State sees progress against international Internet regulation plans


Lawmakers are fearful that International Telecommunication Union may become too powerful.

American diplomats are making progress in heading off possible international proposals to increase Internet regulation by the United Nations, a top State Department official told a House subcommittee on Thursday.

A range of American lawmakers, businesses, and nonprofit organizations fear that some countries will try to use negotiations over international telecommunications treaties in December to expand the authority of the International Telecommunication Union, the U.N. organization that has historically overseen international telecom policies.

When proposals by China, Russia, and other countries surfaced last year, American officials moved to try to ensure that the negotiations would revolve around the more-limited telecom issues, the State Department’s coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Ambassador Philip Verveer, told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

“There are no pending proposals to vest the ITU with direct Internet governance authority,” he said. “Instead, thus far, traditional telecom issues such as roaming and fraud have taken center stage.”

Still, Verveer said, some proposals could allow governments to monitor Internet communications, restrict content, or impose fees on international Internet traffic. “While such proposals are outliers amongst the more traditional telecommunications issues, we are taking their existence seriously and working closely with our allies to prevent their inclusion,” he said.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a resolution on Wednesday calling on American and international officials to preserve the current Internet governance system, which is based on nongovernmental organizations rather than governments. “It would be inappropriate to apply an international regulatory scheme developed for the 1980s telephone networks to the vibrant and technologically diverse Internet,” Communications and Technology Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said at Thursday’s hearing.

After years of promoting a decentralized Internet, governments around the world are moving to put "regulatory handcuffs" on the Internet, Google's Vint Cerf told the panel. "if there’s one thing that we should not do, it is to centralize decision-making power," Cerf testified. "The greatest strength of the current system of Internet governance is its meritocratic democracy."

To block proposals to control the Internet, the United States will need to take a lead in reaching out to a wide range of other countries, he said. "I do not believe that this is a challenge that the U.S. can meet on its own, but it is one that cannot be overcome without the leadership and engagement of the U.S. government."