Web

Hooray! The UN didn’t take over the Internet after all

ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Good news, everyone: The United Nations didn’t take over the Internet! After two weeks of heated negotiations between 193 member states of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU), absolutely nothing is different, at least not if you live in the United States. And we have our totally sweet federal government to thank for that – no joke.

U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, who led the U.S. delegation at the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai over the past 12 days, announced in a call with reporters Thursday afternoon that the U.S. “cannot sign the ITU regulations in their current form.” A coalition of other Western democracies and other nations, including the United Kingdom and Canada, have also rejected the ITU resolution. Their reason? Because they don’t want to give the ITU or any world governments the power to mess with the Internet.

“It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” said Amb. Kramer at WCIT on Thursday. “The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN regulation. We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.”

The rejection of the ITU regulations, a treaty known as the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), by the U.S. and more than dozen other countries served a death blow to the WCIT, effectively rendering the entire conference a giant waste of time. In addition to the U.S., U.K., and Canada, the other countries that refused to sign the updated ITRs include Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Sweden, the Netherlands, Kenya, the Czech Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Qatar, Serbia, Greece, Finland, and Poland. A total of 55 countries refused to sign the new ITRs.

Of course, many countries did sign the new ITRs – 89 out of the 144 that were eligible to sign – which go into effect in January of 2015. Which begs the question: Won’t that make at least a little difference? Even a tiny bit? Nope. Not really. Still, there were some things we learned from the complete train wreck that was WCIT 2012. Here’s the condensed list.

The rise of a ‘second Internet’

One possible outcome of WCIT is that, because some countries have signed the new treaty and some haven’t, we could see the global Internet fracture into disjointed networks, which operate with different technological standards. The Economist describes the outcome of WCIT as the beginning of a “digital cold war,” with authoritarian regimes that want governments to have greater control of the Internet on one side, and the U.S. and its allies in this fight on another.

Such an outcome is relatively unlikely, says Amb. Kramer. Though he does admit that “anything is possible.”

That said, the World Wide Web is already less than worldwide. Russia has different social networks than the U.S. China blocks websites like Facebook. Iran has long floated plans to create its own national Internet that is disconnected from the rest of us. In other words, nations already have the power to operate on a separate Web to which none of us in the U.S. have access.

Still, says Amb. Kramer, the U.S. and its allies in this fight must be “vigilant” in persuading other countries to not begin “erecting barriers” between themselves and U.S.-based Web companies like Google or Facebook. Whether countries will decide to do that remains to be seen. But because the ITU resolutions formed at WCIT that deal with the Internet are non-biding, “they don’t have teeth in them,” says Kramer.

U.S. Internet companies will not be charged a “tax”

One of the big issues on the table at WCIT was a mandatory business agreement generally known as “sender party pays.” This would have required Web content providers – like Google or Facebook – to pay Internet service providers (ISPs) in other countries for the traffic they send over those networks. “Sender party pays” was removed from the new ITRs, so nobody has to worry about that.

“Spam” is a big deal

The new ITRs gives signatory nations greater ability to regulate the blocking of “spam.” Which sounds good, right? Wrong. As Amb. Kramer explained, regulating “spam” opens the doors to governments regulating “content” on the Web, which could in turn mean the blockage of political dissent or other forms of legitimate speech that are crucial to democratic society. This was one of the top five reasons the U.S. and other nations did not sign the ITRs.

No one-size-fits-all for cybersecurity

Another major point of contention were efforts to establish International standards for dealing with cybersecurity issues. “At the end of the day, [cybersecurity] is heavily a regional issue. It’s not a global issue,” said Kramer. He continued: “So then, you gotta ask the question, ‘Why exactly would you want to put terms in a global agreement on cyber?’ And, you know, there’s not a very good answer.”

Some countries just don’t get it

We in the U.S. take the Internet for granted. Using the Web is perhaps the one thing that we all have in common. But such is not the case in developing nations who are still coming to terms with what the Internet and the Web are.

“There are a lot of nations that are still kind of getting their heads around what the Internet is,” said Amb. Kramer, “the opportunity, what are the issues of spam, what are the issues of roaming.” He added that, eventually, countries “will come to the conclusion that [not letting individual governments control the Internet] is the right approach.”

The nightmare isn’t over

While WCIT was expected to be the big conference where the world’s governments would figure all this stuff out, it wasn’t. It failed miserably on that point. However, that doesn’t mean all of this is resolved for good. Smaller meetings of the same nature take place every couple of months. And according to FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell the U.S. faces an “even more treacherous” negotiation of the ITU treaty set to take place in South Korea in 2014 because “[t]hose talks could expand the ITU’s reach even further.”

Pictured: ITU Secretary General Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, via ITU/Flickr

Computing

Google to shut down Google+ after exposure of 500,000 users’ data

After Facebook revealed that 50 million users may have been exposed as a result of a security vulnerability, Google announced it discovered a bug that left 500,000 Google+ users exposed. It will also shut down Google+.
Music

How to convert and play FLAC music files on your iPhone or iPad

The high-resolution revolution is upon us, and FLAC files are a popular way to store hi-res sound. But what if you’re an iOS user? Check out our article to find out more about FLAC files, and how to use them on Apple devices.
Mobile

Which Verizon plan is best for you? We check out family, individual, and prepaid

Verizon offers lots of plans for individuals, your family, and folks who want prepaid service. Here is everything you need to know about Verizon's plans, from data packages and smartphones to Big Red's prepaid plans.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Home Theater

What is MHL, exactly, and how does it work with your TV?

There are more ways to mirror your smartphone or tablet to your TV than you might think. Check out our rundown of MHL for everything you need to know about the wired protocol and its myriad uses.
Social Media

Sick of Facebook privacy scandals? Here's how to protect your personal data

With a number of security scandals in 2018, it has us questioning if we should get rid of Facebook. Here's how to protect your personal data without deleting your account, as well as how to just nuke the thing altogether.
Computing

Google Slides now auto-transcribes verbal presentations for real-time captions

A new feature for the Google Slides presentation software uses a computer's built-in microphone to transcribe the words of a speaker in real time, displaying them for everyone to see.
Mobile

Pixel 3, Home Hub, and Pixel Slate — our first look at all Google’s new devices

Google has taken the wraps off of a slew of new devices, including the Pixel 3 smartphones, Google Home Hub smart display, Google Pixel Slate tablet, and more. We were at the event, and took a ton of photos of all of Google's new products.
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Mobile

PayPal will soon let you withdraw cash at Walmart, but there’s a catch

PayPal has teamed up with Walmart to allow its account holders to withdraw and deposit cash at the store. The service launches at all Walmart stores across the U.S. in early November, but there's a catch.
Computing

Here's how to download a YouTube video to watch offline later

Learning how to download YouTube videos is easier than you might think. There are plenty of great tools you can use, both online and offline. These are our favorites and a step by step guide on how to use them.
Cars

Carbuying can be exhausting: Here are the best used car websites to make it easier

Shopping for a used car isn't easy, especially when the salesman is looking to make a quick sale. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites aimed at the prospective buyer, whether you're looking for a sedan or a newfangled hybrid.
Computing

How to recover Google contacts

If you accidentally deleted an important person from your Google Contacts, they might not be lost forever. Recovering them is a fairly easy process -- as long as you do it quickly. Here's how.
Computing

Afraid that Bitcoin could be a bubble? Here's how to sell what you've got

If you're investing in cryptocurrencies, it's important to have your exit strategy in place if prices start to crash. If you've decided it's time to get out or just want to learn how to sell Bitcoins, here's how to get started.