Digital Consumers by Dr Jeremy Malcolm

IN THE wake of the anti-climactic conclusion to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) earlier this month, readers could be forgiven for being confused about whether all the hype about the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) staging a UN takeover of the Internet had ever represented a real threat, or had just been a beat-up by special interest groups with an agenda to push.

A good metaphor always helps to make a complicated story simple. So let's consider the ITU as Freemasonry, a secretive, exclusive and anachronistic society, best known for the secret handshake by which members identify each other.

The International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) are the Masonic Constitution, a seldom-amended document which guides the members of a Masonic Lodge in matters of ritual and morality.

Less well known is that when Freemasonry began, the symbols and language of masonry (with a lowercase “m”) weren't just metaphorical; its first members were actually stonemasons, and amongst the precepts of Freemasonry were practical rules for their craft.

Today of course, Freemasonry has no particular relevance to the building and construction trades. But imagine that a group of Freemasons proposed to hold a meeting (open to members only, of course) to update their Constitution to include new rules for the construction industry.

This would stimulate immediate opposition from construction workers, and rightfully so. But it would also play into a range of existing conspiracy theories that Freemasons are part of a much greater secretive plot to form an authoritarian one-world government, which would take over the sovereignty of nation states.

In the environment of fear instilled by these exaggerated stories, it would be forgotten that whilst Freemasonry may have some dumb ideas, it also actually does a lot of good work in charity and community service.

And so it was with the ITU at WCIT.

Yes, there were indeed a number of stupid proposals put forward for the ITU to regulate in areas beyond its competence: Proposals that ITU Recommendations should have mandatory status; that it should expand its mandate to include ICTs as well as telecommunications; that it should take over Internet naming and numbering functions from ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers); and that Internet content hosts should share more of their revenue with the operators of telecommunications networks.

None of these proposals succeeded, and not all even officially made it to the table. With the sustained opposition of the United States, Google and other powerful stakeholders, there was never any likelihood that they would.

[This is an extract from an opinion piece written by Dr Jeremy Malcolm, Senior Policy Officer at Consumers International, published by Digital News Asia on 28th December 2012. Dr Malcolm is also a Life Member of EFA.]

Read the full article at Digital News Asia.

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