The EU Telco Plan To Have The UN 'Tax & Track' Internet Usage Goes Against Fundamental Internet Principles

from the this-is-bad dept

We’ve been talking for a few months about the nefarious plan by the UN’s ITU (International Telecommunications Union) to try to begin regulating the internet, and just how dangerous that would be. This is especially true as totalitarian countries have pretty clear plans to use this process to come up with ways to lock down the internet — and potentially balkanize it. In the last few weeks the issue has been getting a lot more attention, especially in the US, where there’s widespread agreement that this is not something for the UN or ITU to be involved in.

Of course, a big part of the problem is just how secretive the entire process is. Not only does it lack transparency, it entirely lacks accountability. It’s a system that is ripe for abuse — and a combination of either gullible or crafty officials seem to have no problem helping enable that kind of abuse.

As we noted in that last post, some of the first proposals had started leaking, and the deeper people dig into them, the worse they look. The basic proposal that is making the rounds is the one submitted by ETNO — the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association. What they’re proposing is a system that effectively puts in place a massive tax system for the internet. Basically, they’re taking a long-standing setup concerning how much it costs for telephone calls, in which the calling party pays a ton of money to “connect” to an international phone system. Ever wondered why phone calls to foreign countries can be so crazy expensive?

That’s why.

And now the plan is to basically pretend that the internet is just like the phone system, so they can extend this “calling party pays” plan to one where the “sending party” pays. The reasoning here is more or less twofold: (1) lots of these countries still have (either fully or partially) nationally owned telcos (or at least telco monopolies), whose business models have been completely undercut by the internet. Since these firms have been monopolists from the very beginning, they’ve never been very good at innovating or adapting to the times. The idea of shifting what had been a key money maker — collecting tolls for international phone calls — and then applying it to the internet sounds really attractive to lazy national telco folks who would love a system that just starts printing money for them. (2) While they don’t like to admit it, plenty of other countries remain quite jealous of the of large massively successful internet companies which are mostly based in the US. By placing a “sending party pays” tax, it’s a way for European (and other) countries to more or less put up toll booths on the internet for these companies, forcing Google, Facebook, Twitter and others to “pay” to reach people in their countries. Oh, and on top of that, it’s a chance for them to make plans to drop net neutrality and the basic end-to-end principle that defines the internet.

In fact, the head of the ITU, in a series of speeches in which he insists he wants to cut short these rumors of a “UN takeover” of the internet, makes it abundantly clear that a big part of this plan is to simply funnel cash to national telcos, which he assumes (with no proof) will automatically go towards funding new infrastructure. Take for example, one of his recent speeches in Canada, in which he repeatedly talks up how we need to get money to telcos so they’ll invest in infrastructure:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Everyone wants mobile broadband and the benefits it will bring. But few seem willing to pay for it – including both the over-the-top players, who are generating vast new demand through their applications, and consumers, who have become accustomed to unlimited packages.

This is putting tremendous pressure on mobile operators, who need to invest in high-capacity broadband networks in order to maintain quality of service as demand rises.

At the same time, as broadband becomes increasingly viewed as basic infrastructure for social and economic development, operators are being asked to extend the reach of their networks to under-served populations.

These are strategic, bottom-line issues, and we need to be talking about them.

The argument he makes is that if we don’t somehow subsidize and funnel excess cash to the telcos, they might not be able to survive or invest in additional core internet infrastructure. Of course, all of that ignores the customer, and assumes a primary position for telcos who’d love to bring in this cash (though they appear to severely underestimate both the collateral damage and the lasting impact of such agreements). All of this ignores the fact that there’s so much demand for true broadband internet access that more and more private solutions are appearing, none of which require putting a massive tax on the internet. Furthermore, it seems to assume no one will invest in broadband without government help. This, of course, ignores the fact that the effective monopolies of many national telcos has made those companies fat, lazy and slothful when it comes to actual innovation. There are all sorts of reasons to invest in broadband projects that don’t require “taxation” every time internet packets cross national boundaries. Furthermore, if these telcos not only have a national monopoly, but are also getting free money from the outside world, what incentive do they really have to actually invest in improving the network?

If you think that roaming charges and international phone calls are crazy in Europe, you haven’t seen anything until this ITU proposal moves forward.

And, of course, there’s an even more nefarious and mostly unspoken aspect to all of this. While so much of the focus has been on money (and a little bit on technology), there’s a bigger issue: destroying privacy online. No one will say that out loud, of course, but taxing the internet as it crosses borders opens up the door to tracking internet usage. Because you can’t tax something that you can’t track. So all of these proposals have the implicit problem that they open the door for countries who don’t truly believe in privacy for their citizens, to also track how they use the internet, and defending it as required to remain in compliance. Anyone believe that won’t be abused by corrupt and authoritarian governments?

In the end, this leads to an inevitable balkanization of the internet — in which internet traffic crossing borders is taxed and tracked as it wasn’t before (where the peering system has been mostly effective with just a few minor hiccups). Once you have such taxation it becomes cost prohibitive for some countries to even offer full internet access to its citizens, and that can get worse over time. Add to that the ability to widely track what people do online (and the ability to ditch the end-to-end principle of the internet) and — especially for more authoritarian governments — you open a huge can of worms to let officials spy on all sorts of internet activity in the name of supporting a “international relations.”

This is why people should be speaking out loudly against these proposals. So far, it’s basically the US against everyone else — and the US only has one vote.

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Comments on “The EU Telco Plan To Have The UN 'Tax & Track' Internet Usage Goes Against Fundamental Internet Principles”

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Chris Brand says:

Sender pays

Of course with a phone call the person making the call is the one who wants it to happen. With the Internet, the party sending the most data is usually responding to an information request from the other person. So this proposal is exactly backwards.
It’s like making me pay for received phone calls, but not for ones I initiate.

It’s also interesting in that we’ve been telling the various “content industries” for years that “the internet isn’t like TV, it’s a communication medium not a broadcast one”. Now we have to tell the phone companies “it’s not like the telephone system either”.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

But you said...

This is especially true as totalitarian countries have pretty clear plans to use this process to come up with ways to lock down the internet…”

You very clearly stated totalitarian countries have plans for this — doesn’t the mean the US has plans for it?

Maybe we should give up on the ‘public outcry’ and plan to try using something more effective.

Anonymous Coward says:

with respect, all the shit that the US has tried to/is still trying to implement, it’s no wonder no one wants to back the US up, particularly when what the ITU wants to do is exactly what the US wants to do, ie, take complete control of the Internet!
with the recent decision to slash the cost of roaming charges in the EU, what is the point of then allowing those charges to be replaced by these? i thought the object of the exercise was to stop mobile companies from continuing to rip off customers whilst still giving a good, reliable service.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

This is also a security nightmare

Given the massive security issues we have — several hundred million bots, epidemic spam and phishing, daily security breaches of major sites, rampant malware, etc. — the opportunities for harm that this would bring are incredible. Imagine what the telco billing system would be like if X could generate billable events for Y at will, for roughly a billion Y’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

To some extent, their point of view is correct. The Telcos are a key part of the process here, without the connectivity, all the websites and all the computers in the world can’t talk to each other and can’t get anything done.

Now, taxing per connection or whatever is silly, and defeats the purpose of the internet. However, having a tax on servers, as an example or a tax on internet connections which is funnels into a collective pool might not be the worst way to do things.

End users are unwilling to pay more directly for connectivity. It will be a long term, ongoing fight.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:


I used to think that the ITU knew how the internet works. For some reason they believe that Telcos are the only players on the field.

If they are looking at the internet as a phone connection, then someone should explain to them that cable and satellite TV companies also offer broadband and in the mobile space 802.16 (WiMAX) is becoming a reality. What about internet backbone providers? How to they fit into this?

This doesn’t sound like it was thought out by anyone who actually knows what the internet is or how it is accessed.

DogBreath says:

We don't pay? Really??

Yes, but now you need to be double taxed, and possibly even triple-taxed. If they can’t get you both coming, going and standing still (that’s the triple), then they’re not doing their primary job of screwing you over and over.

Government/Company motto: Our “lawful” profit and gain is your unjust suffering and pain.

Anonymous Coward says:

How is it ITU's jurisdiction in the first place?

I have not read the leaks yet, but isn’t the Internet a set of private agreements between (mostly private) networks? If my ISP decides to peer with a ISP from another country, why would ITU have a say in the matter?

It makes sense that they can influence the national telcos (which would be ITU members in the first place), but why would their decisions have any effect on private backbone companies?

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

If it’s government and/or EU/UN wanting top bless these moves imposing taxes on to of taxes which is a nice side effect of most VAT systems let me point you here. First:
In the trueist of true freetard traditions the site doesn’t ask for a few pennies to cover the licensing fee for passing this on and then me passing it on here.

Yes, the United States has the most servers in the world no matter how you count it but Canada is a close second when you take population into account. Way back when the UK was next, then Germany, then South Africa though I’m sure the number of servers in places like Brazil and India have increased exponentially as have China’s.

As for actually needing more money to invest in infrastructure for the Net someone wants us to buy a very large pig in a poke here. They’re all doing fine thanks if not on the landline side the mobile (cellular) side is raking it in because they charge by the minute for access from smart phones in the majority of cases. Naturally they’ll take more from this silly rake off the top particularly if they get most of it which they traditionally have in North America.

As for how high speed is paid for at when it hits the side of the house, ever look at what you pay for it on a monthly basis? The last thing telcos or cablecos want it government skimming off the top for their own purposes. With respect to remote areas the mere presence of a military installation in those areas will pay for it in no time flat

How this helps emerging and poor countries is beyond me but then Eurocentric things like this generally don’t.

At the end of the day it’s all bullshit. The telecom industry isn’t a closely regulated monopoly any longer but it’s still considered vital by governments and regulators. And that includes the parts that carry the Internet. Net neutrality isn’t in danger as long as the military and commerce keep demanding it as part of contracts they sign with telcos and cablecos.

anon says:

Sorry but i agree in part on the principle

Well this is a first for me, i actually support this in principle, but do not support the tracking of private traffic.
America has claimed ownership of the internet since it’s inception and seems to think they have the right to police it, just look at all of the illegal suing, seizures and imprisoning of people around the world. Let the UN encourage a tax on all businesses that generate massive amounts of traffic and therefore money from it’s citizens.
Lets tax all us businesses who use the internet to sell goods without paying taxes in the country the buyer exists, this will encourage businesses to create there business in the EU where i live which will improve employment and encourage innovation. Lets take Google for example , if they pay taxes in my country allow them to do business here, if they do not then tax them on the amount of traffic they have coming to my country.
Then if a business really wants to succeed they will have to create businesses in every country they do massive amounts of business with. Otherwise block those business from the internet. America has taught the world how to do this to make money and the EU is just encouraging the next step in taking some of the wealth generated and keeping it in there countries.

This is the blow-back America will receive from there greed, and it s all really down to the movie industry being allowed to run rampant in the world with the full support of the US Government. It has shown other countries how to protect there businesses by using laws to regulate those businesses. LOL very cool.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sorry but i agree in part on the principle

I agree with you, i am against the the tracking of private traffic as well.

But getting taxes to our governments from the big companies would help with Europe’s money problems, also it would bring jobs as you say.

I think this taxes should only apply to the companies, not to the end users

arcan (profile) says:

This is also a security nightmare

i have the perfect solution if this passes. hack the personal computers of the people on the ITU board. bot them with LOIC. then have them DDOS the american google. every time they send data they will be taxed. instant insanely large internet tax bills for them. we could see tens of millions of dollars in taxes. then they might see how stupid this is.

arcan (profile) says:

This would work?

it is not disrupting internet access. it is just denying service to people of certain regions. so europe supports this. they stop doing business in europe. people suddenly can’t do a ton of things they used to do. people get pissed at government. government backs off. start services again. government tries to reinstate policy, threaten to deny services again. rinse and repeat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Much Ado About Nothing

If the telcos in Europe are anything like the telcos in the US they’re already making obscene amounts of money for internet access and mobile broadband services.
If this tax scheme were to become a reality wouldn’t it be more likely that the European market would be the losers?
I know that living in the US I don’t spend anywhere near as much time visiting foreign websites as I do US websites. If I were to be charged for connecting to a foreign website I just wouldn’t do it. But the people in Europe using popular websites like Google,Facebook, Twitter and Techdirt would be charged.
So if there is a “long distance” charge in one direction,you can bet you’re sweet whatever that there will be a charge the other way as well. I know that the US telcos would never miss an opportunity to rape their customers.
As to tracking and monitoring everyone on the internet,that’s already being done,and has been for a long time.Nothing new there.
Governments being able to “lock down” the internet or censor it? Again they already can…and do.
Pay your bill and quiturbitchin and maybe they will leave you alone.

hitesh says:

tax air we breathe

Why not these fuckers think of a plan to tax and track air that we breathe? This will help generate cash to improve air quality and monitoring. Every one like you and me breathe as much air as we like without caring about how much our environmental ministry/department are doing for us without asking for money and getting burdened in due process. Fucktards!

John Perry Barlow says:


“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don’t exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge. Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.

You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.

In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.”

Anonymous Coward says:

So far, it’s basically the US against everyone else — and the US only has one vote.

This is more alarmist bullshit. I’d have thought you’d have learned by now that money, generally trumps votes. Who pays the bill for the UN? We do. This is a total non-starter- some social engineers wet dream of how to prop of their failing economies, placate their peasants and keep their soft, do-nothing jobs. Any administration that allowed this to happen would be ripped to shreds by the business community/CoC on the right; everyone on left and almost everyone under 50 in the middle. I fear being conquered and occupied by Canada far more than this absurd scenario. Did you used to be a copy editor for the National Enquirer Masnick? Any bigfoot sightings to report this week?

Anonymous Coward says:


Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost.

Is this the same John Perry Barlow who was in the movie, “Conceiving Ada” which is protected by copyright? The same copyright that you and EFF actively work to undermine, if not destroy? What a fucking hypocrite.

Anonymous Coward says:


And while we’re at it; when David Dodd sought to write the book The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics he was denied use of the lyrics for more than a decade by Ice Nine (the rights holder of the lyrics), then when he finally received permission, Ice Nine demanded a majority share of the royalties. Is that about right?

You know, for being the co-founder of EFF and a consistent critic of copyright you seem to have benefitted mightily from it. What do they call that where you come from?

Chargone (profile) says:

Sender pays

i kinda like NZ’s phone system, where in you never get charged for Anything you didn’t initiate…

someone sends you a text? they pay for it.
someone calls your phone? they pay for it.

admittedly there’s the idiocy of signing up to services that charge you to have them send you texts, but even then, that’s not your phone usage you’re being charged for. that’s the service you signed up to.

(there are two exceptions: 0800 numbers, and collect calls by way of the operator. the former is a business thing. you can set up an 0800 number, and if you do, you get charged for the incoming calls on that number. the second gives you an option of accepting the call or not, and if you don’t, no one pays anything.)

Chargone (profile) says:


this one would be a little harder to get around than most.

the international connections are the major choke-points of the physical aspect of the internet, i think.

example: EVERYTHING going in and out of New Zealand goes through one of two cables.


that’s a pretty major vulnerability…

(there is a satellite up-link around somewhere, but it’s an emergency backup and doesn’t have anything like the necessary bandwith for normal internet usage… not to mention is even more tightly controlled.)

Trenchman says:

I’m still trying to figure our what makes these organizations and governments think they have any right to the internet? It’s a computer network set up by private industry, kept up by private industry, and supplied with content from the public. What makes anyone think they have the right over the entirety of the internet? Either way, they’ll have hackers shutting them down repeatedly the moment they try to start something like this. Maybe this will be how WWIII will start.

Seegras (profile) says:


Of course the UN can’t be trusted to regulate the Internet.

They’re the playing ball of international companies, monopolists, prohibitionists and of course the US government (much more so than the EU).


There are doubtless some bodies within the UN doing very good work (UNESCO and IAEA probably, for instance), about half the bodies are obviously only there to foster mercantilism, monopolies, prohibtion and surveillance.

indieThing says:

We don't pay? Really??

No, fair play, he has a point – I get my internet connection for free 🙂 My mobile provider gives me the internet for free on my landline. It truly is free – my mobile bill would be the same with or without the internet access. Also, I’m paying less this year than I did last year, with the added bonus of unlimted data on my mobile. This was acheived by haggling with the mobile loyalty department when my contract ran out.

More importantly, how would this be tracked through a VPN or proxy ? I can see lots more people switching to these systems if web billing gets the go ahead – even more than with filesharing. After all, this hits you directly in the wallet !

Anonymous Coward says:


So please enlighten us as to the breadth of your experience with the UN, Chicken Little.

Maybe your fellow nutjobs down at the Tinfoil Hat Militia compound believe your New World Order, black helicopter bullshit- but everyone else pretty much laughs at notion of the UN wresting control of the internet away from the US and turning it into a worldwide wealth redistribution platform.

microsoftwinkey (user link) says:

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:


So please enlighten us as to the breadth of your experience with the UN, Chicken Little.

Maybe your fellow nutjobs down at the Tinfoil Hat Militia compound believe your New World Order, black helicopter bullshit- but everyone else pretty much laughs at notion of the UN wresting control of the internet away from the US and turning it into a worldwide wealth redistribution platform.

Funny stuff. My information comes from people way above your pay grade. There are legitimate concerns, as we saw from the Congressional hearings. Congress doesn’t hold hearings on stuff that falls into “black helicopter” territory. Of course, we know that you don’t know anyone who actually understands internet issues — it’s why you were involved in SOPA/PIPA. If you actually spoke to people who have a history of dealing with the ITU, you would recognize that this is a serious issue

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