UN talks on Internet governance held in Dubai ended with many countries refusing to sign a treaty that would have changed the way the Net is regulated.
The annual conference organized by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN agency responsible for regulating international telecommunications, doesn't receive much attention in general.
But this year's ITU conference received a lot of media attention. Internet governance and regulation was the main topic the talks.
Some of the 193 participating countries want the ITU's influence to expand to include the Internet. Since 1988, an internationally recognized agreement (ITR) has only covered traditional phones.
Countries including Russia, China and some Arab nations wanted a revision of the agreement to allow the UN to intervene on Internet traffic.
One of the main arguments for those calling for the Internet to be brought under the ITU's governance is that most phone calls are routed via the Internet today. "We cannot speak of international telecommunication without considering Internet telephone and telecommunication," a representative from Bahrain said.
Bahrain is one of the countries that reacted very strongly against bloggers and critics of the administration, according to US-based NGO Freedom House.
A free ticket to censorship
Proposals that countries like China, Russia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to push though were already published in a document on a WCITLeaks page online.
The document has been criticized as a free pass for state censorship as it allows for anyone publishing content on the Web to have to pay for it. Also, it would also undermine Net neutrality by permitting different levels of connection quality.
Russia also proposed "national Internet segments" or national intranets, which could be controlled by governments. Iran is working on development its own country's "Halal Internet."
Two weeks of wrangling on new rules
Almost the entire West fought against attempts to push through an ITR, which would include the Internet. The word "Internet" does not appear in the new ITR, but there are some general statements on Internet traffic, which leave room for interpretation. Critics believe that the new guidelines will be interested by some countries so that they allow for government control.
Internet expert Wolfgang Kleinwächter said he thinks that this conference was more about politics than technology.
"More and more negotiations are a kind of political shadow boxing, which is less about the practical implications and more about the politics," Kleinwachter told German IT news site Heise Online.
At the end of the conference, the ITU's secretary general spoke of "many winners." The new ITR stipulates transparency on roaming charges.
The document declared was passed despite the protests of some delegates. Only 89 of the 193 countries at the conference signed the agreement. And big countries like Germany and the United States did not.
So for now, things will remain as they were in the free world, and in non-democratic countries, Internet users will continue to be controlled and critical bloggers monitored.
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