The UN's Internet power grab: An FAQ

The United Nations is not taking over the Internet. At least – not yet. But that's the fear many have as talks take place in Dubia this week as the UN's Telecommunication Union and delegates from around the world meet  to decide whether it should have oversight or regulate the Internet. That has some big alarm bells ringing.

The United States along with private companies such as Google and Microsoft fear centralized control over the Internet by the UN and governments could be used as justification to impose more restrictions, monitoring, or surveillance of the Web. They fear as a result of this conference, which last through next week, that fundamental underpinnings of the Internet could be changed. This, they say, could lead to more nation by nation control of the Web and an erosion of the the Internet as a decentralized global open network.

The head of the UN's International Telecommunications Union, Hamadoun Toure, said any assertion that the UN was attempting to take control of the Internet was "completely untrue." Instead Toure said only "light-touch" regulations were being sought.

To help navigate this important and complicated topic I offer a breakdown of the major bullet points of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union Conference.

What is the International Teleommunication Union?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the branch of the United Nations (UN) responsible for information and communication technologies. The ITU was established in 1865, and is composed of 192 United Nations member states and the Vatican City. The ITU currently focuses on three sectors – radio communication, standardization, and development. It does not – at least, not yet – set standards or regulations for the Internet.

WCIT
Opening ceremony WCIT 2012 Dubai, UAE

What is the World Conference on International Telecommunications?

The 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications, or WCIT-12, is basically a two-week long ITU summit in Dubai. This particular conference, which began December 3 and ends December 14, is considered “landmark” because it’s the first time that the ITU will review and update the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) that govern connectivity. The ITRs haven’t been updated since 1988, which was back when the Internet wasn’t really a thing, and so the ITU will be hearing proposals from different countries on how (or if) the ITRs should be updated to include this newfangled communications system.

What is Congress voting for/against?

Both the U.S. Senate and the House voted unanimously for a resolution introduced by Sens. Clair McCaskill (D-Montana) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) that calls for the U.S. government to oppose a UN “takeover” of the Internet. This vote is meant to signal to the countries currently gathering at the WCIT-12 that the United States is not on board with any proposals that might involve allowing the UN to regulate the Internet.

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