The internet has become one of the motors of the 21st century economy, allowing all of us to reach a global audience at a click of a mouse and creating hundreds of thousands of businesses and millions of jobs.
According to a new OECD study, the net already accounts of 13% of American business output, impacting every industry, from communications to cars, and restaurants to retail. Not since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, or Alexander Graham Bell the telephone, has a human invention empowered so many and offered so much possibility for benefiting humankind.
Today, this free and open net is under threat. Some 42 countries filter and censor content out of the 72 studied by the Open Net Initiative. This doesn’t even count serial offenders such as North Korea and Cuba. Over the past two years, Freedom House says governments have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression.
Some of these governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting of The International Telecommunication Union that opens on December 3 in Dubai to further their repressive agendas. Accustomed to media control, these governments fear losing it to the open internet. They worry about the spread of unwanted ideas. They are angry that people might use the internet to criticize their governments.
The ITU is bringing together regulators from around the world to renegotiate a decades-old treaty that was focused on basic telecommunications, not the internet. Some proposals leaked to the WICITLeaks website from participating states could permit governments to justify censorship of legitimate speech — or even justify cutting off internet access by reference to amendments to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs).
Several authoritarian regimes reportedly propose to ban anonymity from the web, making it easier to find and arrest dissidents. Others have proposed moving the responsibilities of the private sector system that manages domain names and internet addresses to the United Nations. Yet other proposals would require any internet content provider, small or large, to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders.
The upshot? The next garage-based phenomena would face a steep and probably insurmountable financial hurdle in its effort to become the next YouTube, Facebook or Skype.
Let us be clear: We do not advocate for an end to the ITU. The UN agency has helped the world manage radio spectrum and wired and wireless telephone networks, bringing much needed investment to the developing world.
But this inter-governmental agency is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the internet. Only governments have a vote at the ITU.
( via edition.cnn.com )