International proposals to control the Internet will continue after a United Nations conference in Dubai and the U.S. should be ready to fight such efforts, lawmakers and a regulator said.
“The Internet is quite simply under assault,” Robert McDowell, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, said yesterday at a joint hearing by three House subcommittees. McDowell, a Republican, warned of “patient and persistent incrementalists who will never relent until their ends are achieved.”
The U.S. and other nations refused to sign a revised telecommunications treaty at the UN conference in December, saying new language could allow Internet regulation and censorship by governments. Technology companies including Google Inc. (GOOG:US), owner of the world’s largest Internet search engine, also opposed the changes.
The Dubai conference, held by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union, updated regulations related to topics such as mobile-roaming charges and access to emergency services.
The final pact also gives governments the ability to block Internet spam and inspect the content of online messages to determine if they can be blocked to solve “network congestion” issues, David Gross, a member of the U.S. delegation to the conference, said in testimony. Gross is an attorney with the law firm of Wiley Rein in Washington and a former U.S. State Department official.
“This is likely the start, not the end, of efforts to drag the Internet within the purview of international regulatory bodies,” Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, said at the hearing.
House lawmakers are considering draft legislation making it U.S. policy to promote a “global Internet free from government control,” and advance the current decentralized model of Web governance by technical groups such as the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann. The bill is similar to a non-binding resolution that passed both houses of Congress before the Dubai conference.
“The idea that the UN ought to be controlling the Internet to me is like putting the Taliban in charge of women’s rights,” Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, said at the hearing.
Countries that want the UN to regulate the Internet are led by “Putin’s Russia and our good buddies, the Chinese,” Poe said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The U.K., Canada and Australia were among 55 delegations that refused to sign the telecommunications treaty or indicated they would need to check with their governments, while 89 countries signed the pact, according to a House Energy and Commerce Committee memorandum.
The treaty doesn’t take effect until January 2015, providing an opportunity to persuade other nations not to adopt the regulations, the committee said in the memorandum.
The U.S. should fight further Internet regulation efforts at future gatherings of the ITU, which plans meetings in May in Geneva and next year in South Korea, McDowell said.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, particularly among nations who do not share our vision for maintaining the free flow of information across the Internet,” Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, said at the hearing. “We have to have a strategy for engaging developing countries.”
Hamadoun Toure, the ITU’s secretary-general, said at the Dubai conference he disagreed that the new treaty would increase government control of the Internet and said there were no provisions on Web regulation in the text.
“We are pleased that so many members of Congress today voiced their support for the multi-stakeholder model, which has fostered the amazing growth and vitality of the Internet,” Brad White, a spokesman for Icann, said in an e-mail.
Icann, based in Los Angeles, manages the Internet’s domain- name system under a contract with the U.S. Commerce Department.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at email@example.com