Binding rules that would give governments legal control over how the Internet works are under consideration in Dubai this week.
The World Conference on International Telecommunications has 193 countries taking part, and many are pushing to give the United Nations regulatory powers over Internet use.
Some voices, such as private interests and rights defenders, are saying, ‘leave things as they are for freedom and democracy!’
The debate is being billed as a battle between the East and West.
Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, said online: “The Internet is under attack in many different ways. Many countries see it as a threat, particularly those countries that are concerned about open expression. Over 40 countries in the world now censor some aspect or another of the Internet. Moreover, we see on the Internet a number of harms that occur to people that are participating and using this platform.”
Harm includes prison time for Russian protest punks Pussy Riot, with a court demanding this video be banned – in the authorities’ opinion it’s ‘extremist’.
China is also said to want new rules that let governments decide how Internet works within national borders.
Internet use looks set to grow dramatically over the next few years, to have five billion users by 2020, according to projections.
How is such a vast expansion going to be possible? The experts say partly by gradually replacing central “host” computers with smaller, faster local networks – letting all kinds of electronic devices connect to the Internet.
Who will pay for that? Some developing countries and telecom providers want to make content providers pay for new infrastructure and for Internet transmission.
There’s no saying at this early stage if any firm agreements will come out of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. But Internet users would have a personal interest.