The end of the internet as we know it?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The picture of thousands Europeans protesting against ACTA is still fresh. They stopped it, but today they have an even better reason to demonstrate at the forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), argues Ivailo Kalfin.

Ivailo Kalfin is an MEP from Bulgaria and a member of the Socialists and Democrats group.

"Since the times the communist authorities were carefully selecting the news available in the traditional media, the censorship was taking many different forms. But it was the Internet that made the real difference by imposing many new difficulties to the governments keen to control its content.

I think about these developments when going through the different proposals for the forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to be held in Dubai at the beginning of December.

There the International Telecommunications Union, which is a UN body, will look for adoption of new International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs).

I tend to see this as an attempt to allow governments to more efficiently control the Internet, by the means of a binding international regulation. An intergovernmental body will be setting the rules for the electronic data transfer.

Compared to the present approach, where the development of the Internet is based on the free private-sector-led innovation and its governance is a process, shared between different stakeholders, the change is clearly restrictive and government dominated.

I question neither the role of the United Nations, nor the role of the ITU in promoting the development of the telecommunications sector. I also suppose that the most restrictive proposals will not be accepted.

However, I cannot close my eyes to the fact that some governments march to take over the Internet enthusiastically supported by some large telecoms. The later want to change the business model of the Internet with the very attractive argument to increase the quality of their services.

Still, I believe that nothing can better improve the quality of the Internet than the present highly competitive environment.

Undoubtedly, in case the proposed change of the business model, to be fixed at intergovernmental level, where the sending party should pay to the terminal provider of the Internet would restrict the number of Internet Service Providers, would make the access to the global net more expensive and would give the opportunity to the big telecoms to discriminate and decide about the information delivered.

The existing universal access to the information available on Internet will be changed for some segments and based on the size of the economic potential.

The picture of thousands Europeans protesting against ACTA is still fresh in my memory. They stopped it, but today they have an even better reason to demonstrate their civic position. The fundamental character of Internet – its openness, its dynamism, its absence of central control – has been a great boon for human flourishing and the expansion of human rights. It has been a critical tool for galvanising the popular uprising against entrenched state power.

To its great credit, the European institutions have stayed with their tradition of regulatory restraint with the Internet and rejected all calls for a fundamental change in the balance of power in the multi-stakeholder model, opting instead to maintain the current role of the ITU.

The European parliament and the Commission called upon the member states to stick to the EU legislation. Still this issue deserves a very strict control on the part of the civil society in order not to be needed to prevent ratifications at a late stage, as it happened with ACTA."

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