According to Washington lawmakers and internet-dependent companies such as Google, the upcoming World Conference on International Communications is a deadly threat to the internet as we know it. Politicos on the Hill are saying that the 120 member US delegation to the Dubai conference beginning Monday must act to prevent countries like China, Russia and third-world nations from using the United Nations branch organization from censoring or taxing the internet. Google has organized an on-line petition against such a development, and Grover Norquist has gotten involved as well.
In other words, unless we act fast, the UN will be taking over the internet, threatening its free and open status.
“It was very important for the United States to send a shot across the bow and let countries like China and Russia know that we are onto the games they’re trying to play,” said Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who led a successful effort to pass a resolution against the interference in August. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) backed a sister bill in the Senate.
What other, less paranoid observers are saying is that rather than taxing and censoring the internet, very little of how the internet works will actually change, if anything at all. But the reality has not stopped others from getting a heavy case of the worries:
Bruce Mehlman, a tech lobbyist whose clients include Red Hat, said “vigilance against such incursions” of government regulation “will be the eternal price of liberty.”
Google is asking supporters and users to sign the following statement:
“A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice.”
Grover Norquist’s Digital Liberty division of his organization Americans for Tax Reform cautions that China, Russia and Brazil will not let anything get in their way in their efforts to control the internet.
But what will really be going on at the two week-long conference? Member states of the International Telecommunications Union, which is a branch of the United Nations, will be negotiating a new treaty on international telecommunication regulations. But since each country gets just one vote the more extreme proposals will be weeded out. Also, countries that do not like the results of the treaty negotiations will not be forced to sign on. So why is the US acting so hysterical about the upcoming conference.
“The concern over WCIT was never that it would be the killing blow but rather the latest, and by no means the last, effort by repressive governments to kill the Internet any way they can,” said Larry Downes, a tech consultant and one of key prophets of doom and gloom concerning the treaty negotiations.
Other techies argue that even though this particular conference might not be the final hammer blow for freedom on the internet, there is still a lot to be worried about.
“The United States is not alone in the online world, so simply opting out of bad ITU policies won’t make those policies any less pernicious,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of the NetChoice coalition, a group of trade groups and companies such as Facebook and eBay that pushes for choice and commerce on the Internet. “Complicated telecom-style tariff regimes will raise barriers to entry and could limit access in many parts of the world where the Internet currently offers real hope for education and economic development.”
“Nobody should be complacent about the WCIT,” he added, “just because the threats it poses can’t be boiled down into a simple sound bite.”