The world's major Internet companies, backed by US policymakers, got much of what they wanted last week when many nations refused to sign a global telecommunications treaty that opponents feared could lead to greater government control over online content and communications.
In rejecting even mild Internet language in the updated International Telecommunications Union treaty and persuading dozens of other countries to refuse their signatures, the US made a powerful statement in support of the open Internet, US officials and industry leaders said.
But both technologists and politicians fear the Internet remains in imminent danger of new controls imposed by various countries, and some said the rift that only widened during the 12-day ITU conference in Dubai could wind up hastening the end of the Net as we know it.
"If the international community can't agree on what is actually quite a simple text on telecommunications, then there is a risk that the consensus that has mostly held today around Internet governance within (Web-address overseer) ICANN and the multi-stakeholder model just falls apart over time," a European delegate told Reuters.
"Some countries clearly think it is time to rethink that whole system, and the fights over that could prove irresolvable.
" An increasing number of nations are alarmed about Internet-based warfare, international cybercrime or internal dissidents' use of so-called "over-the-top" services such as Twitter and Facebook that are outside the control of domestic telecom authorities. Many hoped that the ITU would prove the right forum to set standards or at least exchange views on how to handle their problems.
But the United States' refusal to sign the treaty even after all mention of the Internet had been relegated to a side resolution may have convinced other countries that they have to go it alone, delegates said.
"This could lead to a balkanization of the Internet, because each country will have its own view on how to deal with over-the-top players and will regulate the Internet in a different way," said another European delegate, who would speak only on condition anonymity.
Without US and European cooperation, "maybe in the future we could come to a fragmented Internet," said Andrey Mukhanov, international chief at Russia's Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications.
HARD LINE IN NEGOTIATIONS
Spurred on by search giant Google and others, the Americans took a hard line against an alliance of countries that wanted the right to know more about the routing