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UN's WCIT summit opens, discussing Internet regulation

The World Conference on International Telecommunications opens in Dubai with the Internet's status as a "global village" up for discussion. Russia's proposal to introduce sovereign control has drawn fire from the EU.

The UN's International Telecommunications Union convenes in Dubai on Monday for a 13-day summit, with a debate on possible new rules and regulations for the Internet likely to top the agenda. The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) includes representatives from 193 countries.

The battle lines were already drawn in the run-up to the summit, after a Russian proposal advocating closer national control was leaked online by activists seeking greater transparency from the closed-door meetings. The activists call themselves WCITleaks, an allusion to the whistle-blowing Wikileaks organization.

"Member states shall have the sovereign right to regulate… the national Internet segment," the Russian proposal said. The paper was a suggested draft for a possible replacement of the outgoing Internet Telecommunications Regulations (ITR), a document from 1998.

The proposal would make it easier to monitor Internet activity and potentially levy taxes on Internet giants like Google or Yahoo for services rendered abroad. Many of the world's largest online companies are based in the US.

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'

The EU quickly moved to state its opposition to the idea, with the European Commission issuing a statement saying "the EU believes that there is no justification for such proposals and is concerned about the potentially negative impact on innovation and costs, both for operator and end-users."

The Vice-President of the Commission, Neelie Kroes, who is also responsible for the bloc's Internet policy, voiced her opposition on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

"The internet works, it doesn't need to be regulated by ITR treaty. If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Kroes wrote on her Twitter account ahead of the summit. Kroes also called the Internet "a priceless global asset for everyone [that] should stay open and global."

Germany's Economy Minister Philipp Rösler also said the government in Berlin would resist "efforts to make the Internet more secure through greater controls," adding "that will not work."

Traditionally, the ITU seeks to reach decisions via consensus rather than majority votes; meaning the WCIT 2012 negotiations might be lengthy.

msh/dr (dpa, Reuters)