In December this year, representatives of 193 governments will meet in Dubai to vote on critical proposals that will decide how the Internet is governed from now on.
The discussion, to be held at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), will impact nearly six billion mobile phone users and two billion Internet users. These include 700 million mobile phone and 100 million Internet users in India.
The subject has assumed controversial proportions for two reasons: the countries are divided in their positions; and the issues have split national governments vis-à-vis their own telecom and Internet industry, civil society and academia in many cases. In that sense, the global divide among nation states is worsened by the yawning divide among stakeholders.
According to R. Chandrashekhar, Secretary of the Department of Telecom, the government is examining the broad issues, but is yet to take a final position. “We have invited inputs from the industry and will consider the views of civil society and academia,” he told The Hindu.
Between December 4 and 13, the governments will review an international treaty known as International Telecom Regulations (ITRs) under the aegis of a lesser known U.N. bureaucracy — the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITRs were last reviewed in 1988, when phone companies worldwide were government-owned and the Internet was not available for consumer use.
Today, a vast majority of networks and subscribers are under private companies, and the Internet, which started with 16 million subscribers in 1995, has more than two billion users; nearly half-a-million are added every day.
Under discussion are several proposals, including cybersecurity, data privacy misuse, fraud and spam, which could give the states more control over content and access to networks; new peering arrangements and impact on costs of Internet traffic, which may increase the cost of users, especially in developing countries; “new technologies” regulation, which may open the way for censorship through technologies, like DNS filtering, that fragment the global Internet; a review of Internet addresses leading to change in the global address registry and how users access websites today; and, finally, government-regulated international mobile roaming tariffs which may impact the use of international SIM cards, like Matrix, to lower costs.