The Internet's Future and Freedom Is Being Decided in Dubai

Representatives from 200 countries will debate on the fate of the internet

The fight for the internet, as it's being framed, is on as representatives from 200 countries and various groups meet in Dubai to discuss the future of the global network. The debate has been heated leading up to the event and it's going to get even hotter.

On the one hand, pretty much the entire western world is against it, on the other increasingly powerful countries like China and Russia want to have a say.

Meanwhile, all the smaller countries feel caught in a war of the giants, but one where they may have a voice, albeit a small one.

Each country gets one vote in the proceedings, putting superpowers on the same level as small African nations. The summit in Dubai is organized by the ITU, the International Telecommunications Union, a UN body.

The ITU doesn't have any powers by itself, it serves as a way to get all the stakeholders together to negotiate agreements. These agreements govern things like radio spectrum, international phone calls and so on.

Now, the telecoms that are represented in the ITU want standards that would regulate the internet as well. Several of the ideas put forward though are quite controversial.

For one, it would put power over the internet into the hands of one body. This has never been the case and many argue that's the big reason behind the internet's success.

It would also put the power in the hands of telecom companies that are becoming increasingly anachronistic. Their role is diminishing and so is their power, it's normal for them to want to control the very thing that is killing them, the internet. And that's the very reason why they probably shouldn't.

Already, the telecommunications companies are thinking of implementing things like the "sender pays," where websites would pay for the bandwidth they consume. These companies say that they incur all the costs of building the infrastructure and then the big western companies come, use it and get all the benefits.

They say this would lead to better access to the internet for billions of people. But they're not talking about dropping prices for consumers, or making internet access free, they're talking about charging both subscribers and internet companies twice for the same bandwidth. A dream for any telco, but it has nothing to do with expanding internet access.

The conference will take place, behind closed doors, starting today and until December 14. The US and the EU have already voiced their opposition to the proposals, but there are many other votes that could sway the results.

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