House committee passes resolution opposing UN Internet regulation

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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A resolution opposing proposals for international Internet governance was unanimously approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday.

The resolution, sponsored by California Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack, currently has 58 co-sponsors. The legislation expresses “the sense of Congress regarding actions to preserve and advance the multistakeholder governance model under which the Internet has thrived.”

The 193 countries participating in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a U.N. agency responsible for the international governance of long-distance calls and satellite orbits, are scheduled to meet at a December conference in Dubai to renegotiate a 1988 treaty that deregulated international telecommunications and paved the way for the Internet.

A move by Russia, China and several authoritarian regimes in 2011 to establish the ITU’s jurisdiction over the Internet triggered public action from lawmakers, but only months after warnings were first sounded. In June 2011, during a meeting with ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure, then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly expressed his desire for international governance of the Internet.

The Daily Caller first reported a speech by FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell in December 2011, in which he warned the Federal Communications Bar Association of the effort by those countries to upend the Internet from its current model — a voluntary multi-stakeholder process, loosely governed through various U.S.-based nongovernmental international organizations.

As early as 2008, the Chinese government was quietly working through the ITU to assert international governance of the Web.

“Despite denials, the Russians and Chinese are working quietly behind the scenes — and have been for years — to exert control over Web content and infrastructure,” said Bono Mack Wednesday after the vote. “This could lead to human rights abuses in the future and effectively put a spigot on the free flow of information. We can’t let that happen.”

Bono Mack said that when she first introduced her resolution in 2011, people looked at her as if she was wearing a “tin-foil hat.”

Various industry groups also applauded the measure.

The Software & Information Industry Association said in a statement, “Expanding U.N. control over the Internet could give undue power to governments that seek to undermine Internet freedom and international trade.”

Broadband for America, a coalition of industry consumer groups, issued a statement Wednesday congratulating the Energy and Commerce Committee and urging the full House “to take up, and adopt, this important resolution at the earliest possible time.”

Member states participating in the Council Working Group in Geneva began discussions Wednesday on global Internet governance proposals.

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