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Google condemns UN's Internet conference

Google has drawn up a petition to boycott a forthcoming UN-organised conference that it warns threatens the "free and open internet".

Government representatives are set to meet in Dubai next month at a conference organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN agency that monitors telecoms worldwide, where they will agree a new information and communications treaty.

Google has asked web users to add their name to an online petition to support its view that the new treaty could be a threat to the freedom of the Internet.

"Some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech - or even allow them to cut off internet access," the search giant wrote on its Take Action site.

"Other proposals would require services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders. This could limit access to information - particularly in emerging markets."

Google went on to say that it was concerned that "only governments have a voice at the ITU" and not companies or others who had a stake in the net. Thus, it was the wrong place to make drastic decisions about the future of the Internet.

The ITU disagrees and said that each country could invite whoever it likes to be part of its delegation at the meeting. Also the agency insisted that there would be consensus before any changes were agreed.

The organisation has said a new treaty was needed to ensure "the free flow of information around the world, promoting affordable and equitable access for all and laying the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth".

A rapid growth in the use of smartphones and tablets has left the last treaty - compiled and signed in 1998 – in need of updating, the ITU claims.

In addition to Google, parts of the US tech industry are concerned by remarks by the ITU's secretary general, Dr Hamadoun Toure, that the meeting should "address the current disconnect between sources of revenue and sources of costs, and to decide upon the most appropriate way to do so".

Many analysts believe some countries will suggest the best way to do this will be to introduce "tolls" in which popular sites have to pay developing nations money if they send a lot of traffic through their data networks.

Gary Shapiro, president of the US's Consumer Electronics Association, is a stringent opponent of this kind of model.

"Many countries are used to getting revenue from telephone calls, and those telephone calls have gone away in favour of various internet-based video services which don't produce revenue for them," Shapiro told the BBC.

"So they are looking to recover it and they are trying to put a charge on incoming internet access. So if you have a website which is very popular worldwide you would have to pay to get access to them - we think that is wrong," he explained.

He went on to say that the "value of the internet is that it is available to everyone for free without international barriers".

The ITU conference held in Dubai will take place between 3 to 14 December but Toure reiterated that if there were any serious disagreements, a decision would not go ahead.

"Whatever one single country does not accept will not pass," he told the BBC.