Pending regulations threaten to put 'handcuffs' Internet

By DAVID UNGER, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  May 31, 2012 at 5:37 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 31 (UPI) -- Representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties expressed concern Thursday over pending international proposals to regulate the Internet.

"We're all in agreement on this one," said U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb.

At a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee meeting, Democrats and Republicans affirmed support for the Internet's free and pluralist structure, which they said provides for the unfettered flow of communication and serves as a vital tool for global economic development.

"The Internet continues to grow and flourish thanks to its open structure and its multi-stakeholder approach to governance," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. "It is one of the great success stories of American history."

The support comes in anticipation of a December meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, chartered in 1865 to regulate telegraph services. The ITU became a specialized agency of the United Naitons in 1947.

The ITU's 193 members will meet for the first time since 1988 to consider changes to the telecommunications regulatory framework. Those alterations could expand ITU jurisdiction to include the Internet.

"During the treaty negotiations the most lethal threat to Internet freedom may not come from a full frontal assault but through insidious, seemingly innocuous expansions of intergovernmental powers," said Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Robert McDowell.

Experts pointed to China, Russia, Iran and other members that have issued proposals or otherwise expressed support for the establishment of an "information security" regime that would monitor and control the actions of the more than 2 billion Internet users.

"Their vision of the Internet is to have a tyrannical walled garden," McDowell said. "For the China's and Russia's and other authoritarian regimes, [the motivation] is to snuff out political dissent."

Representatives agreed with industry experts and government officials who unanimously condemned even the slightest intrusion of government regulation.

"If we are not vigilant, [ITU] just might break the Internet by subjecting it to an international regulatory regime designed for old-fashioned telephone service," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

While adoption of ITU treaties are voluntary, McDowell expressed concern that even a partial adoption of regulations could lead to a "bifurcated Internet" that would threaten cross-border technologies like cloud computing.

The developing world, where some communities must rely on Web technologies to locate potable water or obtain an education, have the most to lose from intergovernmental internet regulation, McDowell said.

The panelists and members of congress called on the ITU to be open and transparent in their deliberations.

Vint Cerf, Google vice president who also carried the title "chief Internet evangelist" at the company, was full-throated in his assessment of what he views as a threat to "put handcuffs on the Internet."

"The old Internet has never been at a higher risk than it is now," said Cerf, who is considered one of the fathers of the Internet. "The new international battle is brewing -- a battle that will determine the future of the Internet."

"New international control over the internet will trigger a race to the bottom where serious limits on the free flow of information could become the norm, rather than the exception," Cerf said.

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