by: J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) What is arguably the very last bastion of totally free speech is once again under assault by the world’s tyrants, as the United Nations is now eying regulation of the Internet – as though it was in need of being regulated.
Why? It’s an age-old story.
Leaders of authoritarian regimes the world over hate the free flow of information that is disseminated via the Internet. They hate the fact that they no longer have a monopoly on ideas and opinion within their own country. They see notions of freedom and liberty as a threat. They despise any medium that undermines their grip on power. And their regimes are heavily represented in the U.N., of which the United States (once considered the bastion of liberty and freedom) is the largest contributor.
“Who runs the Internet? For now, the answer remains no one, or at least no government, which explains the Web’s success as a new technology. But as of next week, unless the U.S. gets serious, the answer could be the United Nations,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
Authoritarians seek ways to control free expression, free speech, and individual liberty
A sizable number of the world body’s 193 members simply oppose the open and very uncontrolled nature of the Internet, the paper said, noting the World Wide Web’s interconnected global networks that defy international boundaries and, as such, make it extremely difficult for governments to tax or censor.
For over a year, these authoritarian regimes have lobbied a UN agency known as the International Telecommunications Union to grab the reins of the Internet and take over its management. The organization, which was originally created in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, last wrote a treaty on communications in 1988, years before the commercial Internet developed into a popular communications and commerce medium, and back when telecommunications referred to voice telephone calls routed through national telephone monopolies.
In the coming days, the ITU plans to hold a “negotiating conference” in the emirate of Dubai, say reports. In the past months, rumors have surfaced that a new treaty could be in the offing – one that will no doubt prove disastrous to a free and open Internet.
Most U.S. resolutions, as well as free-market commentary in publications such as the Journal, “have focused on proposals by authoritarian governments to censor the Internet,” the paper reported. “Just as objectionable are proposals that ignore how the Internet works, threatening its smooth and open operations.”
What would be the effect of having the Internet “reviewed” and “regulated” by global bureaucrats, most of whom are sympathetic to, or beholden to, authoritarian regimes bent on stifling free speech, free expression and individual liberty.
The Internet consists of 40,000 networks, interconnected among 425,000 global routes that cheaply and inefficiently deliver messages and digital content to about two billion people around the world every day – with a half-million signing on each day.
Up to now, the Internet has been self-regulating, which has obviously been working just fine (hence the growth figures in the previous paragraph). As it stands, no one has to ask for permission to put up their own blog or website. No government has the ability or right to tell network operators how they should do their jobs.
‘Technology moves faster than any treaty process’
What has transpired is an extremely rare, if virtual, place for innovation that requires no prior permission from a regulatory or government agency or bureaucrat or governing body.
Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard pointed out that 90 percent of cooperative “peering” agreements among co-existing networks are “made on a handshake,” adjusting as needs change.
“The Internet is highly complex and highly technical, yet governments are the only ones making decisions at the ITU, putting the Internet at their mercy,” Sally Wentworth of the Internet Society told the Journal recently. She went on to say that Web developers and engineers who make the Internet work have said it’s “mind boggling” that any government – even a so-called world government – would ever claim the universal right to regulate or manage the Internet.
“Technology moves faster than any treaty process ever can,” Internet Society warned.
Even if the Obama administration hasn’t yet publicly stated its position, liberty-minded officials and lawmakers in Europe (believe it or not) have stepped up to the plate.
The European Parliament has passed a resolution that protests plans by the ITU to seize control of the Internet.
“[The European Parliament] believes that the ITU, or any other single, centralized international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either Internet governance of Internet traffic flows,” says the resolution, which was passed by a majority of EP representatives, reports said.
Biggest backers of regulation include Russia, China
According to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper:
What’s worrying the EP, along with an unlikely coalition of Google, the U.S. Republican party, organized labor, and Greenpeace, is that the meeting might try and take over regulatory oversight for Internet communications in a closed-door coup. The U.S. government has said it will oppose serious moves to change the current regulatory order, but how effective that will be remains to be seen.
“The resolution of the Parliament is a big success for internet users. This sends a clear and positive signal to the European Commission and the Member States”, said Amelia Andersdotter, MEP for the Pirate Party and co-submitter of the resolution, The Register reported.
Some of the biggest backers of unmitigated Internet regulation include, not surprisingly, the authoritarian regimes of Russia and China.
As we’ve said, the Internet is truly the last bastion of genuinely free speech and expression, not to mention a tremendous creator of commerce and wealth. Regulating the Internet will have exactly the same effect as regulations on industry have had – it will stifle creativity, curb freedoms, kill jobs and destroy economic growth.
We’ll be keeping an eye on this very important issue.
Letting the Internet be rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla.
Who runs the Internet? For now, the answer remains no one, or at least no government, which explains the Web’s success as a new technology. But as of next week, unless the U.S. gets serious, the answer could be the United Nations.
Many of the U.N.’s 193 member states oppose the open, uncontrolled nature of the Internet. Its interconnected global networks ignore national boundaries, making it hard for governments to censor or tax. And so, to send the freewheeling digital world back to the state control of the analog era, China, Russia, Iran and Arab countries are trying to hijack a U.N. agency that has nothing to do with the Internet.
For more than a year, these countries have lobbied an agency called the International Telecommunications Union to take over the rules and workings of the Internet. Created in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, the ITU last drafted a treaty on communications in 1988, before the commercial Internet, when telecommunications meant voice telephone calls via national telephone monopolies.
Next week the ITU holds a negotiating conference in Dubai, and past months have brought many leaks of proposals for a new treaty. U.S. congressional resolutions and much of the commentary, including in this column, have focused on proposals by authoritarian governments to censor the Internet. Just as objectionable are proposals that ignore how the Internet works, threatening its smooth and open operations.
Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day.
Many of the engineers and developers who built and operate these networks belong to virtual committees and task forces coordinated by an international nonprofit called the Internet Society. The society is home to the Internet Engineering Task Force (the main provider of global technical standards) and other volunteer groups such as the Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Research Task Force. Another key nongovernmental group is Icann, which assigns Internet addresses and domain names.
The self-regulating Internet means no one has to ask for permission to launch a website, and no government can tell network operators how to do their jobs. The arrangement has made the Internet a rare place of permissionless innovation. As former Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard recently pointed out, 90% of cooperative “peering” agreements among networks are “made on a handshake,” adjusting informally as needs change.
Proposals for the new ITU treaty run to more than 200 pages. One idea is to apply the ITU’s long-distance telephone rules to the Internet by creating a “sender-party-pays” rule. International phone calls include a fee from the originating country to the local phone company at the receiving end. Under a sender-pays approach, U.S.-based websites would pay a local network for each visitor from overseas, effectively taxing firms such as Google GOOG +1.13% and Facebook FB +0.36% . The idea is technically impractical because unlike phone networks, the Internet doesn’t recognize national borders. But authoritarians are pushing the tax, hoping their citizens will be cut off from U.S. websites that decide foreign visitors are too expensive to serve.
Regimes such as Russia and Iran also want an ITU rule letting them monitor Internet traffic routed through or to their countries, allowing them to eavesdrop or block access.
“The Internet is highly complex and highly technical,” Sally Wentworth of the Internet Society told me recently, “yet governments are the only ones making decisions at the ITU, putting the Internet at their mercy.” She says the developers and engineers who actually run the Internet find it “mind boggling” that governments would claim control. As the Internet Society warns, “Technology moves faster than any treaty process ever can.”
Google has started an online petition for a “free and open Internet” saying: “Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future.” The State Department’s top delegate to the Dubai conference, Terry Kramer, has pledged that the U.S. won’t let the ITU expand its authority to the Internet. But he hedged his warning in a recent presentation in Washington: “We don’t want to come across like we’re preaching to others.”
To the contrary, the top job for the U.S. delegation at the ITU conference is to preach the virtues of the open Internet as forcefully as possible. Billions of online users are counting on America to make sure that their Internet is never handed over to authoritarian governments or to the U.N.