Would Elected Officials Really Oppose Internet Freedom?

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee object to a bill that would legalize 'government control' overseas, claiming it could be used to undermine the FCC's Net Neutrality order.

By Kenneth Corbin
Fri, April 12, 2013

CIO — What elected official would stake out a position opposing a declaration of Internet freedom?

Several House Democrats, it turns out. This week, minority members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee raised objections to a Republican bill that would codify in law the United States' opposition to government control of the Internet.

Democrats claim that giving a broad policy statement the force of law could disrupt domestic and international governance of the Internet, including the Federal Communications Commission's controversial 'Net Neutrality rules that are under review before a federal court.

"It is the policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that governs the Internet."

--Language in the Internet Governance Bill

The bill revives language included in resolutions that passed the House and Senate last year--unanimously--ahead of a United Nations conference expressing opposition to efforts by some countries to shift global Internet governance to the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union and exert tighter controls over the flow of online content.

The concern at the time was that the World Conference on International Telecommunications held in December in Dubai could become a vehicle for countries like China, Russia and Iran to censor politically objectionable content and target dissidents.

But that resounding demonstration of bipartisanship dissolved this week amid GOP efforts to write that "sense of the Congress" statement into law.

[Related: Lawmakers Accuse FCC of Hypocrisy on Internet Regulation]

"There are significant differences between resolutions and laws," said California's Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the committee. "One of my concerns is that this policy statement is actually a backdoor attempt to undermine the FCC's open Internet rules, and hamstring the commission's ability to manage the IP transition."

At the end of a pair of business meetings this week, the Energy and Commerce Committee's communications and technology subcommittee approved the Internet freedom bill, sending it along to the full Energy and Commerce Committee.

Democrats acceded to reporting the measure by a voice vote after securing assurances from Republican leaders on the panel that they would work in good faith to address concerns about the scope of the bill.

[Related: U.S. Lawmakers Look for Ways to Advance Internet Freedom]

"Nothing will be off the table. Nothing," said subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Sending a 'No Internet Censorship' Message

Walden reiterated the GOP's position that the bill is only about sending a message to the global community, particularly nations with a track record of Internet censorship, that positions the United States as a strong defender of online freedom and reaffirming its commitment to the current, decentralized global framework for Internet governance.

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