For two weeks in December, nations from around the world met in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunication. What had been billed as a routine review of an international treaty governing traditional telephone service, however, quickly became a referendum on whether to upend the hands-off regulatory approach that has made the Internet one of the most transformative innovations of all time.
The Internet has launched technological, economic, and even democratic revolutions. Unburdened by government intervention, the Internet has lowered barriers to communication, promoted free expression, spurred investment and innovation, created jobs, increased commerce, and grown at a staggering pace. Under the multi-stakeholder model that governs today, non‑regulatory institutions develop best practices for management of the Internet with input from private- and public-sector participants. This provides flexibility to adapt to a constantly changing world while preventing governmental or non-governmental actors from controlling the design of the network or the content it carries.
Yet despite its success in even stark economic times, some foreign governments see the Internet as a threat, a cash cow, or both. Proposals at the Dubai conference were couched in terms of broadband deployment and cybersecurity, but make no mistake—they could be used to justify through international law the imposition of economic regulation on the Internet and possibly even government censorship. By the end of the conference, the United States and 54 other nations walked away without signing the treaty. Unfortunately, 89 nations did sign, and this is likely the first in a series of attempts by governments to regulate the Internet.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has tirelessly and eloquently sounded the call about the peril we face—all nations face—if we stand idly by as countries like Russia, China and Iran seek to exert control over the Internet. He has also rightfully warned that the FCC’s own actions adopting network neutrality rules regulating the Internet undermine our case abroad. The cybersecurity executive order the White House is considering, which would ask the government to oversee definitions of “critical infrastructure” and development of cyber standards, will no doubt join the list of U.S. actions that some foreign nations cite back to us, accusing us of failing to practice what we preach.
Last year the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution directing the U.S. delegation in Dubai to support the multi-stakeholder model and express the United States’ unwavering support of Internet freedom. This resolution takes the radical position that if the most revolutionary advance in technology, commerce and social discourse of the last century isn’t broken, we shouldn’t be trying to “fix” it.
This Congress, I will offer a bill to make this the policy of the United States. By refusing to sign a treaty that would curtail Internet freedom, we stood up to those nations that would shackle the Internet for their own purposes. We should now commit this resolve to law and affirm the United States unambiguous commitment to a global Internet free from government regulation.
Greg Walden is a Republican U.S. congressman representing Oregon's second district.