Internet and telecommunications experts have warned that a push by some countries for strong regulation by changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) treaty at a meeting in Dubai later this year could seriously impair the spirit of innovation behind the success of the internet.
The chairman of the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12) Working Group, David Gross, believes that concerns about privacy protection and security issues should not be pretexts for the basis of greater regulation of the internet.
"The problems should be dealt with by other mechanisms and in other forums. The International Telecommunications Union should not be involved in internet regulation but with traditional telephony," said Mr Gross, who attended the 4th Asia Pacific Telecommunity Preparatory Meeting for WCIT-12 in Bangkok last week.
The ITR treaty, which was agreed on in 1988 and came into force in 1990, is one of the four treaties forming the foundation of the ITU.
The WCIT meeting in Dubai on Dec 3 and 4 will be the first review of the ITR. Proposed changes so far include human rights of access to communications, security in the use of ICTs, protection of critical national resources, international frameworks, charging and accounting including taxation, interconnection and interoperability, quality of service, and convergence.
The internet has expanded the border of knowledge for all people across the globe and no one should be given additional tools to regulate it, Mr Gross told a group of local and international media at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
Countries which have suggested greater control include Russia (more stringent internet regulations), China (concerns on security issues), Saudi Arabia (would like the ITU to have a role in internet regulation), while countries such as Singapore have more liberal views that the ITU should not deal with internet control, according to Mr Gross, former coordinator for international communications and information policy in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the US Department of State.
Many countries, including Thailand, he said, were apparently cautious about the amendment proposals because they would expand the jurisdiction to the ITU beyond its traditional mandate.
He felt any revisions to be made should reflect what has proven to work for billions of internet users for two decades and support competition and innovation in the private sector.
"This model has led to the massive growth and expansion of the internet, especially in Asia which has become the region with the largest number of internet users in the world," he said.
The Internet Society Board of Trustees also raised concerns at their Vancouver meeting early this month that some proposed changes to the ITR treaty could have a negative impact on the internet.
The chair of the Internet Society board, Eva Frölich, said the ITR revisions should focus on things that have clearly worked in the field of global communications: competition, privatisation, and transparent and independent regulation.
The success of the internet had been driven by open, consensus-based standards processes embodied in organisations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and other critical parts of the internet ecosystem that rely on openness and transparency, Ms Frolich said.
The Internet Society Board of Trustees highlighted some troubling aspects of the amendment proposals, including
* Make ITU-T standards mandatory;
* Create a new model for internet interconnection via the ITR;
* Adversely impact internet naming, numbering, and addressing;
* Regulate network aspects that have never been part of telecommunications, including IP routing; and,
* Extend the scope and application of the ITR to the internet and internet providers.
These types of provisions, if adopted, could jeopardise global connectivity and the future growth of the internet, particularly in developing countries; impact the architecture, security, and global interoperability of the internet; and impose detrimental burdens on the free and open internet that billions of people around the world depend upon today, she said.
Kanchana Kanchanasut, director of the Asian Institute of Technology's Internet Education and Research Laboratory, said she agreed with the general trend of the internet users - that less control was better and cooperation, not regulation, would help solve the problems.
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