The regulations which underpin the global foundations of the internet are under threat. At the end of this year the 1988 International Telecoms Treaties which made the web possible are up for renewal. Many countries, such as Russia and China, who resent their citizen's free access to information, see this as a chance to destroy the web by introducing clauses which restrict international information flows.
If you are concerned to maintain the web as an international sphere, get involved.
The Dangers From Global Web Regulation
Guest post written by Robert Pepper, vice president for global technology policy at Cisco Systems.
A grave threat to the Internet as we know it has emerged as part of well-intentioned, but fatally flawed proposals to update an international telecommunications treaty. If these radical changes are adopted, the results could be devastating. It could break the global Internet into unconnected islands of national or regional networks, extend telecommunications regulations to computing, or lead to onerous government regulation of the Internet.
The story goes back to 1984, when there were approximately eight wired telephones installed for every 100 people on the planet and an independent commission to the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union concluded that there is “…no good reason why by the early part of the next century virtually the whole of mankind should not be within easy reach of a telephone and of all the benefits this can bring.”
Nearly 30 years later, there are only slightly more than twice the penetration of wired telephone lines, 17 per 100 people. The astonishing achievement, however, is that while there were practically no mobile or Internet connections in 1984, globally there are now 86 mobile telephones, 33 Internet users and 24 broadband subscriptions (fixed and mobile) per every 100 people.
What may be a surprise is that this huge growth in communications – mobile and Internet – occurred largely outside of traditional telecommunications regulation and out of the focus of a 1988 ITU international treaty, the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs).
The fact that the Internet developed outside of traditional telecommunications regulation is no accident. Rather it was the conscious decision of countries that fostered the Internet’s early development.
The result? Huge innovation in technology and the adoption of the Internet by an estimated 2.3 billion people, with a projected reach to half the world’s 7+ billion people in the next five years. The Internet has transformed the way we work, learn, play and communicate with one another, independent of place and distance. Entire new industries have been created, existing industries are being transformed, governments are providing their citizens better and new services and people are engaging with each other, and their governments, all enabled by an open global Internet.
In short, the Internet has become the key innovation engine of the 21st century economy.
But this growth and innovation is at risk. There are some who want to use the review of the 1988 ITRs in December at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) as an excuse to impose legacy telecommunications regulation on the Internet and Internet Protocol networks and services. The ITRs focused on international agreements for wired telephone connections. The Internet was not addressed in the 1988 regulations and, in fact, was subsequently treated as a “Special Arrangement” exempt from the ITRs. This enabled the Internet to develop successful economic and business models based upon commercially negotiated arrangements rather than being micro managed by regulation.
Some proposals for the WCIT would control the routing of Internet traffic in the name of security but would balkanize the Internet and threaten Internet freedom. Other proposals would radically redefine telecommunications to encompass computing. Still others would use economic competition as an excuse to regulate the Internet. These radical proposals threaten not only the Internet as we know it but also innovation and national and global economic development.
We should be extremely wary of any actions that dramatically alter the global Internet landscape and stem the growth, innovation and dynamism of the Internet today. Instead, a treaty that sets out high-level principles for traditional telecommunications such as competition and open and transparent regulatory process, would foster continued innovation in technologies and services that ride on that underlying telecommunications. This is the approach that should be pursued.
This is not to say that the growth of the Internet has not raised important questions and challenges, as well as opportunities, for governments, individuals, traditional companies and their business models, and industry. However, the way we answer these questions and challenges should not be an extension of the ITU’s old rules that were written at a time when most of the world’s telecom companies were subsidiaries of government departments, often the post office. Extending an ancient regulatory model designed for another time to the rapidly evolving Internet would stifle innovation and investment.
While the Internet started in the U.S. and quickly expanded throughout North American and Europe, it now covers the world with explosive growth, especially in emerging economies and geographic centers of innovation.
Changing the regulatory and business model of the Internet now with an outdated legacy telecom model would limit the Internet’s expansion and diminish the potential for further innovation.
This would be an enormous mistake.