Internet’s Typhoid Mary Meets U.N.

by Mike Wendy on November 27, 2012

As the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) gathering in Dubai approaches, some here in the West remain worried that the U.N. will try to hijack the Internet by writing new international communications rules via the ITU that could take “the freewheeling digital world back to the state control of the analog era.”

Decrying the potential for trouble at the event, Google is circulating a petition for a “free and open Internet,” urging that “Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct [the Internet’s] future.”

(Love that line: “Governments alone…”)

(Where’s an international Citizens United rule when you need one, right?)

While I fully support the notion that the Internet should stay free from government control if it is to continue to flourish, I fully reject the hypocrisy of the entity peddling the statement.

Where was that same concern back when Net Neutrality was going through the closed door sausage grinder at the FCC a couple of years back?  It was Google, along with its “consumer advocate” Sherpas Public Knowledge and Free Press (among others) that aggressively helped push those regulations across the finish line two years ago.  In doing so, it opened up the door to broad Internet regulation not just for domestic access providers like AT&T and Verizon, but for the rest of the global ecosystem, too (as reflected upon here by Jeff Eisenach at one minute into this short video).

FCC Commissioner, Robert McDowell, saw it coming.  But he got easily rolled by the pro-Google, er, I mean “open Internet” majority, which was aided by FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, and “begrudgingly” abetted by former FCC Commissioner (and now Public Knowledge board member) Michael Copps.

The following excerpt, from an article written over two years ago by Bret Swanson, says it all:

The stakes of the U.S. communications policy debates are larger than many assume. Subjecting broadband to new and extensive regulation in the U.S., says FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell in [the] Wall Street Journal, could invite a regulatory ripple effect across the globe.

The FCC proposed in June to regulate broadband Internet access services using laws written for monopoly phone companies. Despite a four-decade bipartisan and international consensus to insulate computer-oriented communications from phone regulation, the FCC is headed toward classifying these complex 21st century technologies as “telecommunications services.” This could inadvertently trigger ITU and, ultimately, U.N. jurisdiction over parts of the Internet. Unlike at the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. has no veto power at the ITU and may not be able to stop it.

Man, that would stink.

Net Neutrality regulation is essentially telecommunications regulation overlaid on top of the Internet, which cannot be lost on the ITU.  Clearly, America would have been in a much stronger position – sitting on higher moral ground in Dubai – had the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulation not ever gone through.

But it has.  And a toothless after-the-fact, online petition can’t un-ring the Net Neutrality bell, which, in creating a subsidizing bubble for Google and its brethren on the edge of the Internet, might likely have also called other countries to the village square to urge their version of “well-meaning” (or worse) Internet regulation, too.

Who da’ thunk it?  Apparently not Google.  Or the FCC.  Or the self-appointed “consumer advocate” Sherpas.   (Or, if they did, they’re guilty of hubris)

Anyway, it’s sad that one of America’s loudest preachers of Internet freedom is also one of its biggest hypocrites.  It renders Google’s petition essentially feckless.  Though the company might wish it could simply change its Search algorithm to degauss our collective memory, its role in supporting the virus of Internet regulation cannot be erased or denied.

Let’s hope Robert McDowell’s Cassandra prophecy is wrong, and the U.S. ITU delegation can prevent a regulatory tsunami that could make the now thriving Internet into a digital Greek tragedy.  Let’s also hope that they can inoculate the other 192 nations at the Dubai meeting from the scourge spread by the Internet’s Typhoid Mary.

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