ITU Refuses Proposals for Open Discussion of Plans to Regulate Internet

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) today met with Dr Hamadoun Toure, Head of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union, to take internet regulation proposals off the agenda of the World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT-12) due to take place in Dubai in December.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said that the internet had always been managed by a multi-stakeholder approach, but that the proposed changes would radically undermine this model and seriously alter internet governance.

“This is not a process that the UN should stamp as having legitimacy when governments and in particular telecoms ministries are simply negotiating on their own interests, in a forum without proper civil society engagement. We strongly oppose plans which would increase costs, reduce the spread of the internet and increase net censorship at the expense of human rights.

“We put a proposal to the ITU today to take the damaging proposals off the table at Dubai, and join a broad, open and multi-stakeholder process that would bring together all the government, civil society and business interests to look at the future of the internet. Regrettably, the ITU rejected this.”

“The danger for the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) is that certain governments will attempt to undermine the multi-stakeholder approach behind closed doors and without full transparency.

“Certain proposed changes cause a great deal of alarm to the global labour movement – in particular, introduction of a pricing regime; requirements that the internet only be used in a ‘rational’ way – these are changes that ought to be openly debated; not behind closed doors as the ITU plans.

“We can’t afford to have vested interests of some governments and telecommunications companies take over the internet as we know it.
“An internet totally controlled by government and big business contradicts the very essence of what the internet represents – open and free access for all.

“These are hugely important issues, which should be dealt with in an open, transparent and inclusive way,” said Ms Burrow.

Phillip Jennings, the General Secretary of UNI Global Union which represents workers in the telecoms and internet sectors, called on the ITU to accept trade unions as full discussion partners, which it had never done despite repeated requests from UNI.

The meeting with Dr Toure came a week after Equal Times launched ‘Stop the net grab’, a global online campaign to press for an open consultation on internet regulation.

The ITUC and Greenpeace signaled their concerns in a joint letter to UN Secretary General Ban K-moon last Friday.

What’s at stake?

If accepted, the changes would allow:

- Increased government restriction or blocking of information disseminated via the internet
- Creation of a global regime of monitoring internet communications, including the demand that those who send and receive information identify themselves
- Requirement that the internet only be used in a ‘rational’ way
- Governments to shut down internet access if they decide that it may interfere in the internal affairs of countries or that information of a ‘sensitive nature’ might be shared
- Introduction of a new pricing regime which would increase costs and slow down internet growth, especially in the poorer countries.