This week’s meeting of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Dubai, aimed at revising its international communications treaty, has revived the debate on “network neutrality” and management of Internet traffic.
Although management of the flow of online content is not a stated objective of the meeting or revision efforts, the intention to enhance the framework for encouraging investment in network infrastructure inherently raises these issues. On one hand, telecoms argue that the costs of facilitating a free flow of Internet traffic across borders and networks reduce incentives for investing in broadband and other network infrastructure – and governments should do something about it. On the other hand, content providers, particularly those that provide streamed services which eat up lots of network space, warn that proposed mechanisms such as charging them for providing their services around the world could be used by governments to introduce limitations on democracy and opportunities for individuals. Such concerns are fostered by the involvement in discussions of countries which already censor Internet content, such as several Middle Eastern countries and Russia.
The crux of the debate – how to balance the needs of both sides such that more and more people are able to enjoy access to increasingly relevant and essential online services – remains unresolved. Whether or not the ITU meeting addresses this issue, it should at least be elevated to a concrete discussion among stakeholders; this is something that should take place sooner rather than later.
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