When the history of early 21st century Internet politicking is written, the meltdown of a United Nations summit last week will mark the date a virtual Cold War began.
In retrospect, the implosion of the Dubai summit was all but foreordained: it pitted nations with little tolerance for human rights against Western democracies which, at least in theory, uphold those principles. And it capped nearly a decade of behind-the-scenes jockeying by a U.N. agency called the International Telecommunication Union, created in 1865 to coordinate telegraph connectivity, to gain more authority over how the Internet is managed.
It didn't work. Backed by nearly a million people and some of the engineers responsible for creating the Internet and World Wide Web, the U.S. and dozens of other western democracies rejected the Dubai treaty. That dealt a serious blow to an alliance of repressive regimes—led by Russia, China, Algeria, and Iran—that tend to lack appreciation of the virtues of a traditionally free-wheeling Internet.