Russia on ice; consortium withdraws demands on tighter internet governance

11 Dec 2012 reports that a Russian-led consortium of International Telecommunications Union (ITU) members that includes the UAE and Saudi Arabia, has opted against submitting controversial proposals that would have gifted national governments more control over internet governance, including tighter regulation of web content and influence on internet addressing matters.

The journal writes that a stand-off has emerged between member states attending the Dubai-hosted World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) 2012. On the one hand, the US argued that the ITU ‘should adhere to its traditional mandate of facilitating international cooperation on telecoms infrastructure, such as phone lines and wireless networks’, and expressed its frustration that the conference was being side-tracked from its original purpose – to review and revise ‘a 1988 treaty establishing a framework of international rules for telecommunications systems’. However, a leaked statement – reportedly signed up to by China, Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt – confirmed their opposing view that: ‘Member States shall have the sovereign right to establish and implement public policy, including international policy, on matters of internet governance, and to regulate the national internet segment, as well as the activities within their territory of operating agencies providing internet access or carrying internet traffic.’ Further, the Russia-led consortium reported advocated including internet naming and addressing as elements to fall under the control of individual national governments. As it stands, such powers reside with the US-based Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

In a surprise development, however, an ITU spokesperson said the Russian-backed proposals were now ‘off the table’, although no reasons were given for the volte face. Negotiations on the treaty mark the most sustained effort to date by governments from around the world to agree on how, or whether, to regulate the internet. Many western nations seemingly prefer a hands-off approach to internet regulation and want to curb the new treaty’s scope to regulate telecom companies. However, Russia, China and many Arab states reportedly advocate tighter controls. The talks are due to end on Friday.