US continues fight against Arab, Chinese and Russian push for UN Internet regulation

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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UPDATE: The international coalition that had backed the Arab states’ proposal for greater control over the Internet has withdrawn its support, TechWeekEurope reporteMonday. The ITU is reportedly denying that the leaked proposal, which prompted backlash over the weekend, was ever officially put forward for consideration.

Read the original story below:

The head of the U.S. delegation to a major United Nations telecommunications conference in Dubai is pushing back against media reports from over the weekend that the U.S. is “threatening” to withdraw from the meeting because of Arab states’ push for more control over the Internet.

This week, 193 countries — all member states of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a U.N. agency responsible for the regulation of satellite orbits and international long-distance calls — are meeting to renegotiate a decades-old version of a telecommunications treaty, which is credited with contributing to the success of the Internet.

A proposal introduced at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) late last week by the Arab states calls for countries around the world to directly regulate Internet companies and the domain-name system.

The proposal, which is one of more than 1,300 proposals submitted for consideration at the conference, is backed by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and several other nations.

Reports over the weekend from several outlets, including the Telegraph and FT.com, alleged that the introduction of the proposal by a group of Arab states late last week led to a breakdown in talks, and prompted the U.S. delegation to threaten to withdraw from the conference.

U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, who serves as the head of the U.S. delegation, called the reports “speculative,” as well as “inaccurate and unhelpful to the Conference,” in a statement released on Monday.

The U.S. delegation is comprised of officials from the government, private sector and civil society.

“The United States has made no such threat, and it remains fully committed to achieving a successful conclusion to the WCIT,” Kramer emphasized.

The U.S. and its allies have firmly opposed international regulation and censorship of content on the Internet, reiterating the need for countries at the conference to stay focused on discussing telecommunications issues, like mobile roaming and broadband investment.

The U.S. has commended ITU and WCIT leadership for expressing similar goals. The conference began with member states unanimously affirming their support of the U.N. principle of the right to the freedom of expression, in an effort to allay fears expressed by the U.S. (RELATED: U.N. delegates pledge to uphold right to freedom of information online)

The introduction of the Arab proposal, however, suggests that the fears the ITU leadership had gone out of its way to quell were not entirely unfounded.

As more countries gain more and better Internet access, they have expressed stronger desires to provide input into the future development and growth of the Internet, including whether Internet companies pay telecommunications companies to move content across international borders.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, while still prime minister of Russia, had openly expressed his preference for the ITU to be the U.N. agency to regulate the Internet.

The poor human rights track records of various authoritarian regimes, as well as their histories of Internet censorship and suppression of dissidents, sparked vigorous opposition from U.S. leaders against movements aimed at international regulation of the Internet.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, for example, has been an outspoken opponent of international efforts by Putin and others to disrupt the current multi-stakeholder model of governance over the Internet, which The Daily Caller first reported more than a year ago. (RELATED: FCC commissioner fears Internet takeover)

Both Republicans and Democrats also voted this summer to include various aspects of Internet freedom language in their party platforms. TheDC first reported that the Republican Party was the first to do so.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bicameral and bipartisan resolution to oppose any effort by the U.N. to regulate the Internet – the product of a resolution first introduced by now-outgoing California Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack in 2011.

Google, the AFL-CIO and other U.S. entities have also voiced similar opposition. Google in particular has expressed concern that engineers do not have the ability to vote at the conference.

While the U.S.’ record on Internet freedom issues, such as censorship and surveillance, has been less than sterling, a recent study by U.S.-based democracy advocacy organization Freedom House that examined conditions for Internet freedom among 47 countries ranked the U.S. second in the world, behind Estonia.

The conference, which began on December 3, 2012, ends Friday.

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Josh Peterson