Should the Internet be Regulated?

Posted by Administrator Bermor on October 29, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Imagine your spouse’s dismay when his or her Facebook network of former classmates, friends, and relatives is no longer accessible. How can that network continue to connect and exchange information? Think of the shock of the startup entrepreneur who intended to use the Internet to attain visibility for his or her unique product or service internationally when consortia of international telecom firms start charging for the data the entrepreneur distributes.


And consider the impact on the Philippines’ fast-growing IT-BPO industry when those same consortia begin assessing fees for data and voice communications transmitted over their infrastructure, rather than just access fees. Imagine the accounting and administrative costs that will be passed on to the industry on top of those new fees. Finally, consumer and political watchdogs could be muzzled when government officials say their activities are detrimental to the state when the actual intended target is corrupt or inefficient bureaucracy.


Far-fetched? Not really. According to the officials of the local chapter of the Internet Society (IS) and the InfoComm Technology Association of the Philippines (ITAP), in December a group of governments will meet in Dubai at the World Conference on International Telecommunications to work on a treaty that could severely impact how the Internet and networks of the future evolve.


In a document released to media, these officials said that, “Based on leaked documents, we understand that countries like China and Russia are proposing sweeping changes that would give governments greater control over the Internet, and change the commercial model of the Internet.” They argue that a vocal group of nations that are concerned with the way the Internet empowers users is seeking to restrict freedom of information by limiting freedom of the Internet.


The vehicle for this power grab is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)—a 150-year-old organization which was originally the International Telegraph Union. As technology evolved,itshifted focus to radio spectrum management and telecommunications networks and settlement regimes. In other words, it provided the framework that enabled global telecom firms to charge exorbitant long-distance rates for voice calls for decades.


According to ITAP president Dondi Mapa, the ITU has little expertise in Internet governance and regulation, as the development of telecommunications networks and standards have very little in common with the development of Internet standards. ITU appears to be in search of a cause to justify its continued existence. If it has the impact on the Internet that it had on telecommunications, that’s bad news indeed for users.


In a briefing, Mr. Mapa and IS official Winthrop Yu cited three alarming scenarios that could result from ITU efforts to create a governance and regulatory role—with the support of generally non-democratic, authoritarian governments—for itself. They include increased costs for businesses, roadblocks to innovation, and the clear potential for censorship and human rights abuses.


The proposed treaty is being negotiated by governments, and the Philippines has a role. Mr. Mapa told me, “The Philippines has been a Council Member of the ITU for over 10 years. During the last round of elections in 2010, we just made it to the list, sliding in at last place with 97 votes, compared to 1998 where we came in at second place with 123 votes. If we want to continue to justify our place in the Council, we need to pull our weight, and show the thought leadership associated with the responsibilities that have been given to us.”


As Asia’s oldest democracy, the Philippines is in a unique position to demonstrate leadership in the treaty negotiations, which do not include the private sector, but will be binding on it nevertheless. The Philippines isalso a Steering Committee member of the Open Government Partnership which President Benigno S. Aquino III helped launch with U.S. President Barack Obama, a clear commitment to transparency and good governance.


However, Messrs. Mapa and Yu note that so far, the Philippine government has not demonstrated a leadership role in ITU meetings. “We need to be cognizant of the threat that some of these proposals might bring to a free and open Internet,” Mr. Mapa warned.

Information is power, and if the ITU and countries like Russia, China, and Iran have their way, that power will be taken from Internet users. And enterprise and innovation will take a backseat to regulation and increased costs of communications. The stakes are enormous.

Categories: Media News and Updates

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