On Feb 21 2012 the Wall Street Journal published an Op-Ed from FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell – “The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom“. Commissioner McDowell says that at an World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) next week “Russia, China and their allies” will be pushing hard to renegotiate the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) set at the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference held in Melboune in 1988 (WATTC-88). Key provisions in those ITRs facilitated the private expansion of IP-based networks opening the gates to the building of the Internet.
Commissioner McDowell lists several proposals that would emasculate the open successful multistakeholder process that has engineered the growth of the Internet and suggests that they will lead to an eventual balkanization of the network.
He concludes with a call to action to defeat the proposals.
A top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without borders. No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make engineering and economic decisions in lightning-fast Internet time. Productivity, rising living standards and the spread of freedom everywhere, but especially in the developing world, would grind to a halt as engineering and business decisions become politically paralyzed within a global regulatory body.
Any attempts to expand intergovernmental powers over the Internet—no matter how incremental or seemingly innocuous—should be turned back. Modernization and reform can be constructive, but not if the end result is a new global bureaucracy that departs from the multi-stakeholder model. Enlightened nations should draw a line in the sand against new regulations while welcoming reform that could include a nonregulatory role for the ITU.
Pro-regulation forces are, thus far, much more energized and organized than those who favor the multi-stakeholder approach. Regulation proponents only need to secure a simple majority of the 193 member states to codify their radical and counterproductive agenda. Unlike the U.N. Security Council, no country can wield a veto in ITU proceedings. With this in mind, some estimate that approximately 90 countries could be supporting intergovernmental Net regulation—a mere seven short of a majority.
While precious time ticks away, the U.S. has not named a leader for the treaty negotiation. We must awake from our slumber and engage before it is too late. Not only do these developments have the potential to affect the daily lives of all Americans, they also threaten freedom and prosperity across the globe.