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Dubai hosts UN Internet treaty talks

The World Conference of International Communications (WCIT-12) has begun a two week long deliberation process that could result in the emergence of new restrictive Internet regulations. The event has been organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) - a UN agency that oversees global telecommunications.

The conference is being held in Dubai and involves regulators from 193 nations who will have until 14 December to decide upon which new proposals to adopt. Over 900 changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations have been put forward, with ITU prioritising policies dealing with the reduction of mobile roaming charges, blocking spam and emergency call protocols.

Various commentators have questioned the need for such talks as current regulations are viewed as sufficient, however, the ITU asserts that action is required to establish truly universal Internet access.

"The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely the rich world's privilege, ITU wants to change that," said secretary-general of the UN's International Telecommunications Union, Dr Hamadoun Toure, prior to the meeting.

"The two-year long preparation process is now achieving a degree of convergence on some of the high-level principles," he added.

The US delegation has been particularly vocal in its disapproval with proposed actions, as it fears excessive government oversight.

"There have been active recommendations that there be an invasive approach of governments in managing the internet... these fundamentally violate everything that we believe in in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we're going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature,"said Terry Kramer, the US ambassador to WCIT, at a press briefing held last week.

US search giant Google echoes its Government's concerns and has launched an "open internet" petition.

"Only governments have a voice at the ITU... engineers, companies, and people that build and use the web have no vote," read an accompanying statement.

The ITU pointed out that Google does have a venue to make its views heard, which is the US's delegation to the conference.

"We will challenge them here again to bring their points on the table. The point that they are bringing - which is internet governance - it's not really a place for discussion of that here," said Dr Toure on the matter.

Another controversial proposal is that of telecoms demanding a fee from streaming sites as a means to ensure that content is streamed without disruption. This "quality based model" is being pushed by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) – an organisation which represents major telecoms such as Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Orange – who assert that the new premium setup would provide the sector "incentive to invest in network infrastructure".

Both the US and EU have voiced their intent to block such an amendment with the ITU saying that the new guidelines will be established via a consensus rather than a simple majority vote.