The 200 sovereign state members of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will gather in Dubai this week for the World Conference of International Telecommunications (WCIT). The WCIT is a treaty developed to facilitate global interconnection and interoperability between telecommunications carriers. The treaty was last reviewed in 1988, an era where the majority of telecommunications networks were state owned and controlled.
The WCIT itself is unexceptional; ITU member states meet regularly to develop voluntary standards for spectrum allocation, satellite orbital slots, and international telecommunications standards. However, this meeting has attracted attention because member states have made a number of proposals that would expand the international telecommunications regulations (ITRs) to give states a role not only in regulating traditional interconnection issues, but also in regulating the functioning, security and architecture of the internet.
My new Center for Information Technology Policy working paper argues that developing countries interested in economic growth and social welfare should pay much more attention to the seemingly esoteric internet governance issues such as peering agreements, protection against SPAM and rules for exchanging internet traffic across borders. While these issues have traditionally been negotiated through a multi-stakeholder process in venues such as ICANN, W3C and IETF, a number of governments see the WCIT as an opportunity to bring internet governance under tighter state control. This threatens innovation, connectivity and the free flow of information. In my paper, I review some of the proposals this will be discussed at the closed-door WCIT sessions (published on WCITLeaks.org), suggest steps that developing countries might take to ensure an open internet, and argue for a social science research agenda that generates more empirical evidence on the link between internet governance, economic growth and state behavior.