Work under way to draft new regulations at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai this week could harm the Internet, warned Internet pioneer and Google executive Vint Cerf.
"The Internet is under threat" from proposals at the WCIT, Cerf said at the Usenix LISA (Large Installation System Administration) conference in San Diego on Wednesday.
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The Internet is not controlled by any one nation and the best way to deal with issues that arise continues to be through informal agreements among interested parties, he argued. The purpose of the WCIT is to update the agreements guiding the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In keeping these regulations up-to-date, though, it may attempt to extend the reach of ITU over the Internet.
"The natural reaction of any institution that wants to preserve its existence is to reach out for new territory," Cerf said of the ITU.
His comments may have been prescient, coming just hours before a controversy broke out at the conference, with the Internet Society suggesting that new regulations on the Internet may have been added improperly to the regulations.
The WCIT is updating the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which currently focus mainly on international billing and inter-system connectivity standards. Much of the new work around the Internet, which barely existed when the ITR was last updated in 1988, is hotly politicized. According to a number of reports, Russia was planning to submit a proposal at WCIT that would allow multinational control over the Internet. The U.S. representative for WCIT had threatened to walk out of the meeting as a result.
The Russian proposal was shelved, though other countries have lobbied for wresting control of domain name management from the U.S.-backed Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and for allowing deep packet inspection of Internet traffic.
"No one is in charge" of the Internet, Cerf reminded the audience. And this lack of control seems to perplex government officials, he said. He recounted how, in 2003, he explained to government diplomats at the Internet Governance Forum how the Internet was managed. "They absolutely refused to believe it was possible to have a distributed system of this scale and magnitude that wasn't centrally controlled," he said.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, ICANN does manage the names and addresses for the Internet, though it does not have any control over the Internet itself, Cerf said. "While there are probably some legislators in the U.S. who would like to believe [the U.S. controls the Internet], in fact it is a highly distributed, very collaborative environment," Cerf said.
Cerf, along with Robert Kahn, developed the TCP/IP stack that provided a way for different networks to communicate with one another, which in turned created the Internet. Cerf now works at Google as its chief Internet evangelist. He has also served as the chairman of ICANN.