Internet's openness threatened by politics
By Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto)
In Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of our country, new ideas are born every day, and the platform driving much of this new innovation is a free and open Internet.
Since 1995, venture capital funds have invested approximately a quarter of a trillion dollars in industries reliant on an open Internet, including $91.8 billion on software. Facebook, Twitter and thousands of other new applications and online services have flourished around the world, thanks to the Internet's global structure. As consumers have transitioned from dial-up modems, to high-speed broadband, the ability to communicate across borders through high-definition video conferencing, social networking and cloud computing has become a seamless process. These are the signs of a thriving, open Internet.
But come December, approximately 193 nations will convene in Dubai at the World Conference of International Telecommunications (WCIT, pronounced "wicket") to consider an effort to take the one element that has made the Internet the success story that it is and turn it upside down.
For the past several years, some of these nations have been working on a plan to transform the Internet's governance from one guided by independent, technical bodies to one driven by politics.
Led by nations such as Russia, the International Telecommunication Union's WCIT is expected to consider several proposals, such as mandated mobile roaming rates and termination charges for data traffic, which are a fundamental departure from the International Telecommunication Regulations adopted in 1988 that provided a framework for how telecommunications traffic is handled among countries. These proposals amount to creating tolls on the Internet superhighway or throwing up another Great Firewall.
These proposals go beyond just imposing new regulations on Internet applications and services. Many of these countries seem set on asserting a level of intergovernmental control that would lead to a balkanized Internet, where censorship could become the new norm.
The Internet's architecture and technical operations are driven today by a multi-stakeholder approach, led by institutions like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Governance Forum, the World Wide Web Consortium, and the Internet Engineering Task Force. These independent bodies have successfully managed and maintained the Internet since it was first introduced to the public in 1991.
While there is no question that nations must work together to address challenges to the Internet's growth and stability, such as cybersecurity, online privacy and intellectual property protection, these issues can best be addressed under the existing model. We should be working within the existing framework, not switching course.
Democrats and Republicans have unified around the belief that adoption of these proposals is a very serious threat to the free, transparent and open Internet. In fact, along with other members of Congress, I recently introduced a bipartisan resolution opposing attempts to assert intergovernmental control over the Internet. The resolution reflects a viewpoint already shared by the Obama administration and the U.S. delegation to the WCIT.
I was pleased that Terry D. Kramer was appointed head of the U.S. delegation in May. In the months ahead, Ambassador Kramer will work with the U.S. delegation to refine our contributions to the conference agenda. He also will engage in extensive bilateral meetings with foreign counterparts. The United States consistently has opposed WCIT proposals for some form of intergovernmental regulation or control of the Internet.
It is absolutely essential that the United States defend the current model of Internet governance at the upcoming Dubai conference. The very fabric of the free and open Internet is at stake.
Published in the July 22, 2012 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.