U.S. now 'totally unified' in opposition of U.N. Internet governance

The U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously approved a resolution to oppose U.N. intent to govern and regulate the Internet at its WCIT-12 conference in Dubai, currently underway. [UPDATED]
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor
U.S. Capitol. Image: Wikimedia

In a historical moment of unanimous agreement -- an eye-opening 397-0 vote -- the U.S. House of Representatives voted today to approve a resolution pushing the U.S. government to fight the United Nations in its bid to control and change the Internet at the WCIT-12 summit, currently under way in Dubai. 

The unanimous vote is meant to send a signal -- as a show of strength -- to other countries meeting at the telecommunications summit that both the White House and its lawmakers oppose any role the U.N. might take in Internet governance or regulation.

The WCIT-12 summit is where the U.N.'s little-known arm, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is facilitating updates and changes to global telecommunications regulations that would place the Internet under the control of nation states.

This week, ITU member states are at the Dubai summit arguing over proposals from countries, most notably oppressive regimes such as Russia and China, that would impose levies on Internet traffic and adopt standards that would make it easy to track Internet users' activities.

It would give governments more effective control over citizens' access and use, as well as establish standards for telephone-style fee collection for Internet use.

According to The HillRep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said:

We need to send a strong message to the world that the Internet has thrived under a decentralized, bottom-up, multi-stakeholder governance model.

The ITU denies that the U.N. is making a play for control of the Internet, or the ITU grabbing a larger role in Internet governance.

In a recent email exchange ITU's Senior Communications Officer Toby Johnson told ZDNet:

ITU's Secretary General has repeatedly said that this is not the case. In fact there are no proposals to the conference to this effect.

ITU's mandate with regards to the Internet is very clearly laid down in various Resolutions that cannot be overridden by anything that happens in Dubai. So this is just a myth. 

However, Johnson did not respond to ZDNet's request for evidence to support this claim.

Prior to the summit's Monday opening ceremonies, the EU's upper house, the European Parliament, voted to oppose the U.N.'s plans to regulate the Internet.

The 27 EU member states also voted unanimously, joining the U.S. to fight the ITU's WCIT-12 plans as a unified bloc. The E.U. is backed in its stance by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and other countries who are also members of the ITU.

"The EU believes that there is no justification for such proposals," said the European Commission, on Friday. The opinion given by Europe's lower house was the view of all 27 member states, it said.

According to the Reuters news agency, EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who is in charge of Europe's Internet policy, said the ITU proposals "risk damaging the Internet's evolution as a critical piece of global commercial infrastructure and a network for the free flow of information and data."

"The European Union's firm view is that the Internet works," she said earlier this week. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The ITU responded, claiming the EU resolution was flawed:

...it is unfortunate and disappointing to see that the European Parliament appears to base its Resolution on misleading and erroneous conjecture put forth by certain companies who are defending their commercial interests, in particular when those companies are not even European companies.

Opposition to ITU's WCIT-12 summit, fueled by details on the proposed changes leaking onto the Internet, are mounting.

ITU member states continue to argue over proposals from a range of countries, most notably oppressive regimes -- including as Russia and China -- which could impose levies on Internet traffic and adopt standards, making it easier to track Internet users' activities.

The proposals would give governments more effective control over citizens' access and use, as well as establish standards for telephone-style fee collection for Internet use.

Changes under consideration at WCIT-12 would pit citizens' rights to communicate against rules that will allow the member states to cut off and potentially intercept communications under vague wordings for cases that, "appear dangerous to the security of the State [...] or to public order or decency."

Proposed changes at WCIT-12 would also legitimize the pay-per-model of the Internet and would in all likelihood threaten 'net neutrality'.

The ITU has carried out years of studies and engaged in persistent maneuvering to figure out how to charge for, and measure, Internet traffic -- but has never come up with a firm, mutually-agreed proposal on how to do it.

Many will be surprised to see the United States unified in such a way -- for anything.

One thing shouldn't be overlooked. Standing against the ITU's endless wrangling over Internet controls sends a message toward governments that are excited at the prospects of getting tighter control of the internet by way of their telecoms (and the attractive lure of billions in increased revenue).

Again, from The Hill, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) told the House:

The 193 member countries of the United Nations are gathered to consider whether to apply to the Internet a regulatory regime that the International Telecommunications Union created in the 1980s for old-fashioned telephone service.

He said member states will also consider whether to, "swallow the Internet's non-governmental organizational structure whole and make it part of the United Nations."

"Neither of these are acceptable outcomes and must be strongly opposed by our delegation," he added.

Updated at 4:13 p.m. PST: 

When reached for comment about the U.S. resolution, ITU Senior Communications Officer Toby Johnson told ZDNet: 

The UN has no mandate to control the Internet; regulation only takes place at the national level and nothing that comes out of this conference will change that. It is legally and technically impossible for the ITU to control the internet.

However, ITU's Johnson did not explain or comment on the resolution itself, what effect it will have on WCIT-12 proceedings, or what is now becoming global opposition to the ITU's efforts.

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