The World Conference on International Communications in Dubai will update global telecom rules for the first time since 1988, and some countries see this as an opportunity to set up new rules for the Internet.
There are fears proposals made by China, Russia and other nations could threaten the open model of Internet governance by giving the UN a greater role.
Oversight of the net’s domain name system and technical specifications is currently undertaken by U.S.-based bodies, but some countries want an international organisation to take responsibility.
Google’s statement said ‘the ITU is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet’ because ‘only governments have a voice at the ITU,’ including some ‘that do not support a free and open Internet.’
‘The ITU is also secretive,’ Google said. ‘The treaty conference and proposals are confidential.’
Google said some proposed treaty changes ‘permit governments to censor legitimate speech — or even allow them to cut off Internet access’.
Others, the company warned, ‘would require services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders.
‘This could limit access to information – particularly in emerging markets.’
Google’s comments backed the U.S. position, which is that the non-government ‘multi-stakeholder’ system of the Internet should remain in place.
‘Governments alone should not determine the future of the Internet,’ the Google blog said. ‘The billions of people around the globe that use the Internet, and the experts that build and maintain it, should be included.’
The ITU has however said that countries attending the meeting could invite whoever they wise to be part of their delegations at the meeting, the BBC reported.
The Google response comes a week after Russia submitted its proposal to the ITU suggesting the U.S. should have less control over the net, provoking strong reactions from some online activists.
The Russian proposal said: ‘Member states shall have equal rights to manage the internet, including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources and to support for the operation and development of basic internet infrastructure.’
Currently, these internet infrastructure matters are dealt with by non-profit bodies ultimately answerable to the U.S. Department of Commerce, but which in effect are suppoed to operate at arm’s length from the U.S. government.
Larry Downes, an analyst with the Bell Mason Group consultancy who follows technology issues, said the Russian proposal ‘makes explicit’ Moscow’s desire to bring the Internet under greater control of the UN agency and diminish the role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the Internet address system.
‘The Russian federation’s proposal… would in specific substantially if not completely change the role of ICANN in overseeing domain names and IP addresses,’ Downes said in a blog post.
‘Of course the Russian Federation, along with other repressive governments, uses every opportunity to gain control over the free flow of information, and sees the Internet as its most formidable enemy.’
U.S. ambassador to the ITU Terry Kramer has already signalled he would not support the proposals from Russia.
He has said the existing institutions have ‘functioned effectively and will continue to ensure the health and growth of the internet’.