House lawmakers will consider an international proposal next week to give the United Nations more control over the Internet. The proposal is backed by China, Russia, Brazil, India and other UN members, and would give the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) more control over the governance of the Internet.
The UN proposal comes at a time when the international body has been getting extensively involved with the development of a global broadband strategy. Over the past 2 years, the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development has released a number of reports regarding global broadband access, including broadband targets for the global community to achieve by 2015.
The UN Broadband Commission also developed a "Call to Action" for world leaders to take in preparation for the Rio+20 sustainable development summit, scheduled to take place in Brazil in June, 2012. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the summit, "One of the most important conferences in the history of the United Nations."
While encouraging and supporting global broadband deployment is a universally welcome move by the UN, the proposal for increased control of the Internet, is an unpopular idea with policymakers from both sides of the aisle in Congress. Members of the Obama administration have also criticized the plan.
Larry Strickland, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, NTIA, Department of Commerce, said the measure would expose the Internet to “top-down regulation where it's really the governments that are at the table, but the rest of the stakeholders aren't.”
At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also criticized the proposal. He said China and Russia are "not exactly bastions of Internet freedom."
Fred Upton (R-MI) also said in a statement, "In a time of economic uncertainty and turmoil, the Internet remains a job creation engine that fosters innovation, brings the people of the world together in new ways, and drives global discussion of important social matters,” “The Internet has become this economic and social juggernaut not because governmental actors willed it to be so, but because the government took a step back and let the private sector drive its evolution.
Upton continued: International regulatory intrusion into the Internet would have disastrous results not just for the United States, but for people around the world. I appreciate my colleagues on both sides of the aisle working together to send a strong message that we support the multi-stakeholder model.”
"Any place that bans certain terms from search should not be a leader in international Internet regulatory frameworks," he said, adding that he will keep a close eye on the process.The proposal could come up for a vote at a UN conference in Dubai in December.
There are no formal Internet regulations currently in place. Technical bodies such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the World Wide Web Consortium set some standards regarding infrastructure and management.
Russia President Vladimir Putin advocated for using the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to monitor the Internet while meeting with the U.N. Agency's Secretary General last year.
In addition to lawmakers, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell asked a rhetorical question: “Does anyone here today believe that these countries’ proposals would encourage the continued proliferation of an open and freedom-enhancing Internet?”, specifically addressing the UN proposal offered by the Chinese and Russian delegations.
Google also weighed in at the hearing, “If all of us do not pay attention to what’s going on, users worldwide will be at risk of losing the open and free Internet that has brought so much to so many,” Google Vice President Vinton Cerf said.