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FCC to Congress: U.N.'s ITU Internet plans 'must be stopped'

Today's testimony from FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell to Congress explicitly reveals that the free and open Internet is under attack by the ITU.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Today, U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell will testify to Congress in a joint U.S. House subcommittee hearing on international Internet governance, that the free and open Internet is under attack — and inaction is not an option.

The FCC Commissioner ominously warned Congress that what happened at WCIT-12 "ended the era of an international consensus to keep inter-governmental hands off of the Internet in dramatic fashion."

The WCIT-12 summit was where the U.N.'s telecommunications arm, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), facilitated changes to a global telecommunications treaty. The U.N. debacle prompted a widespread online outrage, an unprecedented unanimous U.S. House of Representatives vote in opposition, and a collective refusal from 55 member states to sign the ITU's treaty.

But according to McDowell's testimony, serious damage has still been done to the free and open Internet as a result. 

"The bottom line," McDowell said, "is 89 countries have given the ITU jurisdiction over the Internet’s operations and content."

McDowell stated in no uncertain terms that the U.S. must take action to stop the U.N. agency from gaining further governance power over the Internet as it intends to do at the ITU's upcoming 2014 plenipotentiary meeting. He says that, "Internet freedom's foes around the globe are working hard to exploit a treaty negotiation that dwarfs the importance of the WCIT by orders of magnitude."

In a rarely seen show of harshly-written rhetoric, McDowell will also demonstrate that the U.N.'s harmful designs on the Internet are at least a decade old, and its agenda is comprised almost entirely of lies and deceit.

McDowell's astonishingly blunt statements (prepared and published in "Fighting for Internet Freedom: Dubai and Beyond") outlined the ITU's frighteningly successful agenda to take control of the Internet by redefining telecommunications treaties in direct benefit to ITU bedfellows not limited to China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

WCIT-12 set stage to dismantle Internet freedom

Today's "Fighting for Internet Freedom" hearing and webcast will be held jointly with the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, along with the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

After representative testimony from witnesses such as the FCC, U.S. Department of State, and the Internet Society, the subcommittees are to consider legislation to affirm that it is the policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control.

'U.S. opposition is not enough'

McDowell praised the U.S. decision not to sign onto ITU's WCIT-12 Dubai treaty changes at the December summit, but plainly said that this is not enough—especially, he said, with what the ITU has planned next.

But McDowell testified that anyone—including Congress—who thinks the U.S. dissent by refusing to sign the WCIT-12 treaty stopped the ITU from attaining dangerous Internet governance powers is being misled:

Although the U.S. was ultimately joined by 54 other countries in opposition to the new treaty language, that figure is misleading.

As a result of an 89-55 vote, the ITU now has unprecedented authority over the economics and content of key aspects of the Internet.

Specifically, the explicit terms of the new treaty language give the ITU policing powers over “SPAM,” and attempt to legitimize under international law foreign government inspections of the content of Internet communications to assess whether they should be censored by governments under flimsy pretexts such as network congestion.

More broadly, pro-regulation forces succeeded in upending decades of consensus on the meaning of crucial treaty definitions that were universally understood to insulate Internet service providers, as well as Internet content and application providers, from intergovernmental control by changing the treaty’s definitions.

If these regulatory expansionists are willing to conjure ITU authority where clearly none existed, their control-hungry imaginations will see no limits to the ITU’s authority over the Internet’s affairs under the new treaty language. Their appetite for regulatory expansionism is insatiable.

"In sum," 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."

McDowell was in Dubai in December for the WCIT-12 treaty conference. The debacle led to an online outrage as the U.N.'s ITU deceived member states and ordinary citizens alike in its bid to attempt an Internet governance coup.

ITU Plenipotentiary 2014: The ITU must be stopped

McDowell refers to the ITU's upcoming 2014 plenipotentiary meeting, where he says: "Internet freedom's foes around the globe are working hard to exploit a treaty negotiation that dwarfs the importance of the WCIT by orders of magnitude. In 2014, the ITU will conduct what is literally a constitutional convention [that] will define the ITU's mission for years to come."

The 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference ("PP-14") will be held in Busan, South Korea on October 20—November 7 next year.

In his testimony, McDowell bluntly told the joint House subcommittee that the results of plans being made by the ITU to secure Internet governance at this very moment for the 2014 plenipot, "will be devastating even if the United States does not ratify these toxic new treaties." McDowell explained:

We must waste no time fighting to prevent further governmental expansion into the Internet’s affairs at the upcoming ITU Plenipotentiary in 2014.

Time is of the essence. While we debate what to do next, Internet freedom’s foes around the globe are working hard to exploit a treaty negotiation that dwarfs the importance of the WCIT by orders of magnitude. In 2014, the ITU will conduct what is literally a constitutional convention, called a "plenipotentiary" meeting, which will define the ITU’s mission for years to come.

This month the ITU readies to hammer out Internet governance plans at the World Telecommunication Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum meetings in February and May 2013 prep for PP-14.

On January 11, 2013, ITU's Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure released the fourth and final ITU/WTPF-13 report outlining groundwork for Internet governance—and internet regulatory topics— at the February 6-8 and May 14-16 meetings.

The ITU/WTPF-13 report explicitly includes the creation of "Global Principles for the governance and use of the Internet," and resolving issues pertaining to "use of Internet resources for purposes that are inconsistent with international peace, stability and security."

It also redefines the multi-stakeholder definition of Internet governance as currently insufficient because it does not grant governments—now defined by ITU as underrepresented multi-stakeholders—"sufficient" Internet governance power.

FCC to Congress: U.N., ITU lied to us

The House Committees will also be flatly told in his testimony that the ITU cannot be trusted in word, act, or deed. According to McDowell:

Before the WCIT, ITU leadership made three key promises:

1) No votes would be taken at the WCIT;

2) A new treaty would be adopted only through "unanimous consensus;" and

3) Any new treaty would not touch the Internet.

All three promises were resoundingly broken.

Anti-ITU Internet opposition and activism can no longer be ignored

McDowell testified to Congress that since 2003, his office directly observed that countries such as China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia—and their allies—have never given up their regulatory quest. "They continued to push the ITU, and the U.N. itself, to regulate both the operations, economics and content of the Net," he said.

McDowell's testimony explained that Congress and the wider public must understand that serious damage was done when Internet guardians and U.S. officials didn't listen to early warnings about the ITU:

Many defenders of Internet freedom did not take [ITU's Internet governance] proposals seriously at first, even though some plans explicitly called for:

•   Changing basic definitions contained in treaty text so the ITU would have unrestricted jurisdiction over the Internet;

•   Allowing foreign phone companies to charge global content and application providers internationally mandated fees (ultimately to be paid by all Internet consumers) with the goal of generating revenue for foreign government treasuries;

•   Subjecting cyber security and data privacy to international control, including the creation of an international “registry” of Internet addresses that could track every Internet-connected device in the world;

•   Imposing unprecedented economic regulations of rates, terms and conditions for currently unregulated Internet traffic swapping agreements known as “peering;”

•   Establishing ITU dominion over important non-profit, private sector, multistakeholder functions, such as administering domain names like the .org and .com Web addresses of the world;

•   Subsuming into the ITU the functions of multi-stakeholder Internet engineering groups that set technical standards to allow the Net to work;

•   Centralizing under international regulation Internet content under the guise of controlling “congestion,” or other false pretexts; and many more.

In McDowell's powerful testimony, he told Congress the purpose of WCIT was actually to extend the ITU's reach into the Internet’s affairs, its governance, and much more

"In fact, in 2011, then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin summed it up best when he declared that his goal, and that of his allies, was to establish “international control over the Internet” through the ITU.

Last month in Dubai, Mr. Putin largely achieved his goal.

In conclusion, McDowell said that inaction is not an option, and doubt about the ITU's power to change the Internet is no longer acceptable if a free and open Internet is to be preserved—and saved.

And so, I ask you in the strongest terms possible, to take action and take action now.

Two years hence, let us not look back at this moment and lament how we did not do enough.

We have but one chance.

Let us tell the world that we will be resolute and stand strong for Internet freedom. All nations should join us.

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