House lawmakers will consider an international proposal next week to give the United Nations more control over the Internet.
The proposal is backed by China, Russia, Brazil, India and other UN members, and would give the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) more control over the governance of the Internet.
It’s an unpopular idea with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress, and officials with the Obama administration have also criticized it.
“We’re quite concerned,” Larry Strickling, the head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said in an interview with The Hill earlier this year.
He said the measure would expose the Internet to “top-down regulation where it’s really the governments that are at the table, but the rest of the stakeholders aren’t.”
At a hearing earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also criticized the proposal. He said China and Russia are “not exactly bastions of Internet freedom.”
“Any place that bans certain terms from search should not be a leader in international Internet regulatory frameworks,” he said, adding that he will keep a close eye on the process.
Yet the proposal could come up for a vote at a UN conference in Dubai in December.
Next week’s hearing is expected to bring more attention in the U.S. to the measure, which would give the UN more control over cybersecurity, data privacy, technical standards and the Web’s address system. It would also allow foreign government-owned Internet providers to charge extra for international traffic and allow for more price controls.
The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold the hearing and hear testimony from Robert McDowell, a Republican commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); David Gross, a former State Department official; and Sally Shipman Wentworth, the senior manager of public policy for the nonprofit Internet Society.
The Internet is currently governed under a “multi-stakeholder” approach that gives power to a host of nonprofits, rather than governments.
Strickling said that system brings more ideas and flexibility to Internet policymaking.
“We lose that when we turn this over to a group of just governments,” Strickling said.
In an op-ed earlier this year in The Wall Street Journal, McDowell warned that “a top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net.”
“Productivity, rising living standards and the spread of freedom everywhere, but especially in the developing world, would grind to a halt as engineering and business decisions become politically paralyzed within a global regulatory body,” McDowell wrote.
He said some governments feel excluded from Internet policymaking and want more control over the process.
“And let’s face it, strong-arm regimes are threatened by popular outcries for political freedom that are empowered by unfettered Internet connectivity,” McDowell wrote.