No need for UN to take over internet, says EU digital chief Kroes

Neelie Kroes has told ZDNet that she does not favour changing the way the internet is governed, although she added that there was a case for hearing out governments who want a greater say.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes opposes handing control of the internet over to the UN's telecommunications agency, she said on Friday.

The past months have seen widespread controversy over the idea of giving the International Telecommunications Agency (ITU) more control over the internet — a proposal that has been made by countries such as Russia and China.

Neelie Kroes
Neelie Kroes has told ZDNet that she does not favour changing the way the internet is governed. Image credit: David Meyer

Speaking to ZDNet in Berlin, Kroes said there may be a case for governments having more say in the way the internet is run, but — even if this were to happen — it would not necessitate giving the ITU more power.

"Of course there are voices saying it would be better with the UN [but] I'm not in favour of the line that, if you have a problem, you can only solve it in a new structure," Kroes said, adding that it was first worth examining the calls for more government input.

"I still think that the remarks that are made [about giving governments a greater voice] can be included in a solution within the structure of today," she said. "I'm not aware that that can't be done, so I'm not willing to [favour] a new structure."

A real threat?

The ITU already has a hand in managing aspects the internet, for example promoting IPv6 awareness and coordinating international cybersecurity efforts.

The current storm surrounding the ITU's role is related to the revision of the agency's international telecommunications regulations (ITRs), a treaty that was set up in 1988 before the existence of the web.

As is the case with such policy revisions, various parties have made proposals — an ISP body, for instance, created a stir when it proposed banning net neutrality around the world.

Leaked drafts of the updated treaty — which is still far from finalised — show how countries such as Russia and Arab states are trying to make ITU internet recommendations binding on national telecoms authorities. Countries such as the US are resisting.

The key functions of the internet that are in question here are naming, numbering, addressing and identification. Many of these are currently carried out by ICANN, which is based in the US but independent, IANA, and national and regional agencies.

It is questionable as to how much the ITU actually wants to assume this kind of control.

Last June, Russian premier Vladimir Putin said in a meeting with ITU chief Hamadoun Toure: "We are thankful to you for the ideas that you have proposed for discussion. One of them is establishing international control over the internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union."

However, when the US Congress decried the supposed ITU takeover plans earlier this month, Toure responded by saying it was "unfortunate that the Congress is spending so much valuable time on something that isn't even on the table". He said there was "no single reference to Internet governance in the preparation document".

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