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U.S. misses early win on Internet regulations

The U.S. and Canada had hoped to limit Internet regulations to telecom operators, and not Web companies.

The U.S. and Canada's attempt to limit the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) regulations to telecom operators has been stalled.

The countries, along with much of Europe, had hoped to stop the United Nations arm from attempting to regulate online companies as talks got under way. However, other countries, led by Russia and some countries in the Middle East, have balked, arguing that regulating the Internet should encompass Web companies.

Reuters was first to report on the talks.

ITU discussions kicked off earlier this week as countries around the world determine the extent to which the Internet should be regulated. The U.S. and most other Western countries had hoped to regulate telecom providers, but leave major companies, like Google, alone. If regulation extends to those Web companies, the U.S. argues, it would limit anonymity across the Internet and potentially hurt both those firms and users. It's a premise Google supports.

"We want to maintain a platform of a free and open Internet as a platform for free expression," Patrick Ryan, an attorney at Google, said at a forum organized by Stanford Law School last week.

The 12-day ITU conference in Dubai, which started Monday, is being attended by approximately 150 countries, spanning many philosophies on how the Web should be regulated. However, many of these Internet conferences do end without much getting done. In 2005, for example, Iran and African governments argued that the Web permits too much free speech and should be curbed. Nothing ever came of that.

Still, the ITU conference is important. The International Telecommunications Regulations, which the meeting will rewrite, was ratified in 1988 -- long before the Internet became crucial to global communications.

Although the U.S and Canada didn't get an early agreement on which parties should be regulated on the Internet, it's not over; countries will continue to discuss the issue until some form of resolution is reached.