‘Father of the Internet’ to testify on UN Web regulations

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Vint Cerf, widely regarded as one of the fathers of the Internet, is scheduled to testify before a House panel on Thursday to discuss its future.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will discuss international proposals to regulate the Internet through the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a little-known U.N. agency responsible for international regulation of long-distance phone calls and satellite orbits.

A report delivered at the World Conference on International Telecommunications will include commentary on proposals from all over the world. The conference, set to be held December in Dubai, will include the renegotiation of the 1988 International Telecommunication Regulation treaty. That international agreement deregulated telecommunications across the globe and paved the way for the spread of the Internet.

The proposals will be voted on by 193 countries, with one vote per country, giving smaller nations the same leverage as the U.S. or China. One initiative, proposed by Russia, China and several other authoritarian regimes in September 2011, would govern the cybersecurity standards of participating nations.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Robert McDowell warned of the impending threat to Internet freedom in December 2011. McDowell told a Senate panel that the Department of State, which is taking the lead in negotiating on behalf of the U.S., is expected to name a head of the delegation in June. The Council Working Group for the ITU is expected to meet June 20-22 to prepare for the conference.

In recent months, Cerf has been particularly vocal about the Internet.

After a series of fact-finding missions throughout 2010 to determine how improved Internet access could affect human rights, U.N. Special Rapporteur of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue declared that Internet access is itself a human right.

In a January 2012 New York Times opinion piece, Cerf opposed the idea, writing, “It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things.”

“For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living,” Cerf explained. “But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.”

Cerf was inducted to the Internet Society Hall of Fame in 2012 along with 32 others who contributed to its growth. The other inductees include Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989, and former Vice President Al Gore, who authored legislation in 1991 that — according to Gore’s official biography on the Internet Society’s website — led to the creation of the “National Information Infrastructure, also known as the Information Superhighway.”

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