U.S. Lawmakers Blast U.N. for Internet 'Powerplay'

While a State Department official says that the proposed expansion of U.N. Internet authorities would have only a modest effect on the U.S., lawmakers say they are united when it comes to keeping the Internet free from centralized control and preventing the United Nations from gaining power over Web content and infrastructure.

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Other issues up for debate at the meeting in Dubai include proposals to implement some revenue-raising system to promote broadband expansion in developing nations. One idea that has been suggested -- and staunchly opposed by the United States -- would levy a per-click charge on some of the most popular destinations on the Web to subsidize broadband service in other nations, with Google, Facebook, iTunes and Netflix among the most popular targets.

Such proposals have given rise to what Verveer called a "unanimity of purpose" in opposing new ITU authorities among U.S. businesses that often find themselves at odds on matters of public policy, as well as lawmakers and other government officials, irrespective of party lines.

On Wednesday, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and the bipartisan leadership of the Energy and Commerce Committee and its technology subcommittee introduced a resolution (available in PDF format here) expressing opposition to the establishment of any form of international Internet regulation. Backers of the measure said they hope to bring it to the House floor shortly.

Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the full committee, which has been marked by fierce partisanship in recent years, said that there is "no daylight between House Republicans and House Democrats on this issue."

As a matter of process, the December meeting in Dubai likely will not put the ITU treaty to a formal vote, according to Verveer. Rather, any treaty that results will probably be the product of a general consensus achieved through quiet negotiations among stakeholders.

But just as he noted that U.N. enforcement of the treaty will be scant, Verveer said that most signatories will leave themselves considerable flexibility to implement the provisions of the document in accordance with their respective laws and customs.

"We assuredly will take a very broad reservation to whatever is agreed at the conference, and virtually every other country will do the same thing," he said. "So you will have countries agreeing that they will abide by the provisions of the treaty unless for some reason they won't, and as I say, typically the reasons will be extraordinarily broad."

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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