Internet Governance & ICANN

When Jerry and I started WCITLeaks, we didn’t know if our idea would gain traction. But it did. We made dozens of WCIT-related documents available to civil society and the general public—and in some cases, even to WCIT delegates themselves. We are happy to have played a constructive role, by fostering improved access to the information necessary for the media and global civil society to form opinions on such a vital issue as the future of the Internet. You can read my full retrospective account of WCITLeaks and the WCIT over at Ars Technica.

But now it’s time to look beyond the WCIT. The WCIT revealed substantial international disagreement over the future direction of Internet governance, particularly on the issues of whether the ITU is an appropriate forum to resolve Internet issues and whether Internet companies such as Google and Twitter should be subject to the provisions of ITU treaties. This disagreement led to a split in which 55 countries opted not to sign the revised ITRs, the treaty under negotiation.

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Earlier today on Twitter, I listed what I thought were the Top 5 “Biggest Internet Policy Issues of 2012.” In case you don’t follow me on Twitter — and shame on you if you don’t! — here were my choices:

  1. Copyright wars reinvigorated post-SOPA; tide starting to turn in favor of copyright reform. [TLF posts on copyright.]
  2. Privacy still red-hot w ECPA reform, online advertising regs & kids’ privacy issues all pending. [TLF posts on privacy.]
  3. WCIT makes Internet governance / NetFreedom a major issue worldwide. [TLF posts on Net governance.]
  4. Antitrust threat looms larger w pending Google case + Apple books investigation. [TLF posts on antitrust.]
  5. Cybersecurity regulatory push continues in both legislative (CISPA) & executive branch. [TLF posts on cybersecurity.]

Lists like these are entirely subjective, of course, but I am basing my list on the general amount of chatter I tended to see and hear about each topic over the course of the year.

What do you think the top tech policy issues of the year were?

When CLECs say “packet mode,” don’t let the doublespeak fool you. They are asking for heavy-handed economic regulation of the Internet itself, just like many countries at the ITU.

Last week, I wrote about the failure of the CLECs to provide consumers with the additional choices in communications services Congress had envisioned in 1996. I noted that, now that the antiquated telephone network is about to sunset, CLECs must bear responsibility for their own decisions to forgo investment in their own infrastructure and rely on lines leased with temporary government subsidies. The desperation of CLECs to avoid this reality is apparent in their use of doublespeak to conceal their true intent: convincing the FCC to regulate the Internet like plain old telephone service. Continue reading →

On Friday evening, I posted on CNET a detailed analysis of the most recent proposal to surface from the secretive upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT 12.  The conference will discuss updates to a 1988 UN treaty administered by the International Telecommunications Union, and throughout the year there have been reports that both governmental and non-governmental members of the ITU have been trying to use the rewrite to put the ITU squarely in the Internet business.

The Russian federation’s proposal, which was submitted to the ITU on Nov. 13th, would explicitly bring “IP-based Networks” under the auspices of the ITU, and would in specific substantially if not completely change the role of ICANN in overseeing domain names and IP addresses.

According to the proposal, “Member States shall have the sovereign right to manage the Internet within their national territory, as well as to manage national Internet domain names.”  And a second revision, also aimed straight at the heart of today’s multi-stakeholder process, reads:  “Member States shall have equal rights in the international allocation of Internet addressing and identification resources.” Continue reading →

As some of you know, I’ve been closely following the World Conference on International Telecommunication, an international treaty conference in December that will revise rules, for example, on how billing for international phone calls is handled. Some participants are interested in broadening the scope of the current treaty to include rules about the Internet and services provided over the Internet.

I haven’t written much publicly about the WCIT lately because I am now officially a participant—I have joined the US delegation to the conference. My role is to help prepare the US government for the conference, and to travel to Dubai to advise the government on the issues that arise during negotiations.

To help the general public better understand what we can expect to happen at WCIT, Mercatus has organized an event next week that should be informative. Ambassador Terry Kramer, the head of the US delegation, will give a keynote address and take questions from the audience. This will be followed by what should be a lively panel discussion between me, Paul Brigner from the Internet Society, Milton Mueller from Syracuse University, and Gary Fowlie from the ITU, the UN agency organizing the conference. The event will be on Wednesday, November 14, at 2 pm at the W hotel in Washington.

If you’re in the DC area and are interested in getting a preview of the WCIT, I hope to see you at the event on Wednesday. Be sure to register now since we are expecting a large turnout.

As you know, Eli Dourado and I have been keeping close tabs on the World Conference on Information Technology (WCIT), which will take place this December in Dubai. We started WCITLeaks.org in June to help bring transparency to the treaty negotiations because U.S. officials and others had warned that some member states, including Russia and China, had put forth proposals to regulate the Internet, and those proposals where not available to the public. Since then, Eli has joined the State Department’s International Telecommunication Advisory Committee and he will be part of the U.S. delegation to the Conference.

Now we’d like to invite you for a final briefing about the conference, looking at what’s at stake and what to expect, on Wednesday, November 14, at 2 p.m. at the W Hotel in Downtown D.C. We will have a keynote address by Ambassador Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation to the conference, as well as a panel discussion including Gary Fowlie from the United Nations, Paul Brigner from the Internet Society, and internet governance expert Milton Mueller.

We hope you will join us for what will no doubt be a lively discussion! Below is the full event information. Please RSVP today.


Please join the Mercatus Center for a panel discussion on the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT). Once in a generation, governments from around the world gather to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations, a UN-sponsored treaty that governs international telecom practices. This year’s meeting is especially important because it is the first one since widespread adoption of technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones.

In the U.S. there has been widespread concern that the UN may want to exert greater control over the Internet, and the House recently voted unanimously for a resolution opposing any such move. Additionally, there are concerns that the new regulations could require U.S. web companies to pay to deliver content over the Internet.

The panel will preview these and other issues that are likely to arise at the WCIT meeting that begins in Dubai on December 3. The event will also feature a keynote address by Ambassador Terry D. Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation to the WCIT.

Panel Discussion:

Eli Dourado, Research Fellow, Mercatus Center at George Mason University & co-creator, WCITLeaks.org

Paul Brigner, Regional Director of the North American Bureau, Internet Society

Milton Mueller, Professor, Syracuse University School of Information Studies & co-founder, Internet Governance Project

Gary Fowlie, Head of the Liaison office of the International Telecommunication Union to the United Nations

Joseph Hall on e-voting

by on October 30, 2012 · 0 comments

Elections are coming up, but though we’re well into the 21st century, we still can’t vote online. This archived episode discusses the future of voting.

Joseph Hall, Senior Staff Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology and a former postdoctoral researcher at the UC Berkeley School of Information, discusses e-voting. Hall explains the often muddled differences between electronic and internet voting, and talks about security concerns of each. He also talks about benefits and costs of different voting systems, limits to having meaningful recounts with digital voting systems, and why internet voting can be a bad idea.

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Vinton Cerf, one of the “fathers of the internet,” discusses what he sees as one of the greatest threats to the internet—the encroachment of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU) into the internet realm. ITU member states will meet this December in Dubai to update international telecommunications regulations and consider proposals to regulate the net. Cerf argues that, as the face of telecommunications is changing, the ITU is attempting to justify its continued existence by expanding its mandate to include the internet. Cerf says that the business model of the internet is fundamentally different from that of traditional telecommunications, and as a result, the ITU’s regulatory model will not work. In place of top-down ITU regulation, Cerf suggests that open multi-stakeholder processes and bilateral agreements may be a better solutions to the challenges of governance on the internet.

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The New WCITLeaks

by on September 6, 2012 · 0 comments

Today, Jerry and I are pleased to announce a major update to WCITLeaks.org, our project to bring transparency to the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT, pronounced wicket).

If you haven’t been following along, WCIT is an upcoming treaty conference to update the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which currently govern some parts of the international telephone system, as well as other antiquated communication methods, like telegraphs. There has been a push from some ITU member states to bring some aspects of Internet policy into the ITRs for the first time.

We started WCITLeaks.org to provide a public hosting platform for people with access to secret ITU documents. We think that if ITU member states want to discuss the future of the Internet, they need to do so on an open and transparent basis, not behind closed doors.

Today, we’re taking our critique one step further. Input into the WCIT process has been dominated by member states and private industry. We believe it is important that civil society have its say as well. That is why we are launching a new section of the site devoted to policy analysis and advocacy resources. We want the public to have the very best information from a broad spectrum of civil society, not just whatever information most serves interests of the ITU, member states, and trade associations.

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Today is a a big day for WCIT: Ambassador Kramer gave a major address on the US position and the Bono Mack resolution is up for a vote in the House. But don’t overlook this Portuguese language interview with ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré.

In the interview, Secretary-General Touré says that we need $800 billion of telecom infrastructure investment over the next five years. He adds that this money is going to have to come from the private sector, and that the role of government is to adopt dynamic regulatory policies so that the investment will be forthcoming. It seems to me that if we want dynamism in our telecom sector, then we should have a free market in telecom services, unencumbered by…outdated international regulatory agencies such as the ITU.

The ITU has often insisted that it has no policy agenda of its own, that it is merely a neutral arbiter between member states. But in the interview, Secretary-General Touré calls the ETNO proposal “welcome,” categorically rejects Internet access at different speeds, and spoke in favor of global cooperation to prevent cyberwar. These are policy statements, so it seems clear that the ITU is indeed pursuing an agenda. And when the interviewer asks if Dr. Touré sees any risks associated with greater state involvement in telecom, he replies no.

If you’re following WCIT, the full interview is worth a read, through Google Translate if necessary. Hat tip goes to the Internet Society’s Scoop page for WCIT.