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December 7, 2012

The Fight Is Just Beginning for International Control of the Internet


This week Congress finally passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 50, sponsored by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, expressing the sense of Congress that the Internet should remain free from international regulation and that the U.S. should preserve and advance the current "multi-stakeholder" model of governance. 

This effort was at least in time for, if not in advance of, the meeting this week of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (ITU), a small United Nations agency.

The debate is about whether the ITU agreement should be updated to extend its rules to IP-based networks, which would extend the UN's oversight far beyond covering only the international telephone network. The congressional action was welcome since it added the voice of Congress to that of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the European Union and others, providing a counterbalance to those foreign governments at the meeting that are seeking to forward authoritarian, Internet-controlling proposals.

Those governments' proposals span from giving them control of domain names, changing the current successful bottom-up, multi-stakeholder Internet governance model to a top-down global government-driven scheme, to a cost shifting proposal that has the effect of taxing Internet companies. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the most successful companies are located in the U.S.

The U.S. won't support these proposals at this meeting but will instead continue its support for a light regulatory touch and the bottom-up, multi-stakeholder Internet governance model.

But realistically, this fight is just beginning, and the debate just within the UN, at the ITU, will likely go on for years-an ongoing battle against those who do not favor freedom. The U.S. will need to hang tough, stay committed to its fundamental principles, and perhaps convince the members of the ITU that only a unanimous vote will change the rules so that a block of repressive regimes cannot force a change. If not, the only option may be a disconnecting from the global Internet.

A balkanized Internet is a loss. But a compromise that sacrifices our core principles of freedom and openness of the Internet or that throws our vibrant Internet industry to the wolves is a bigger failure. The U.S. must be prepared to walk away rather than make agreements that will end the Internet as we know it.


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