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U.S., Google Press to Keep Internet Out of UN Treaty

The U.S. is pressing to exclude the Internet sector from an international telecommunications treaty even as a “big gap” remains between countries on the issue, a U.S. official said.

“Anything that gets into the content of the Internet, we do not feel should be part of this treaty,” Terry Kramer, leader of the U.S. delegation to a United Nations conference in Dubai, said today in a call with reporters. “What are seemingly harmless proposals can open the door to censorship.”

U.S. officials and technology companies led by Google Inc. have said the UN’s telecommunications agency could take steps toward regulating the Internet at the Dubai conference, which runs through Dec. 14. The agency, the International Telecommunication Union, is considering revisions to a 1988 treaty setting international telecommunications regulations.

The U.S. opposes a Russian proposal that would move the process of managing the Internet away from technical groups, such as the U.S.-based nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, into the hands of national governments or organizations like the UN’s ITU, Kramer said.

In an opening speech to the Dubai gathering on Dec. 3, Hamadoun Toure, the secretary-general of the Geneva-based ITU, said the event, called the World Conference on International Telecommunications, has been the subject of “misinformation” and “myths.”

“WCIT is not about taking over the Internet, and WCIT is not about Internet governance,” Toure said. “WCIT is about making sure that we connect the billion people without access to mobile telephony.”

Google Petition

Google, owner of the world’s largest search engine, has said some proposals at the conference threaten online free expression and innovation and urged users to sign a petition supporting an open Internet.

“Some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries,” Vint Cerf, whose title is Google’s chief Internet evangelist, said in a Dec. 2 blog post.

Other proposals could require services such as Google’s YouTube, Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp.’s Skype to pay tolls to reach people across borders, according to Google.

Google has four members on the U.S. delegation to the conference, which also includes representatives of Microsoft, AT&T Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc. Kramer, who’s leading the delegation, is a former Vodafone Group Plc executive.

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday joined the Senate in passing a non-binding resolution that calls on U.S. officials to continue promoting an Internet free from government control and advancing the current, decentralized model of Internet governance.

That model is based on groups such as Icann, based in Marina del Rey, California, which manages domain names under contract to the U.S. Commerce Department.

The congressional resolution is S. Con. Res. 50.

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