Free and open internet at risk

internet regulations

People, businesses, and online communities are up in arms against the possibility of the internet being regulated, and restrictions imposed in secret, behind closed doors.

World governments are meeting today in Dubai, at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). There, government regulators from 193 countries have come together to update International Telecommunications Regulations, which is governed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The main issues at hand are whether or not to treat the internet like a giant telecommunications company, charging people for international access on top of regular fees, as well as the degree of control governments will be able to exert over the internet.

As says, “some European and Middle Eastern members are calling for so-called termination fees, in which networks where a web session begins must pay the routing cost for the session’s destination — like phone companies work with phone calls.”

Websites such as Google and Facebook would be forced to pay to stream data along telecom operators’ networks, and as we all know, these costs will eventually fall to the consumer.

Such a proposal has obvious draws and setbacks for the average user: a decrease in privacy, increase in cost, and heightened difficulty for many in accessing the internet.

However, it has been established that the USA and EU object to the treatment of the internet like the telephone when it comes to transmission agreements.

The ITU is arguing that the changes proposed will lead to greater internet access for more people. Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union was quoted as saying before the meeting began, “The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely [the] rich world’s privilege…ITU wants to change that.”

Many are calling this just another money-grab by corrupt governments and telecom companies, making people pay for something that they previously never had to.

With an online population of about two billion, the amount of money that can be squeezed out of peoples’ pockets is significant.

The internet is the one place that hasn’t been easily regulated and controlled by bureaucracy, which has enabled it to grow to its current immense size. It hardly needs to be pointed out that a free and open internet is practically the last place where equal opportunity exists: if you have an idea, you can put it into play online and reach an audience on a mind-boggling scale.

Restricting and regulating the internet will severely cripple the potential for people to kick-start their own ventures. It will also hinder current businesses, particularly the little guys who would have to shell out more, in order to keep up.

Techdirt puts it succinctly: “does anyone really think that a process that requires the companies who successfully innovated to funnel money to corrupt governments and/or corrupt state-controlled telcos is going to magically lead to greater investment in internet growth?”

What really sticks in our craw is the fact that these debates and decisions will be made in private, where the public can’t comment or object. Decisions that will affect two billion people are being made by a privileged few.

Google is calling for internet policy to be determined in the same way that the internet works: open and free for all to see and participate. It has started a petition that can be viewed and signed here.

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