Internet governance & freedom of access top Dubai ICT summit 3 DEC By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
A very important international conference, with direct implications to our daily life, has opened Monday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This is an elite gathering that goes by the title World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). Its major agenda is to revisit the already known difficult and sensitive issues pertaining to governance of the international telecommunications, mainly the world wide web.
Participants in the conference would spend the next two weeks reviewing and debating the current International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which were adopted at the 1988 Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
This conference brings together an unparalleled mix of attendants ranging from government representatives to key players in big business in technologies, manufacturers, operators, content and applications providers, plus regulators, as well as academia and media included.
The very mix of the participants indicates that there would be divergent interests and interest groups. Some of them are interested in increased revenues now and in the future. This includes both governments and big businesses, some of them that harbor interets in tight control of peoples and communities.
There is no doubt that the world has come a long way since the 1988 Melbourne ITRs, especially given today’s advances in technology development – the various aspects of the information and communications technologies.
In addressing the conference, the ITU Secretary-Genearl Hamdoun Touré called on the participants to take time to honor the 1988 ITRs. He gave them their deserved credit for paving the way for the phenomenal growth across the information and communication technology sector, which have brought “tremendous public benefit[s] inherent in communications networks and services.”
On the same breadth, he spoke of the future:
“The Internet is no longer an innovation whose scope and benefits are limited to the developed world. It is a global phenomenon. I think we can all agree that the Internet is a valuable global public resource which every citizen in the world should be able to benefit from. I think we can also agree that continued progress in bringing the world online can only be assured by continuing to practice a multi-stakeholder approach.”
Certainly, many are also that are driven by a genuine desire to bring billions of unconnected people into the modern world of information and communications technologies, as the ITU chief pointed out Monday. Nevertheless, the danger lies in trusting those that purport to speak on behalf of the masses, when they are the very people who have been caught repeatedly censoring and blocking the internet and imprisoning journalists.
Reaching an agreement that satisfies all sides is not easy in this powerful and liberating medium that also happens to be a lucrative industry. For sure, Ethiopians can authoritatively speak more about the dangers of bad internet governance than its benefits, since they have first hand what its choking means before they even began to use it in a wider scale.
It should be borne in mind that so many reservations have been entered by governments on the Melbourne ITRs 24 years ago. At this point, since the majority of those states have not entered their arguments at the time, no one can speak with certainty about each state’s plans and considerations for the future. That is the reason why careful reflection is required not to endanger the future of freedom of freedom on the internet and the enormous advancements it still can facilitate.
Why make reservations on the Melbourne Acts?
It must not be doubted that there are many countries that measure the successes of their leadership by the extent they censor the medial and/or silence their nations by clamping down on freedom on the internet altogether. For instance, a country such as Ethiopia, whose role in the use and development of the information and communications technology is negligible, ranking 150th out of 154 states in ICT development, according to ITU statistics, is one of the 74 countries that has made its reservations on the Melbourne Final Act.
Today, as well as in the past two decades, Ethiopia has shown the world that it is determined to shut off the window of freedom on the internet or off the internet. Amazingly, the country that does this has only 1.1 percent of its 85 million people enjoying access to the internet and the literacy count of its adult population since 2008 has frozen at 29.8 percent, according to ITU. Therefore, Ethiopia’s case does not need pondering so much to establish its rationale. Instead time may be needed to reason out and understand that of those 73 others that have also registered reservations for various reasons, although some of them had already entered their concerns along with their signatures at the time.
There is an overwhelming evidence to show that the First Meles Regime in May 2012 ended up criminalizing even the use of Skype. As of 29 November 2012, The Second Meles Regime has promoted the man who authored criminalization of using the Skype to postion of deputy prime minister! That is the extent of today’s danger to freedom on the internet!
The United States had also made reservations on the Melbourne Final Act. However, there is qualitative difference between what Ethiopia has done and that of the United States. Of the four points it laid out in US reservations, propriety of the US action is attested by what the gruesome censorship Ethiopians have been experiencing in their daily life on the internet and off the internet.
The reservations explained by the US in point four reads: [The United States would not] “endorse, in any way, domestic procedures of other Members which would require approval for providers of telecommunication services and services dependent on telecommunication transport seeking to do business outside the United States of America”.
At this conference, the US already is livid at the notion of intergovernmental control of the internet. Thus, Canada and the US, among others, have formed a front to fight it back, including with recommendations for free or freer internet. The head of the US delegation Ambassador Terry Kramer said, according to the Australian Financial Review, “the US would propose taking all Internet-related discussions off the table and concentrating on already regulated services such as phone networks.” The reason, he added, “What we don’t want to do is bring in all the private networks, the Internet networks, the government networks, etc.,…That opens the door to censorship.”
Whether the motive is truly the free flow of ideas and information or strictly business interests cannot be separated. To its credit, however, the US has already rendered vital services to the international community through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which for the past 14 years despite many shortfalls has to a point served reasonably, even if it has become a tool for advancing its national interests.
All that the United States must do now is broadening the use of ICANN to allow the interests of all countries – both developed and developing states. The problem for this conference is that there are also those that strictly push the interests of the developed world, possibly of a few amongst them. Even the United Nations has been unjustifiably implicated as being the enemy of internet freedom.
The world has changed and the good thing is that there would be some recommendations by groups of countries to broaden oversight of internet. If the effort on the part of the US is to keep its national control of ICANN, possibly agreements could be hard to reach, or the horse-trading at the conference might end up giving birth to an unwanted animal.
That seems the reason why the ITU secretary-general in his statement at the conference today wanted to dispel misgivings about the United Nations role, implying that it is preparing through WCIT to put the internet under inter-governmental control. In that connection, Hamdoun Touré stated:
“WCIT is not about taking over the Internet. WCIT is not about Internet governance. WCIT is about making sure that we connect the billion people without access to mobile telephony. And that we connect the 4.5 billion people who are still offline.”
At this point, the only optimism rests now on the Obama administration not acting recklessly. Monday, American officials were heard pledging openness and their cooperation with the international community, according to The Washington Post. The concerned officials said the United States would support a ““multistakeholder model” for addressing Internet policy”, which we saw also above the ITU secretary-general calling for.
Since the idea of the conference is to establish clear rules, it is in everyone’s interest to exert all efforts to ensure that the interests of expanding freedom, human rights, equality, economic growth and development and scientific innovations are not undermined.
For those who may be interested in getting a sense of what most countries think and want, try to dig through the compilation of all recommendations so far made, which is available on the ITU webpage is here
Source Transforming Ethiopia