An upcoming meeting of the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union could have a huge impact on Internet businesses, and those businesses should help lobby to keep the organization from imposing new Internet regulations, a group of Internet advocates said Wednesday.
Representatives of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the Internet Society and other groups encouraged attendees of a network operators conference to keep an eye on the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a treaty-writing conference to be held in Dubai in December.
Even if the U.S. opts out of any Internet regulations adopted at the WCIT, many other countries take the ITU's recommendations seriously, said Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager of public policy at the Internet Society. "In many developing countries, they take the treaty itself and incorporate it whole cloth into national law," she said. "If you do business in countries that do that ... this will affect the legal and regulatory environment you work in."
Members of the North American Network Operators' Group (NANOG) should also look at the proposals for WCIT , evaluate how the proposals will affect their businesses, and write short papers detailing the potential problems, Wentworth said. Delegates to WCIT need ammunition in their efforts to keep the ITU away from Internet regulation, she said at a NANOG conference in Dallas.
"Take a look at a single proposal and dissect it from where you sit," she told the network engineers. "Analyze it from a real-world example. Put it on a blog, put it in a paper, send it to us. That kind of work is extremely useful and much, much needed."
Observers of the ITU expect that several countries will push for new, international termination fees for the Internet. In traditional telephone services, telecom providers bill each other for carrying each other's traffic, with the carrier where the call originated paying the carrier where the call ended up.During WCIT, Russia, China and other countries may also push for the ITU to take Internet governance away from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and other organizations. Some countries may push for more surveillance of Internet users in the name of fighting spam or fraud, observers have said.
"There is real mischief and real harm that can come out of modification" of the ITU's telecom regulations, said Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google.
During a question-and-answer session, Patrick Gilmore, chief network architect for Akamai Technologies, disagreed with Cathy Handley, executive director of government affairs and public policy for ARIN, who said there are currently no proposals before WCIT to have the ITU take over governance of the Internet. A number of proposals would create new Internet regulations, Handley said.
The conference is "going to affect every single one of you, whether you like it or not," Gilmore told NANOG attendees.
While the ITU may not be trying to take over the Internet, "stupidity is indistinguishable from malice," Gilmore said. "At the end of the day, if they do enough things, they have taken over the Internet."
Some of the efforts to impose regulations on the Internet may be an effort by traditional telecom carriers to protect their turf, said Geoff Huston, chief scientist at the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, a nonprofit providing Internet addressing services in the Asia Pacific region. The telecom industry has changed drastically since the last WCIT meeting in 1988, he said, with traditional telecom companies now struggling to compete with services provided on the Internet.
"This is an expression of an industry in deep trouble," he said. "We are plumbers down at the sewage and commodity level. People don't join the Internet and use it because they admire the packets -- they go there for the apps, they go their for the services."
The fight over how to regulate the Internet is a "fight over a dwindling pool of money" in the telecom industry, he said.
"When you've got a shockingly bad, broken business plan that's unsustainable, the best thing you can do is seek regulatory relief," he added. "To what extent are we seeing a bunch of losers trying to promote broken business plans by ... screaming loudly because this is the last gasp of the telephone industry that should have died a decade ago?"
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]