Rory Jones, Wall Street Journal, 03.12.2012 The question of who rules the Internet and how is being debated at a 12-day conference in Dubai. The World Conference on International Telecommunications, which started Monday, aims to draft a new treaty to underpin international telecommunications regulations. The current rules were put in place in 1988. The conference is sponsored by the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations agency for information and communication technologies. ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure, ofMali, spoke Monday. The bid to change the rule book has unleashed fears of a grab for centralized control of the Internet by the U.N. The process has also come under criticism for its lack of transparency, with documents unpublished and proposals up for debate kept secret. Among the most vocal critics are U.S. Internet companies like Google Inc. Google launched a campaign last month calling for Internet users to lobby their governments to denounce the conference as the wrong forum to decide the future of the Internet. "Only governments have a voice at the ITU," Google wrote on its Take Action website. "This includes governments that do not support a free and open Internet." A key battleground at the conference will be a proposal fromRussiaand several African nations to wrest control of the Internet from Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, an organization that helps oversee the Internet, and other groups that are primarily based in theU.S. The Russian proposal, leaked on WCITleaks.ORG, a website set up to counter the lack of transparency, calls for countries to "have equal rights to manage their Internet including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of Internet numbering, naming addressing and identification resources." Other proposals put forward by Indiaand some countries from Africa and the Middle Eastinclude allowing telecom operators to charge Internet content companies—such as Facebook Inc. and Google's YouTube—a premium for transmitting data across national borders. That would help telecom companies fund the high cost of upgrading networks to enable them to carry the surge in data expected from smartphones capable of streaming video, they argue. A group of 17 Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, is proposing greater control by governments in regulating the Internet and transfer of data. The group is calling for all Internet users to be universally identified, but critics warn of greater monitoring of Internet traffic and censorship in many countries that already block what their citizens can view online. Last month, the U. A. E passed wide-ranging cyber laws that prescribes jail sentences for anyone using the Internet to insult the country's leaders or to call for unlicensed demonstrations or marches. "Governments all over the world are seeking to reclaim grip and control that has slipped from them into the hands of empowered individuals," said Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament. "Some of the proposals made are considered threats to the open Internet, to net neutrality, or to free speech if adopted," she added. The European Parliament said last month that the International Telecommunication Union hosting the conference was "not the appropriate body" to have authority over the Internet. Despite the political saber-rattling, observers don't expect drastic changes to the way the Internet is run will be agreed on at theDubaiconference. ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré has said any changes must be agreed upon by all countries involved. In a last-minute turnaround Monday, the ITU reversed its stance and said it would publish the conference documents. "The conference documents will be published tomorrow," said Sarah Parkes, head of public relations for the ITU. "I can't guarantee it will be every proposal we ever received, but it is what we are now working with." But Ms. Schaake of the European Parliament said there may be further challenges ahead. "The struggle for digital freedom, control and economic gains will not end at the WCIT," she said. "The ITU (conference) is a test bed for power struggles over the Internet that we will face more of in the future."