Congress seeks to head off UN internet power grab
This has been flying under the radar for a few years and is about ready to come to a head this October.
A little known UN agency - the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - has been slowly but steadily moving to seize the internet by allowing individual nations to censor internet content. The group is in the process of rewriting its constitution, vastly expanding its powers to oversee the internet.
Last December in Dubai, the group agreed that individual nations had the power to potentially censor the internet. The last minute wording outraged the west and caused the American representative to walk out.
Congress, seeking to send a message to the ITU, will pass a resolution restating the American belief in a "multi-stakeholder" arrangement for the internet.
Some contentious language was struck from the bill that might have affected the current policy of net neutrality, which allows the federal government to make sure Internet providers provide equal access to companies that want to stream video and other content.
But the basic gist of the bill was to make sure a message was sent to U.N.-sponsored International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Last December, the United States and its key allies didn't sign a draft ITU treaty in Dubai that proposed that individual nations had the power to potentially censor the Internet.
The last-second addition of wording about the rights of all nations to have a role in controlling the Internet sparked outrage from Western nations.
This February, departing Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell warned the House committee that the ITU had plans that weren't in the best interest of the United States.
"Last year's bipartisan and unanimous congressional resolutions clearly opposing expansions of international powers over the Internet reverberated throughout the world and had a positive and constructive effect," he said.
"The dramatic encroachments on Internet freedom secured in Dubai will serve as a stepping stone to more international regulation of the Internet in the very near future. The result will be devastating even if the United States does not ratify these toxic new treaties," he added.
McDowell said the meeting this fall in South Korea will be "literally a constitutional convention" to "define the ITU's mission for years to come. Its constitution will be rewritten and a new Secretary General will be elected. This scenario poses both a threat and an opportunity for Internet freedom. The outcome of this massive treaty negotiation is uncertain, but the momentum favors those pushing for more Internet regulation."
The ITU is seeking to update a 1988 document called the International Telecommunication Regulations Treaty. It is considering controls over the Internet as an expansion of its current mandate over telephones, television, and radio networks.
The ITU wants to replace the non-profit company that assigns internet domains - ICANN - and grant individual countries that power.
In reality, some countries already block Web access, but an official mandate to let ITU members control how Internet access points are assigned and monitored would make the whole process much easier to manage--and censor.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages domains and controls the Internet's backbone. ICANN operates as a nonprofit company at the direction of the U.S. Department of Commerce. (Prior to 1998, the U.S. government managed Internet domain names directly.)
Some critics say the real issue is a power grab by the ITU (and the U.N.) to take ICANN away from any swaying influence exerted on it by the U.S. government.
There is certainly the potential to damage the freedom of the internet beyond repair if the ITU gets its way. The issue is so serious that even the usual partisan bickering in the Capitol has been set aside as Democrats and Republicans unite to fight this power grab.
It is probable that they will be successful. The industrial world is united on this issue and it is unlikely that the ITU coup will be successful.
But we shouldn't look at this as the end of efforts for international control of the internet. It's only the opening salvo in a battle that will last long after we are gone.