Sticky Wicket in Dubai

Dec 6, 2012

Skycrapers and developments around the Dubai Marina area are seen from the Princess Tower in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. Photographer: Duncan Chard/Bloomberg.

To the average person, an international conference can seem like a tree falling in the forest with no discernable sound. Not so in Dubai this week, as the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), pronounced “wicket,” is looking at proposals to dramatically expand the UN’s International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) authority over the Internet.

Yes, the whole Internet. The same one you use every day. Do we have your attention now?

Outdated Rules Shouldn’t Be Exchanged for Bad Rules

The reason this is happening now is it has been 24 years since the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) were reviewed and, as Businessweek’s Evan Applegate described, the rules were “written when cell phones were Bible-thick and the Internet was a nice pastime.”

But just because ITRs are outdated doesn’t mean they need to be replaced with bad rules. The Heritage Foundation's Brett Schaefer and James Gattuso touched on the best/worst-case scenarios for the misguided proposals in the Kansas City Star:

As troubling as the proposals are individually, the broader concern is ITU's effort, aided by some of its member states, to expand its authority from the technical job of facilitating technical interactions to the far broader one of setting the global rules for the Internet. At a time when competition should be making the ITU irrelevant, it is expanding its turf.

At best, this is unnecessary - the Internet is doing quite well without the help of this 19th-century organization. At worst, the expansion could be the first step down a path that would give the ITU, and through it the United Nations, power to stifle the Web.

But whatever the intent of the Dubai meetings, it appears that an attempt to modernize old rules has opened the floodgates to a global power grab that would be bad for consumers, bad for businesses, and bad for innovation. 

Restricting Internet Freedom Will Kill Innovation

It is the Chamber’s position that diminishing the status quo multi-stakeholder model that has allowed for a free and open Internet could have potentially devastating effects to global business.

Even the smallest of tweaks could open the flood gates for foreign governments’ ability to exert control over the Internet—causing industry, businesses, and consumers great alarm. Proposals being considered could restrict the free flow of information, increase the cost of doing business online, and severely undermine the jobs supported by e-commerce.

Congress also recognized this threat, and just overnight the U.S. House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution already approved by the Senate opposing ITU proposals, calling for an Internet that is “stable and secure” from this power grab.

We Can Preserve Internet Freedom and Meet Challenges

Essentially, this one-size-fits-all approach is just plain wrong. As industry, we recognize that 21st century challenges—such as the protection of intellectual property online—need to be equally matched with 21st century solutions. However, the expansion of ITU oversight is not the right solution to allow the Internet and the businesses built upon it to flourish.

We believe that the Internet should thrive, because along with a free Internet comes a whole new way of doing business and a whole host of new industries, new ideas, new jobs—a new world.

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