Battle for control of the internet spills into the open at WCIT

By Graeme Burton
03 Dec 2012 View Comments

In an opinion article in Wired magazine, published earlier this year, Toure said that the ITU merely wanted to bring the internet to more people. "With over 90 per cent of the world's people now within reach of mobile phones, the challenge today is bringing internet access to the two-thirds of the world's population that is still offline. This challenge is compounded by the need to ensure connectivity is affordable and safe for all."

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He continued: "The sole focus of the [WCIT] is making regulations valuable to all stakeholders, creating a robust pillar to support future growth in global communications... The conference will address issues that relate to improving online access and connectivity for everyone."

However, he added that while the ITU had no desire to usurp or take control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the US company that assigns domain names and internet protocol addresses, it did want to revise global telecoms treaties in order to make internet access more affordable and to combat spam and other internet security threats. 

"Proposals here range from combating spam and improving network security to mandating identification of communications' origins," he wrote. "Governments are looking for more effective frameworks to combat fraud and other crimes."

Background to WCIT 2012

The ITU, which falls under the auspices of the UN, is the organisation that draws up the treaties and regulations governing global communications.

It has been seeking greater influence and, ultimately, regulatory control of the internet since it rose to prominence in the 1990s. Since the last major revision of ITU regulations in 1988, it has  made repeated attempts at the behest of some of its members to make a power-grab for the internet.

In response, the US government, under whose auspices the internet was conceived and commercialised, has put governance under the control of an arm's-length organisation, ICANN.

ICANN was created in September 1998 to oversee a number of internet-related tasks previously performed directly on behalf of the US government.

Its principal roles are to coordinate allocation of internet protocol (IP) address spaces (both IPv4 and IPv6) and assignment of address blocks to regional internet registries, for maintaining registries of internet protocol identifiers, and for the management of the top-level domain name space (DNS root zone), which includes the operation of root name-servers.

Most recently, it has also overseen the auction of new generic top-level domains (TLDs), which has drawn some criticism from certain countries that have objected to a number of proposed new domains.

And, according to the memorandum of understanding between the US Department of Commerce and ICANN when it was founded, its primary principles of operation also include:

  • Helping preserve the operational stability of the internet;
  • Promoting competition;
  • Provide broad representation of the global internet community; and,
  • Developing policies appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based processes.

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