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What should we do about "governing" the internet? 17.09.12

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17 Sep 2012
What should we do about “governing” the internet?
by Derek Wyatt

The world is going mobile.
Within two years in the UK there will be more mobile, than landline, phones. On the one hand Sky has made available through its Sky Go “App” live Sport, Films and News on your tablet or mobile whilst on the other many NHS Hospitals now use text for confirming and reminding patients of their appointments.
Going mobile requires greater bandwidth and Ofcom has been behind the times (indeed the regulator needs a good kick in the shins) in enabling fourth generation (4G) roll out. Even India’s main cities had access to it earlier this year whilst America and South Korea have had it for a couple of years.
4G licences are to be auctioned next year with a possible start date in 2014 (so much for a “smarter” UK). However, to everyone’s surprise Ofcom has given permission to the operators of Orange and T-Mobile now subsumed under the dreadful name of “Everything Everywhere” to offer 4G services this month (September). This looks to be unfair on the other providers such as O2 and Vodafone whose lawyers are working overtime to overturn this decision.
If 4G is one issue we have to resolve that is nothing when compared with the governance of the internet per se. We are simply uncertain what to do about it.
In Whitehall, it’s a jungle. Cyber terrorism rests with the Foreign Office whilst all that horrid and vile child pornography is the responsibility of the Home Office. Then “regulation” is in the Culture, Media and Sport department after the Vince Cable slip up last year, it also took over Telecoms and Broadband policy from his Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. This is unsustainable and we need a brand new single Department of Communications to deal with this greatest of innovations.
In the world, there is a fight for its “control”. In December, in Dubai, there will be an almighty ding dong. The United Nations has convened a world conference on International Telecommunications. This is a front for a land grab by the old fashioned and badly administered International Telecommunications Union ( formed in
1865 and last restructured in 1932.
On the surface, this looks just like yet another of these major get togethers where the talk is talk. But do not be fooled. This is an attempt by the ITU (based in Geneva) which has been largely responsible for the backbone of the internet - telephony and spectrum – to make the case that it (through the UNO) should become the de facto agency for the internet. This would be a huge mistake and must be avoided at all costs.
It would be a mistake because the ITU is another of those not fit for purpose agencies which “we”, the taxpayer, pay for and yet “we” have no idea who represents us on it, there being no accountability to Parliament or for that matter any parliaments. The accountability is to the UNO, a body which had had its day.
The internet had its origins in the US Department of Defence in the mid-1960s. Though they long ago suspended it in cyberspace not thinking it might have commercial value (!) its legacy remains in an organisation called ICANN and stands for It Can’t do Anything. Actually, I just made that up. It stands for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – there doesn’t that make you feel better – and it assigns the addresses of web sites such as .com and  
ICANN is located in Los Angeles but is still answerable to the State department in Washington, DC. It is this that upsets the likes of China and assorted undemocratic other countries. They want ICANN to be independent of America. So the ITU solution is for it to take over ICANN’s role (that’s part of the medium term plan) so that the UNO becomes the guardian angel of the internet. The saints preserve us.  
The best solution would be for ICANN to become an independent not-for-profit organisation based anywhere but America, China, Russia or North Korea (there’s a pattern developing here) with an internationally elected board. Then we could give more time to reform the UNO and its agencies like the ITU. Dream on.    
British Computer Wizards
Charles Babbage, Difference Engine; the first automatic engine that was capable of computing several sets of numbers, 1822
Alan Turing OBE, the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, 1938-54
The “Baby” created at Manchester University; it was the first machine which could store both data and short user programs in electronic memory and process it at electronic speed; 1948
Donald Davies CBE, one of the inventors of the packet switch, a simple device which changed the face of world telecommunications and heralded the internet; 1966-1970
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web whilst at CERN Labs, 1989-92
Sir Jony Ive, Apple designer, for the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, 1998-2012

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