By: Buck Sexton
You’ve probably never heard of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), but as you are reading this on the Internet, it’s a safe bet that its ambitious plan for Internet regulation will affect your daily life if enacted.
And unless you think Russia, China and Iran are going to be a constructive influence on the Internet, the ITU plan would be a disaster for economic and political freedom.
That’s because the ITU believes the Internet needs a massive, unaccountable bureaucracy to manage the web– the most complex and evolving technological innovation in the world.
And for the world’s most important technological invention since perhaps Gutenberg’s printing press, the ITU can think of no better governing authority than a handful of U.N bureaucrats responsive to a vast array of national governments.
But this would never happen, you say? It must just be anti-U.N. fear-mongering from those flag-waving, 2nd Amendment enthusiasts like the folks at… Google and Facebook?
That’s right, when it comes to Internet regulation around the world, Silicon Valley and the United States web community are among the biggest freedom advocates. They have launched campaigns to inform the public that the U.N. takeover of the Internet is not the plot of a fiction novel. In fact, it will be discussed, promoted, and possibly voted on at the secret World Conference on International Telecommunications next month in Dubai.
All it would take is half of the member states in attendance– 193 “yes” votes– to modify the completely outdated 1988 International Telecommunications Regulations treaty, and then member states would be obligated to enact rules that would take away Internet control from the current group of engineering based, non-government, international organizations like the Internet Society and ICANN.
That loose conglomerate of Internet regulators (facilitators would be a more accurate world) would be pushed aside in favor of giving countries like Russia, China, and Iran a bigger say. Authoritarian, repressive regimes around the world could use the modified 1988 Telecommunications Treaty to alter the basic architecture of the web for their home countries, and change the way outside sites exchange information with their citizens.
We know some major figures on the world stage are excited at the prospect. Earlier this year Vladimir Putin told ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure that the Russian Federation hoped to establish “international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capability of the International Telecommunications Union.”
While the the ITU strenuously denies in public that it has any desire to meddle in core Internet facilitation functions like domain names, addresses, and numbering, it has simultaneously been preparing to mount its own public relation campaign for months. A series of leaked documents from internal ITU meetings apparently indicate that the leadership knows the public is smelling something rotten.
The ITU ideologues saw what happened in 2012 to far-ranging Internet regulations efforts like PIPA and SOPA, which were annihilated by the very web communities they sought to regulate. The ITU, it seems, is hoping to wage a more quiet Internet coup rolled out in stages and presented as nothing of concern.
However, based on the ITU’s own documents and the inclinations of some U.N. members states, we know the threat of treaty that regulates the world wide web is real. But why would half (or more) of the U.N. members states ever cast a vote that could derail the Internet’s progress? After all, with approximately two billion people using the Internet in their daily life, and half-a-million new users joining every day, the web as it stands now seems to function incredibly well. It has astronomically increased the speed and spread of information, created uncountable billions in revenue and dramatically increased productivity.
Alas, therein lie the problems. The success of the web is both a threat to dictatorships and an appealing target for the statists who want to siphon money from it to enlarge their own treasuries. The motivations differ depending on the nation-state, but those in agreement with the ITU plan want more individual control over the web. Some such as China and Russia would probably attempt to set up Internet structures that allow for balkanization of the web and greater control of information. Oppressive states recognize the pivotal role the web plays in the distribution of information, and the very real threat it can pose to undemocratic or even despotic regimes.
Money of course is also a big factor. Many countries see policies such as “sender-party-pays” as a means to bring revenue into their declining nationally controlled telecom companies. In effect, U.S.-based companies like Google and Facebook would have to pay a fee to whomever controlled the local network in say, China, for access to those customers. This would allow for massive redistribution of wealth schemes and enable cronies in some less scrupulous countries to amass tremendous fortunes on the backs of web innovators and entrepreneurs (who of course also oppose added operating expenses).
Socialists in Europe and developing world dictators alike could rejoice at the so-called “social justice” implications of all this. U.S. companies would have to pay continuous fees to repressive or underdeveloped societies. The ITU structure would also add massive cost burdens and censorship opportunities to a system that has–with minimal government interference in America–changed the world we live in for the better.
The web works so well precisely because it allows unfettered innovation and access. It’s full potential is far from being realized, and it has already opened the floodgates of knowledge and communication that was the stuff of fantasy only decades ago. Even if the ITU backtracks, or shifts its intent, it is imperative for all Americans– and really all web users– to understand the basic architecture of the system that has benefitted billions of us around the globe.
The freedom of the web can only be maintained if those online everyday will mobilize against U.N. regulation using the very technology they seek to defend.