun Toure says: “the brutal truth is that the Internet remains largely [the] rich world’s privilege.” He adds, “The ITU wants to change that.”

Here’s how:

The ITU wants to force companies — and eventually their users (us) — to pay for streaming video. The proposal is called “pay to stream” or “a quality based model.” According to the BBC, “This would see firms face charges if they wanted to ensure streamed video and other quality-critical content download without the risk of problems such as jerky images.” Presumably the revenues from this Internet tax would go to building up Net infrastructure in the less developed world. And, undoubtedly, the cost will be passed onto the users throughout the world — including you!

But building up the Net’s third-world infrastructure is not the real agenda here. It’s a facade.

Russia and China want firms like Google to have to pay to send streaming video into other countries, creating a charge that can be passed on to the users. The idea is to make it so expensive that nobody in their totalitarian countries downloads anything that might open their eyes to the truth Moscow and Beijing want to keep out.

The ITU is now charged with regulating long-distance phone services. But Moscow and Beijing want to expand its power to dictate to the Internet and they have a willing tool in Toure, who was educated in Leningrad and Moscow in the pre-glasnost era.

The delegates and would-be regulators have until Dec.14th to agree on which proposals to adopt. Russia and China are seeking a declaration that each nation has an “equal right to manage the Internet” to enhance its ability to block politically free sites.

Fortunately, the European Union’s digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes has tweeted that “the internet works, it doesn’t need to be regulated by ITR Treaty.” And Vinton Cerf, the computer scientist who co-designed some of the internet’s core underlying protocols, says “a state-controlled system of regulation is not only unnecessary, it would almost invariable raise costs and prices and interfere with the rapid and organic growth of the internet.”

Cerf notes, “Only governments have a voice at the ITU … engineers, companies and the people that build and use the web, have no vote.”

And so it would be if these talks lead to a new treaty: Only governments will run the Net. God help us all!

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