Web & communication software

US Will Push for Open Markets, Free Expression at ITU Meeting

The U.S. government will try to convince other nations to abandon proposals to regulate the Internet at an upcoming United Nations treaty-writing conference by showing them the success of open markets, the U.S. ambassador to the conference said Wednesday.

The U.S. and its allies must show Internet success stories from around the world to defend against proposals to extract transmission fees and censor Web content during a United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU) meeting in December, said Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation to the ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).

The Internet has thrived on a regulatory model that favors open markets over expansive rules and a governance model where many people have input, said Kramer, a longtime telecom executive.

"Our approach is based on the recognition that the existing environment today works amazingly well," Kramer said at a WCIT discussion hosted by the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group. "It is empowering telecommunications and human development by quantum leaps."

The U.S. delegation to WCIT will push for open markets and freedom of expression online, Kramer said.

Observers of the ITU expect that several countries will push for new, international termination fees for the Internet at the December meeting in Dubai. In traditional telephone services, telecom providers bill each other for carrying each other's traffic, with the carrier where the call originated paying the carrier where the call ended up.

Interconnection fees are a bad idea from an "older mindset" of telecom regulation, Kramer said. They would be difficult to implement, with difficult questions about who the sending and receiving entities are, he said. In addition, they could lead to a less open Internet, with some users potentially unable to access some Web content, he said.

The Internet, compared to voice telecom networks, is a "new and different phenomenon entirely," Kramer said.

Also at WCIT, Russia, China and other countries may push for the ITU to take Internet governance away from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and other organizations. Some countries may push for more surveillance of Internet users in the name of fighting spam or fraud, observers have said.

The U.S. would oppose both proposals, Kramer said. "The Internet has grown precisely because it has not been micro-managed, regulated or owned by any government or intergovernmental organization," he said. "No government or single organization can or should attempt to control the Internet."

The U.S. delegation will attempt to work with allies to get some proposals that stretch the scope of the ITU pulled from consideration, Kramer said. With the ITU hoping for a consensus agreement at the meeting, controversial topics may get left out, he said.

An audience member asked Kramer if the U.S. delegation will have to fight an attitude that the Internet is U.S.-centric. In the early days of mobile phone service, there was an attitude that it mostly benefited the U.S. and U.K., but today, mobile phone service is global, with more than 5 billion users, he said.

The Internet will bring economic and social benefits worldwide, he said. "There's no reason to believe that this is going to be unique just to the U.S.," he added.

Kramer asked U.S. companies to help his team by demonstrating ways that the Internet and open markets have benefited users, not just in the U.S. but around the world. Those success stories will help make the U.S. case at WCIT, he said.

Representatives of Microsoft, Intel and other tech companies praised Kramer's priorities for WCIT. Many tech companies could be affected by WCIT proposals, said Paula Boyd, regulatory counsel for Microsoft. "It was great to hear a vision laid out," she said.

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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