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Friday, November 16, 2012
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A chilling move on internet

Concerns grow over freedom of internet as ITU conference in Dubai may approve new draft

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference, set to take place in Dubai next month, will decide whether internet content access remains free -- of government intervention and cost.

A new draft on the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) governing the internet's role is gaining attention as concerns grow over the potential impact of the treaty.

The regulations could increase internet costs and violate consumers' privacy rights.

The proposed move implies providers of YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes, Khan Academy would have to pay a substantial amount to the ISPs for their services -- part of which might be passed on to the consumers.

The European Telecommunications Network Operators, an association of 50 operators of 35 countries, wants the ITU to subject internet content providers to a rule which would authorise internet service providers (ISP) to charge them rates proportionate to the bandwidth their content consumes.

Some non-democratic countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, all members of the ITU, the UN's information and communications technology arm, are inclined towards regulation of internet usage and proposed the idea.

Bangladesh, also an ITU member, will make up on its stance after sitting with the country's different stakeholders, said Sunil Kanti Bose, the chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

The final decision, which would lead to a revision of the International Telecommunications Regulations, would be made through a vote of the ITU member states at the conference on December 3 to 14.

Under the existing framework, internet has no centralised governance in either technological implementation or policies for internet access and usage, giving people considerable freedom to communicate, innovate, participate and benefit from it, said analysts.

Sumon Ahmed Sabir, a telecom expert, said the imposition of government regulation of the internet will take away its winning feature -- its free nature.

Abu Saeed Khan, a senior policy fellow of the Colombo-based think tank LIRNEasia, asked: “Why should internet be regulated?”

He added the governments the world over are not qualified to regulate the freedom of the internet users.

“Non-democratic countries are against the free flow of information and want to regulate it, but the free world will stand against it,” Khan said.

“We the third world people want to progress through the use of technology, and internet has provided us with the opportunity to. If this channel is closed there will be no hope,” said Mustafa Zabbar, president of Bangladesh Computer Samity.

He hopes the Bangladesh government will put its foot down at the conference over the issue.

Rohan Samarajiva, chairman and chief executive of LIRNEasia, said: “It will end the seamlessness of internet, will slow down internet take-up, especially among the developing countries and remove incentives for invention.”

The world's largest search engine Google is against the proposal of internet regulation.

Vinton Cerf, Google's chief internet evangelist, said in an article in The New York Times: “The decisions taken in Dubai in December have the potential to put government handcuffs on the Net. To prevent that -- and keep the Internet open and free for the next generations -- we need to prevent a fundamental shift in how the internet is governed.”

Cerf, widely recognised as one of the 'fathers of the internet' also said in the article: “I encourage you to take action now: Insist that the debate about internet governance be transparent and open to all stakeholders.”

abdullah.mamun@thedailystar.net

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