American media famously dominated the globe for most of the 20th century. But like a lot of things in the last decade or so, U.S. cultural imperialism has been lagging a bit. A Story in today’s issue of Le Monde discusses the internet fortunes built by American companies like Google and Facebook – and the future.
“The geopolitics of the Internet broke open during the first half of December at an international conference in Dubai convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN affiliate agency with 193 national members. At these meetings, states (thronged by corporate advisors) forge agreements to enable international communications via cables and satellites. These gatherings, however boring and bureaucratic, are crucial because of the enormous importance of networks in the operation of the transnational political economy.
“The December 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai produced a major controversy: should ITU members vest the agency with oversight responsibilities for the Internet, responsibilities comparable to those it has exercised for decades for other forms of international communication?
“The United States said no, and the US position won out: the new ITU treaty document did not grant the agency a formal role in what has come to be called ‘global Internet governance’. However, a majority of countries voted to attach a resolution “invit[ing] member states to elaborate on their respective position on international Internet-related technical, development and public policy issues within the mandate of the ITU. Objecting to “even symbolic global oversight”, as a New York Times writer put it the US refused to sign the treaty and walked away. So did France, Germany, Japan, India, Kenya, Colombia, Canada, Britain and other nations. However, more than two-thirds of the attending countries — 89 all told — endorsed the document. (And some of the nations that did not sign may accept the treaty later.)
“To understand what is at stake we need to make our way through the rhetorical smog. For months prior to the WCIT, the Euro-American press trumpeted warnings that this was to be an epochal clash between upholders of an open Internet and would-be government usurpers, led by authoritarian states like Russia, Iran and China. The terms of reference were set so rigidly that one European telecom company executive called it a campaign of “propaganda warfare”
“Freedom of expression is no trifling issue. No matter where we live, there is reason for worry that the Internet’s relative openness is being usurped, corroded or canalised. This does not necessarily imply armies of state censors or “great firewalls”. The US National Security Agency, for example, sifts wholesale through electronic transmissions transiting satellite and cable networks, through its extensive “listening posts” and its gigantic new data centre at Bluffdale Utah (3); and the US government has gone after a true proponent of freedom of expression — WikiLeaks — in deadly earnest. US Internet companies such as Facebook and Google have transformed the Web into a “surveillance engine” to vacuum up commercially profitable data about users’ behaviour.”
For more, see: http://mondediplo.com/2013/02/15internet