Who should control the internet?
23rd Nov 2012 | 15:14
Not the ITU, says Europe
There's a battle raging for control of the internet.
Yesterday, the European Parliament voted to reject the idea that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) should gain regulatory control over the web.
It was a welcome move for lobbyists who had campaigned against the famously secretive ITU, saying that its proposal goes against the idea of a free and open internet.
Less impressed will be Russia's number one, Vladimir Putin, who had expressed hope that "international control" could be established over the internet "using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union".
That's the same Russia that recently implemented a law that allows the government to force any website offline without any legal trial. It's supposedly meant to protect against child porn and other shady websites but many fear is a front to allow the Government to shut down political opposition on the sly – in other words, legal censorship.
Google recently launched a campaign to keep control of the web from ITU, pushing the message that the internet should be 'free and open'.
While seemingly laudable, Google's position does come with ulterior motives: one of the ITU's major proposals for the web is to bring in a 'sender pays' proposal.
This would mean that any company providing a lot of "content" over the web (be it words, pictures, videos or anything else) would have to pay ISPs and other communications companies to deliver that content.
If you're Google, a company that provides a serious amount of stuff not least of which is the world's biggest video sharing site, a plan like that is going to make a significant dent in the old finances.
However, Google has long been a proponent of the open web and if that just so happens to align with its business model, it says, that shouldn't be a problem.
Google's chief legal officer David Drummond calls this "a happy coincidence".
"We are not ashamed to say the open web is good for the world, and happens to cerate good opportunities for business," he told The Guardian – a sentiment later echoed by co-founder Sergey Brin who admitted that without an open internet, Google would not be the company it is today.
Indeed, Google has been careful to disclose as much information as possible relating to take-down notices it receives from both private companies (usually copyrighted videos or music) and governments who request it remove sites from search results for reasons ranging from terrorist-incitement to political speech.
Although the ITU seems to have the commercial interests of its 700 telecommunications industry members at heart, it is at least part of the United Nations and, as such, isn't governed by any one country.
Most of the bodies that regulate and oversee online activities are based in the US - for example ICANN, which controls the domain naming system.
The American government doesn't directly control these bodies but it is still loathe to concede power over the web to the ITU or UN, as expressed in its initial proposal document taking umbrage at the ITU's proposed regulation changes.
The UK government, meanwhile, has spoken of the importance of keeping the web free and open, a position that jives with web-founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee's feelings on the matter.
The issue of web regulation and control will be hashed out at a major international meeting of the ITU's member states in Dubai on December 3.
For anyone who spends any amount of time online, it's a crucial one to keep an eye on.