Officials are considering handing control of the internet off to repressive governments
The goal was to build a network that could withstand damage and would enable the sharing of information. In that, they clearly succeeded - hence the oft-repeated line from John Gilmore, founder of digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation: "The internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." These pioneers also created a robust platform on which a guy in a dorm room could build a business that serves a billion people.
But perhaps not for much longer. This week, 2000 people have gathered for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to discuss, in part, whether they should be in charge.
The stated goal of the Dubai meeting is to update the obscure International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), last revised in 1988. These relate to the way international telecom providers operate. In charge of this process is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency set up in 1865 with the advent of the telegraph. Its $200 million annual budget is mainly funded by membership fees from 193 countries and about 700 companies. Civil society groups are only represented if their governments choose to include them in their delegations. Some do, some don't. This is part of the controversy: the WCIT is effectively a closed shop.
Vinton Cerf, Google's chief internet evangelist and co-inventor of the TCP/IP internet protocols, wrote in May that decisions in Dubai "have the potential to put government handcuffs on the net".