Most of us don’t stop to think about how the Internet operates. We type in a URL such as www.IPI.org and a Web site is rendered on our screen and off we go to read the insightful commentary. We never really worry about how the rules of the online world are made—are even if there are rules—and for the most part likely credit Yahoo!, Microsoft or Google as much as anyone.
So, how is Internet governance managed now? It is managed by a group of non-government entities, in a sort of bottom-up way. But the freedom we have on the Internet, much of which is taken for granted, is about to be under direct attack.
This December, countries that are members of the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency, will meet to haggle over replacing the old rules: the International Telecommunications Regulations, a treaty developed in 1988 that has never been revised. The treaty was supposed to facilitate the "global interconnection and interoperability" of international telecommunications traffic. Any agreement in December would likely replace the older document.
Those who prefer top-down governance and a heavy hand of government, such as Russia and China, are on the march to change the “rules” of the Internet. That is, many countries want more control over how the Internet operates, and how you operate on the Internet. They argue that the U.N. should have greater control—the same U.N. that in 1999 recommended that each email be taxed and the money given to help developing nations.
Remember those fights over network neutrality? We argued again and again that such schemes to have our government, via the FCC, dictate how private companies operate their networks were wrong headed for a number of reasons, not least of which was that the world was watching. Indeed the world was watching, and now some want to take those schemes global.
Let’s hope that the champions of the current system, Ambassador Phil Verveer, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, NTIA head Larry Strickling, Congressmen Walden, Bono Mack, Langevin, and McCaul, and others, will continue to stand against the top-down forces. The alternative is the end of the Internet as we know it, and the beginning of something quite the opposite—call it the “UN-Internet”.