DUBAI // Google yesterday attacked the UN’s International Telecommunication Union as it launched its world conference in Dubai to chart the future of the internet.
Almost 2,000 delegates from more than 160 countries have gathered for the World Conference on International Telecommunications, which aims to renegotiate global regulations drawn up in 1988, before the internet’s rise.
They will debate issues such as cybersecurity, accessibility and pricing – some of which, Google says, could reduce innovation and increase censorship.
Google is running an online campaign, with more than a million supporters, against the summit.
“That shows the broad support we’re getting,” said Bill Echikson, head of free expression for the Middle East and Africa.
The conference is chaired by Mohamed Al Ghanim, director general of the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. It runs until December 14, when amended regulations will be announced.
“We will do all we can to help you reach consensus [to] benefit all the people of the world,” Mr Al Ghanim said.
It is hoped the amendments will establish a foundation for the spread of broadband services around the world.
The European Parliament has passed a resolution criticising the conference, saying the ITU has no right to assert control over the internet.
“More than 1,000 organisations have signed up [to Google’s campaign] and there are all sorts of other campaigns being run to warn the ITU to be careful about meddling in internet regulation,” said Mr Echikson yesterday.
“There really is a popular movement that is developing against the ITU doing too much regulation of the internet.”
Several of the proposals were dangerous, he said.
“There was a resolution on cybersecurity that was adopted and we fear that cybersecurity can often be used as a fig leaf to cover for blocking sites and so forth.
“The issue of a government clampdown on the internet is something that concerns us greatly.”
Dr Hamadoun Toure, ITU secretary general, accused Google of abusing its power.
“You cannot assume that you can take all consumers for a ride,” he said. “In this information society you cannot fool anyone.
“They [Google] may be afraid of changes in present models that has worked for years and in the US but it doesn’t work in other countries. You cannot try to manipulate a whole constituency, that is abuse of power.”
Among the most controversial proposals are several from Arab and European telecoms operators that suggest imposing fees on content providers such as Google or Facebook for using their networks.
Last week, Google’s Vinton Cerf said that would result in higher internet costs, “which will have a negative effect in the developing world.
“New businesses starting up would be seriously impacted to get their business off the ground, especially when they need capital to pay for termination charges with every [internet provider] in the world.”
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in a video message to the delegates: “Our overall objective must be to ensure universal access to information and communication technology to the two-thirds of the world’s population not online.”