Keep Government Out of Internet Pricing

EXPERT COMMENTARY

Keep Government Out of Internet Pricing

By Eli Dourado |
Dec 04, 2012

Today marks the start of the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai. The conference is a U.N.-convened meeting where governments will update a treaty that sets rules for international public correspondence services, like telephones and telegraphs. Because the treaty was last revised in 1988, when government officials did not anticipate the importance of the Internet, the current text does not cover anything Internet-related.

International political neglect of the Internet, although probably inadvertent, has been more than benign—it has been salutary. Imagine if governments, and not engineers, had been in charge of innovation on the Internet for the past 25 years. We would probably have separate "national" Internets and have to pay international long distance charges to send data across national boundaries.

Does this sound far-fetched? It's not. In fact, some telecom companies and governments want to use the treaty revisions this year to explicitly enable "sender-pays" rules for the Internet. Under such a system, if a user in, say, Cameroon wants to watch a YouTube video, Google would have to pay the Cameroonian government or telecom company for the privilege of sending the video to the user, or—more likely—block access from Cameroon so that they don't incur high charges. The result would be an Internet where you can't access all content from everywhere, an Internet that is fragmented on national boundaries.

Why do governments want to impose these rules? They want the money. International telephone rates have plummeted in the last 20 years, largely because people can now substitute technologies like Skype and E-mail for expensive phone calls. This means that the governments and telephone monopolies that relied on international revenues need a new source of income.

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