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US will fight ITU members for internet domination

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The US has made it clear that it won't be letting control of the internet slip out of ICANN's hands anytime soon.

The US Department of State released the country's proposals for the World Conference on International Telecommunications on its website, where the threat of attempts by Russia and others to wrest the web from the US body was obliquely answered. Slipped in among its recommendations was that the "voluntary nature of compliance with ITU-T Recommendations [be maintained]."

Russia and China, along with other member nations of the UN body International Telecommunications Union (ITU), are calling for changes in the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) that would bring the internet under the international body's control. The ITRs as they are currently drafted do not address technical standards, infrastructure, or content. However, the expansion of the ITRs that China and others are advocating for do include internet regulation.

"The United States believes that the existing multi-stakeholder institutions, incorporating industry and civil society, have functioned effectively and will continue to ensure the health and growth of the Internet and all of its benefits," Ambassador Terry Kramer, who's leading the delegation to the event, said.

The conference, convened by the ITU, will be looking into the International Telecommunications Regulations, which is basically a treaty on telecoms. The ITU has said that the conference will review the rules and even think about changing them and has invited countries to make proposals.

Although the proposals don't have to be made public if the country doesn't want them to be, the US published a fact sheet on its ideas.

The state department said that the US would "carefully monitor" proposals from other countries.

"The US is concerned that proposals by some other governments could lead to greater regulatory burdens being placed on the international telecom sector or perhaps even extended to the internet sector - a result the US would oppose," the department said.

Russia didn't make its proposals (PDF) for the conference public, but they were submitted anonymously to website Wcitleaks.org, which bills itself as "Bringing transparency to the ITU".

Russia suggested that some of the responsibility for handing out internet addresses should go to the ITU instead of all being under the control of US-based organisation Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Since then, Russian president Vladimir Putin has suggested that perhaps the regulations should go even further and put some sort of "international control over the internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the ITU". There have also been reports that China would back Russia's attempts to take some of the control from the US.

The ITU is not a regulatory body however, it just helps coordinate the use of networks and promote international cooperation and it's already tried to quash rumours that it could become a regulator.

"There has been some mention that somehow the ITU would give itself overall worldwide regulatory authority," ITU facilitator Richard Hill said in June. "There are no proposals along those lines. The proposals are that the individual countries should take action in these particular areas." ®

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