It is interesting that India, along with China, is said to be backing a Russian proposal to ‘universalize’ the Internet. The 12-day treaty-level World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12) of 193 member countries that’s scheduled to kick off tomorrow in Dubai, has assumed much significance in the wake of that.

On the face of it, the key agenda at WCIT 2012 would be to review and update the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) since the Melbourne meet in 1988. The need to do so supposedly stems from the radically changed communications landscape over the decades, driven largely by the Internet.

By its very DNA, the Internet is a modern, democratic and universal structure. On the other hand, parliaments are medieval in origin and have continued to exhibit those traits, especially when having to deal with the Internet. The recent applications of Section 66(A) in India are living testimonies to that effect, and there are other countries that have put more draconian measures in place.

Where then, is the ground to ‘universalize’ the Internet? Why should governments be bothered?

Answers could lie in the Russian proposal, which is said to state that ‘member states shall have equal rights to manage the Internet, including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of Internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources and to support for the operation and development of basic Internet infrastructure.’

A simple question to be asked here would be: would countries like China and Iran that heavily sensor the Internet now make it open if Internet came under ITU?

If the answer is an obvious ‘no,’ then clearly the proposal is merely to extend governments control—through the ITU—over the Internet system and its resources.

Why? Can’t governments already do whatever and whenever they want to do, from banning a website to censoring a comment?

Well, yes, but the extent of control they exert on the Internet is far from satisfactory. Imagine if they could have the say in the ‘allotment, assignment and reclamation’ or a domain name just like they have the control in formation of a company under the Companies Act!

It costs a minimum of around Rs 20,000 and a series of bureaucratic processes now to set up a private limited company in India. On the contrary, any individual could, at the cost of a few clicks and just about Rs 600 have a domain name registered through any of the online accredited registrars.

Governments would do their countries and their people a lot more good if, instead, they could take cues from the Internet structures and reform their existing institutions to become simpler, speedier and beneficial to the users. 

What is better—Internetization of the government or medievalization of the Internet?

(The article was first published in Light Reading India
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