McDowell: ITU Net Governance Is Clear & Present Danger


FCC commissioner Robert McDowell told Congress that there should be no doubt about the bipartisan resolve to resist effort by the International Telecommunications Union to expand its authority over Internet governance, a threat he said is real and "lethal" to Internet freedom.

McDowell has been drawing attention to the issue in speeches and interviews over the past few months, and plans to tell Congress that the dismissal by some ITU official of U.S. concerns as election-year politicking "could not be further from the truth."

That is according to his prepared testimony for a hearing in the House Energy & Commerce Committee Communications Subcommittee Thursday on "International Proposals to Regulate the Internet."

According to the testimoy,McDowell will say the ITU proposal is a threat, and an imminent one given the planned renegotiation next December of the 1988 treaty that insulated the net from economic and technological regulation. "What proponents of Internet freedom do or don't do between now and then will determine the fate of the Net, affect global economic growth and determine whether political liberty can proliferate," he argues.

He also says the most "lethal" threat may not be a frontal assault but an attack on the foundation via "seemingly innocuous expansions of intergovernmental power." McDowell says that has already begun through a form of double-speak. "While influential ITU Member States have put forth proposals calling for overt legal expansions of United Nations' or ITU authority over the Net, ITU officials have publicly declared that the ITU does not intend to regulate Internet governance while also saying that any regulations should be of the "light-touch" variety," says McDowell. "But which is it? It is not possible to insulate the Internet from new rules while also establishing a new 'light touch' regulatory regime."

He also warns of a potential Trojan Horse with a Cossack astride it. Some ITU officials have been opining that the world could be running out of phone numbers, and the Russian Federation has proposed giving ITU jurisdiction over IP addresses -- VOIP services like Skyle and Google voice translate traditional numbers into those addresses -- to help remedy the problem, he says. "What is left unsaid," McDowell points out, leaving it unsaid no longer, "is that potential ITU jurisdiction over IP addresses would enable it to regulate Internet services and devices with abandon."

He also points to efforts by Arab States to change the definition of telecom to include computer processing, and China's desire to have Internet users registered by IP address.

McDowell also says that foreign government officials have personally proposed creating a Universal Service Fund for global broadband infrastructure build-outs using money collected from Web destinations including big-pocketed players like Google, Facebook, and Netflix on a per-click basis.