Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Those who supported greater state control of the Internet, and those who did not

The infographic below tells you all you need to know about the 55 countries that did not support the ITU’s attempt to take over the Internet, and the many more countries which did. Constitutional democracies prevail in those who did not support the ITU’s takeover attempts.


It is reasonable to conclude that the ITU has been shattered in the attempt. Time will tell. Those countries which did not sign the treaty modifications (called International Telecommunications Regulations, or ITRs) will carry on as usual.

From the ITU website, a full list of the states that and how they voted.

You can block the Internet; watch how the ITU proposes to do it

China moves to block all virtual private networks. No more tunnelling under the Great Firewall of China. The ITU’s attempts to take over management of the Internet is backed by regimes such as this.

Meantime, Hamadoun Toure, head of the ITU, has expressed surprise that the US has not signed on to revisions to the ITU treaty aimed at giving states greater say in the management of the Internet. Recall that the ITU excludes all business and civil society actors from its councils unless they speak as representatives of states. The opposition of the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Norway and other, generally liberal, communications regimes to greater ITU control of the Internet has been as plain as day for months. The other countries that refused to sign the updated treaty proposals included 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 International Telecommunications Regulations.

A good summary by Andrew Couts can be found here.

There were two key points.

First, control of “spam” could be used to control all communications not liked by states.

Second, the proposed reform of how the Internet is paid for means that the open nature of the Internet could be cut back. As matters work now, a person in Mali who receives video lectures from the Harvard University in the US, gets them by paying his access fees to a local carrier. One payment covers the traffic back and forth from the United States. The ITU proposals are intended to allow the national carrier in Mali to charge someone in the United States, such as Harvard University, for the reception of those signals coming back from Harvard University. This is the resurrection of the old system of telephone payments, where people paid carriers to “terminate” their traffic. You can imagine that, if Harvard or some carrier in the US gets a bill from some pipsqueak national carrier in Mali, it will not pay it, and if sufficiently bothered by importuning from such carriers, an American carrier will cut them off. Harvard is not hurt; the US carrier is not hurt, but the poor fellow in Mali learning about angioplasties, well-drilling or treatments for parasitical diseases will be. In essence the  countries receiving messages  – which are preponderantly in the poorer regions – want compensation from their countrymen for asking for the information (which they get) and compensation from the sending country (which they do not). Third world countries wanted more revenue out of the richer ones. That was how they were bribed to vote for the other arrangements about spam and greater national control of the Internet.

For the devoted, the proposed changes to the ITU treaty are found here, with the changes marked in red. You will see terms like “termination rate” on page 16 of the draft.

If you are interested in how the Internet works, a good place to start is the Internet Society’s pages. Try this one.

You can also read “A Brief History of the Internet”,  a collaborative effort of its founders to recount the events. To the best of my knowledge, it is definitive.

Good news! Canada rejects takeover of Internet by ITU

This is important for the long run: the western democracies have broken with most of the world by rejecting a takeover by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) of essential governance functions of the Internet.

The news is reported here, here, here and here.


Why does it matter? The ITU is a treaty organization of the United Nations. The only entities with rights to speak at the ITU are nation-states. While it may seem absurd that, in the political world, Niger and Syria have the same vote as the United States and France, in the business world, entities like Google and Apple have no voting rights at all. Nor does anyone else. Thus the foundational aspects of the Internet: standards for software set by the Internet Engineering Task Force, addressing policy (domain names and Internet Protocol addresses) set by ICANN and its dozens of sub-assemblies, are all governed by semi-autonomous bodies where user participation is paramount. None of these people or institutions have any rights to speak at an ITU conference. Non-governmental bodies have about the same weight in the ITU as slaves in the US Constitution before the Civil War, at about 3/5 of a person. Or maybe, worse still, Apple and Google count for nothing at all.

Say Goodbye to the Internet as you have known it

Over the next year, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will seek changes in the basic arrangements governing the Internet. Though the story is too large for one blog posting, it boils down to this. Russia, China, Brazil, India, Syria and other states are militating against the free exchange of information, and the ITU, which is a treaty organization of the United Nations, is their chosen instrument for achieving much greater control of the Internet.

Allied with them are a number of third world countries who believe they will recover money from international data traffic, money which they lost when the Internet overturned the charging arrangements that underlie telephone voice traffic.

To understand what they are up to, it helps to understand how the Internet works. Essentially, the Internet is the stupid network, and the telephone system is the intelligent network. The telephone network has to be intelligent because it is charging you money for the movement of your traffic. The Internet does not have to be intelligent in that way because its designers threw out all the machinery that tracked packets for the purpose of charging you for them.

The effect of this has been revolutionary. You pay your local Internet service provider a monthly fee for bandwidth usage. You roam about the Internet, summoning packets from all over the world, without regard to distance or time of day. Google sends you information, you upload pictures, or play games, do what you want. The ISP is tracking overall usage, perhaps, but it is not concerned with the end-points you are reaching. Nor does the person offering you information charge you, unless there is a specific agreement that it will cost you. More important, the ISP closest to Harvard University cannot send you a bill for contacting Harvard University.

People in Cameroon or Ohio can take a course from Harvard, and pay no more for the course than a) what Harvard charges, if anything, and b) their monthly usage bill for bandwidth.

How much does this all cost? Just what you pay now. All the transmission capacity, routers, servers, IP addresses, storage, websites is fully paid for now. Your local ISP collects your payments, sends a payment up the food chain to a larger ISP, which aggregates more traffic, up to the apex of the exchange system, where the really large carriers “peer” – exchange traffic for free (what’s a terabit among friends?). These are all unregulated private arrangements. The Internet has worked this way since it started.

It follows that, if someone wants to charge more for the Internet, as the proponents of change at the ITU do, they want to collect twice: once from the user, and once again from the sender, or the sender’s ISP.

The countries that compose the bulk of the ITU’s membership lost money because of the Internet. Their state-owned monopolies used to collect revenue from people sending traffic to their countries, which was usually from a rich country to a poor country. Under the Internet regime they collect money locally, and have to pay to larger players up the food chain when they pass on traffic from their countries to the large international carriers. In the old days they collected money from North Americans calling to the third world. Now they have to pay for the cost of transmission pipes to North America, Korea or Japan, and pay a free for connecting to larger ISPs.

In exchange their people gain access to everything that lies on servers in the wealthier countries.  Since their people benefit, but their telephone monopolies do not, the poorer countries are mostly concerned with recovering their “lost” telephone settlement money. Hence a majority of states is ready to wreck the Internet, not knowing what they are doing. States with an agenda hostile to the free flow of information, such as Russia, China, Iran and Syria can pile on to this majority to effect even worse changes to the international communications system. This will be the subject of a later posting.

Background on Internet design

The designers of the Internet assumed away the costs of transmitting data. It was designed not to be concerned with who paid for it. When the founders of the Internet looked at the telephone system, they found that most of its cost lay in the machinery that counted call minutes, that kept track of who called whom, and for how long, over what distance, and what time of day. These are called “charging arrangements”. The Internet has no machinery to do this. The Internet runs on a packet routing technology. Packets go towards their destinations, guided by routers, which tell a packet where a computer (called a server) with the right IP address is. Once the packet has passed through the router, the router has no memory of the passage of the packet through it.

Think of a packet as yourself driving down the road, looking for the turnoff to your friend’s town. You know he lives in Belleville, Ontario. First you look for directions to Ontario, then to Belleville, then to his street address. As you pass the signs for province, town, and street, you read them, but they do not remember you. You direct yourself towards your destination; the highway signs are merely indicators; they do not do the driving for you.

At the Core of the Old System

The core of the old system (telephones and telegraphs) is composed of states. The ITU is a treaty organization among states. Private persons, civil society groups, and business do not have a right to speak at these conferences. The ITU works on one state-one vote.

The core of the Internet is composed of privately owned computers. Private persons, corporations, and governments work in what are called multi-stakeholder organizations to resolve policy issues.

The consequence is that people and businesses have no right to speak at the ITU.