The future of the internet

Telecom Asia

As you no doubt know, the ITU has plans to update its International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which were last updated in 1988, and have since become badly outdated. At the time, most telecom markets were government-controlled monopolies, the internet was a largely academic project funded by DARPA, and mobile phones were mainly things you installed in cars. And they didn't roam. 

That's set to change this December in Dubai when the ITU convenes the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a treaty-level conference in which delegates will aim to modernize the ITRs. But inevitably - the ITU being essentially a branch of the United Nations - there has been much political dithering over how the ITRs should be changed, particularly in terms of internet regulation. 

At the center of that debate is the age-old argument about the role of ICANN in overseeing the growth and self-regulation of the internet. Despite being a private company, ICANN has been regularly accused by critics of taking a US-centric approach to the point of protecting US government interests at the expense of everyone else, especially developing markets. 

As such, reports have been surfacing for the past year that BRIC countries and others - particularly China and Russia - favor putting ICANN's functions under the control of the ITU, including cybersecurity, data privacy, technical standards and IP address allocations.

Needless to say, the US government is alarmed by the idea. So are people like Vint Cerf, VP and chief internet evangelist at Google and the man who gave us TCP. At a Congressional hearing in May, Cerf stated firmly that 'if there's one thing that we should not do, it is to centralize decision-making power.' Cerf warned that if the WCIT approves proposals that authorize increased ITU and member state control over the internet, it would 'change the foundational structure of the internet that has historically led to unprecedented worldwide innovation and economic growth.'

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