Second-class Internet may be coming, says CIRA head

The odds of a “second-class Internet” where major content providers like Google refuse to send content to strictly regulated countries have been increased with the approval of a global telecommunications treaty, says the head of Canada’s Internet registry.

The updated international telecom regulations agreed to by the majority of countries at last week’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) has split the world, says Byron Holland, CEO of the Canadian Internet Registry Authority (CIRA), who was in Dubai as part of the 26-member Canadian delegation. CIRA oversees the .ca domain.

Canada was one of a number of countries that refused to sign the treaty because of some “egregious” resolutions, he said.

“The conference fractured around what I would call traditional cold-war lines,” he said, with the addition of China and Middle East and Africa taking a stand against a free and open Internet, and looking to regulate it and have far more state control.”

What he and others fear is that resolutions passed by the majority will end up allowing the politically-controlled International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – a body of the United Nations – to oversee governance of the Internet. The ITU

The Internet is largely governed by a group of non-governmental bodies including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (ITEF).

“This is a battle in an ongoing conflict,” Holland said of the WCIT outcome. The World Telecommunications Policy Forum, an ITU policy conference to be held May 14-16, 2013 in Geneva “will be the next skirmish,” he predicted. According to the ITU’s Web site it will deal with “international Internet-related public policy matters.”

The ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference in 2014 in Korea “will certainly be a major battleground in this ongoing conflict for oversight and control over the Internet,” he added.
If things go badly, he warned some content providers may not want to service certain countries where the rules and regulations and cost of doing business will be prohibitive. The result, Holland said, is there will be two Internets: one open for some nations, the other tightly regulated where citizens have less access to information.
The goal of the Dubai conference was to update regulations governing the interconnection of national telecommunications systems. Countries like Canada and the U.S. insisted the Internet has nothing to do with those international telecom regulations (ITRs). But official and unofficial statements from certain nations led them to believe before the conference that there would be a movement to bring the Internet into the regs.

Holland pointed to three resolutions that the Canadian delegation – which included representatives from BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada, Telus Corp. and Research In Motion – objected to:

–Resolution 3 in the appendix says the conference recognizes that “the Internet is a central element of the information society” and therefore invites ITU member states “to elaborate on international Internet-related technical development and public-policy issues” at ITU forums.

Because it is part of the appendix that resolution isn’t binding, Holland admits. But, he added, it “sets the tone and basically speaks to the ITU having sway in the Internet space. And I can tell you having watched some of the governmental actors in play here they will now make hay with the fact that there is now an Internet solution associated with the ITRs.”

–Article 5(b) of the treaty, which says member states should try to “prevent the propagation of unsolicited build electronic communications,” which critics say means spam. It’s another way the Internet wedged its way into the treaty, they say.

The fear, Holland said, is that some countries will use that clause to justify deep packet inspection of all Internet traffic within their borders.

Unfortunately, he said, countries such as Russia, China, Algeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia spoke “forcefully” for that article and there was “no middle ground to be found.”

When reminded that before the treaty many countries limited access to the Internet, Holland said it’s one thing for a country to do that within its borders, it’s another for a UN body to sanction and accept an internationally biding treat that mandates that activity. “The ITU has no business in content, and they now have inserted themselves into deep content. They’re so deep they’ve put on the latex gloves,”

On the other hand, the Article 1.1 of the treaty says the regulations “do not address the content-related aspects of telecommunications.”

–Article 1.1 a) speaks of the regulations applying to “operating agencies.” But, Holland said, usually international agreements refer to “recognized operating agencies,” which is understood to mean carriers like Bell and Telus. Changing the wording suggests the regulations will also apply to independent Internet service providers who buy connectivity from carriers, as well as private and government networks.

Similarly the traditional wording of “public correspondence” means public carriers. But the WCIT treaty speaks of “public networks,” which to critics can be interpreted as including private and government networks.

This, Holland said, was the last straw for the U.S. delegation.

“It is unfortunate that the conference basically in the end blew apart and fractured the global community around the interconnection of telcos and the Internet. That was an extremely unfortunate outcome. However, I’m very satisfied that the Canadian government and others stood up against the most egregious parts of the treaty.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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