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Russia abandons proposal for U.N. governance of Internet

Opposed by Western governments, the proposal would have allowed member states to seize control of key Internet engineering assets.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
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Steven Musil
2 min read

A Russian-led coalition has withdrawn a controversial proposal to turn Internet governance over to a United Nations agency, a plan opposed by Western governments during ongoing talks over an international communications treaty.

The proposal, supported by China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others, would have called on the U.N. to help member states seize control of key Internet engineering assets, including domain names, addresses, and numbering. The United States, Canada, France, Sweden, and others opposed the proposal, fearing that it could do grave harm to the current free and open Internet.

The U.N. agency, called the International Telecommunication Union, kicked off a controversial summit last week tasked with rewriting a multilateral treaty that governs international communications traffic. The treaty, which was last updated in 1988, could have a direct impact on the Internet.

Details of the proposal leaked out last month ahead of the summit, forcing Russia to revise it to tone down some anti-Internet rhetoric, but it continued to propose the addition of a new article to the treaty giving the ITU specific authority over the Internet, something the agency has never had.

An ITU spokesman told Reuters that the coalition had abandoned the plan.

"It looks like the Russians and Chinese overplayed their hand," American cybersecurity expert Jim Lewis of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies told the news agency.

A series of ITU committees are meeting to draft proposals, with a deadline of December 12. The final texts will be presented on December 13, with the treaty signing scheduled to occur the following day. However, many of the meetings are being conducted behind closed doors, and key documents are withheld from public scrutiny -- the opposite of the way traditional Internet standards-setting works.