After WCIT: Some observers fear content proposals

The treaty's language on spam and security may give governments cover to censor the Internet, critics say

By , IDG News Service |  Internet

"Can states do that now?" he said. "Yes. Are there new, specific regulatory powers that are conferred upon the ITU by this provision? No. Are there new international obligations imposed upon free states by unfree states by this provision? No."

Over the coming months, countries will determine how to implement the treaty into their own telecom and Internet regulations, Wentworth said.

Critics of the final language also objected to several other proposals. The Internet Society, the U.S. delegation to WCIT and other critics objected to language that broadens the definition of entities, or "operating agencies" covered by the regulations, with some critics suggesting the WCIT document will give countries authority to regulate Internet content creators and app developers.

The WCIT agreement makes it easier for countries to regulate Web content, "with some claim to legitimacy," said one U.S. observer, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issues involved.

WCIT was one of "many battles that are going to be had over the future of the Internet," the observer said. "This could be the defining legacy, one way or the other, of the [Barack] Obama administration."

This meeting, and other upcoming debates, puts the Internet at a crossroads, the observer said. "Which crossroad will it take?" he added. "Is it toward a fundamentally open and free one, or to one that is highly regulated, controlled, censored and surveilled?"

The U.S. could have pushed harder against the final language, he added. "If Internet freedom is truly important, if it's a top U.S. policy priority, there are many countries who need stuff from us," he said.

Some observers repeated concerns that WCIT would lead to a Balkanization of the Internet. "Going forward, we end up with separate first-world and second-world Internets," Daniel Berninger, founder of the Voice Communication Exchange Committee, an IP telephony advocacy group, said by email. "All the forces were observable prior to WCIT, but we can no longer suspend our disbelief about what those forces mean for a single Internet."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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