ITU's deficient internet plan

ITU's deficient internet plan

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will try once again today to take the dominant role in running the internet.

The still-obscure United Nations agency has formed a partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) to stage a two-part show this week at Muang Thong Thani.

It is the third year running that the ITU has sought support to establish a new form of internet governance. But the theme of this project is a siren's song that should be rejected.

It is the third year of ITU summits. Like last year's impressive show in Dubai, the Connect Asia-Pacific Summit and ITU Telecom World 2013 will come with impressive displays, international support and promises to showcase the Thai telecoms industry. As at all such events, meetings on the sidelines and behind closed doors will get the real business done. That is where the ITU will continue working to spread its gospel of change for the internet.

That the ITU even has a role in internet planning is somewhat curious. The group is 148 years old, and the "T" originally stood for "telegraph". Since its inception up to just a few years ago, the ITU had one of the lowest profiles of any international group.

Its primary role was to ensure that communications, whether electronic or postal, were maintained across borders, no matter what politics were involved. This praiseworthy group ensured that a letter posted in Thailand reached North Korea, or a telegram sent from wartime Hanoi, say, arrived in California.

Credit, or blame, Hamadoun Toure of Mali for changing that humble but admirable purpose. Since he became secretary-general in 2007, Mr Toure has sought, often successfully, to enlarge ITU's budget and ambition.

His project to rewrite and reposition the entire internet began several years ago, and shows no sign of diminishing. The past year, in fact, has provided him with talking points and support that will advance his goal, although he still is quite far from achieving it.

The agenda of Mr Toure and his ITU is simple enough. It is that the United States controls the internet, and should not. Instead, some sort of world body should be in charge, coordinated of course by the ITU.

The revelations of recent months that the US government has been tapping internet connectivity and exploiting the web's lack of privacy like some cheap spam operation will bolster the underlying arguments of the anti-US campaign.

Of course, those who follow media freedom will instantly recognise this tactic as nothing but a blatant power play aimed ultimately at reducing or eliminating the freedoms of speech and the press.

Similar zealots hijacked the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in a campaign during the 1980s.

In the pre-internet days, the argument was that western media dominated press opinion, and this could be combatted only by licensing the media everywhere in the world, reining in dominant media so that the opinions of the Third World would get more attention.

It only takes a quick look to see who supports Mr Toure in this campaign to put the mechanics of the internet in international hands. Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran are at the forefront. Thailand's biggest internet censor, the MICT, is co-sponsoring this week's ITU event.

Its plans for internet control must be rejected, because they are actually worse than what currently exists.

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