UN head calls for free internet
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the tone for the World Conference on International Telecommunications, or WCIT, which opened on Monday with a fervent plea for transparency and inclusiveness in the management of information and communication technology, or ICT.
The landmark conference, billed as “the most important two weeks in the history of ICTs”, will debate vital revisions to the current global telecommunications treaty to ensure it better meets the needs of 21st century networks and users. More than 900 proposed regulatory changes have been proposed, but details have not been made public.
In his address to the conference — running from December 3 to14 at the Dubai World Trade Centre — the UN chief reiterated his plea for an open and free Internet, and argued that “the management of ICT should be transparent, democratic and inclusive of all stakeholders”.
Amid mounting concerns about greater Internet controls emerging from the Dubai debate — the first major review of the UN’s telecommunications protocols since 1988, well before the Internet age — Ban Ki-moon urged 1,900 delegates from 193 nations to help further unleash the benefits of ICTs while promoting an environment that drives innovation.
“The ICT continues to transform our world — opening doors, saving lives and educating and empowering people in developed and developing countries alike. The Arab Spring showed the power of ICT to help people voice their legitimate demands for human rights and greater accountability,” he said.
Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, Secretary-General, shrugged off accusations that the Dubai meeting could limit Web freedoms and predicted only “light-touch” regulations.
There has been widespread concern that any new UN oversight could be used by nations such as China and Russia to justify further tightening of Web blocks and monitoring. There are also worries that tighter cyber security and measures to curb spam could be used as an excuse for governments to block and filter. There are indications that any attempt to impose new Web regulations will likely face stiff opposition from groups led by a high-powered US delegation.
Touré hinted at a possible “landmark” accord on bringing broadband Internet to developing countries, and said the conference would explore the best ways to ensure that all the world’s people can benefit from “affordable, equitable access to ICTs”.
“ICTs give people the power to totally transform their lives — through education, healthcare and everything else the online world can deliver. This is why we have linked broadband with the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable growth,” he said.
Another debate that will likely take place at the 12-day conference is over suggestions to change the pay structure of the Web to force content providers — such as Google, Facebook Inc. and others — to kick in an extra fee to reach users across borders.
The agenda for the gathering also includes possible new rules for a broad range of services such as the Internet, mobile roaming fees and satellite and fixed-line communications. Questions include how much sway the UN can exert over efforts such as battling cyber-crimes and expanding the Internet into developing nations.