Politics is like pugilism – it’s always best to get your punches in first
And so it’s proving to be the case with US lawmakers serving notice on foreign governments that any attempt to grab control of the internet through the auspices of the UN won’t be taken lying down.
At a House of Representatives hearing last week a parade of officials from across the political divide, including Google’s Vint Cerf, commonly regarded as a founding father of the internet, warned that the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) could try to wrestle control of the internet away from the US-centric ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which is responsible for the net’s stable and secure operation.
Crunch time will come in December when 193 countries meet in Dubai to discuss general telecommunications issues.
At the very least, the conference will provide an opening for countries such as Russia and China – hardly paragons of virtue when it comes to freedom of speech – to propose the UN establish a modified information security regime; or even the creation of an alternative to ICANN.
Unsurprisingly, this would be anathema to a US that has always preferred an internet free from centralised control, even if it’s on US terms.
Even if a full frontal assault isn’t forthcoming, a more subtle move to modify inter-governmental powers may prove just as damaging to US interests over the longer term from a business standpoint.
Robert McDowell, a member of the US Federal Communications Commission, has already revealed that proposals pitched to him personally by foreign governments would consider using international mandates to charge certain web destinations on a ‘per-click’ basis to fund the build-out of broadband infrastructure across the globe.
In plain language this would mean extracting money from the likes of Google, iTunes, Facebook, and Netflix.
This may all prove to be nothing more than political posturing. Rest assured the US will be coming out fighting however.