What is arguably the very last bastion of totally free speech is once again under assault by the world's tyrants, as the United Nations is now eying regulation of the Internet - as though it was in need of being regulated.
Why? It's an age-old story.
Leaders of authoritarian regimes the world over hate the free flow of information that is disseminated via the Internet. They hate the fact that they no longer have a monopoly on ideas and opinion within their own country. They see notions of freedom and liberty as a threat. They despise any medium that undermines their grip on power. And their regimes are heavily represented in the U.N., of which the United States (once considered the bastion of liberty and freedom) is the largest contributor.
"Who runs the Internet? For now, the answer remains no one, or at least no government, which explains the Web's success as a new technology. But as of next week, unless the U.S. gets serious, the answer could be the United Nations," reports The Wall Street Journal.
Authoritarians seek ways to control free expression, free speech, and individual liberty
A sizable number of the world body's 193 members simply oppose the open and very uncontrolled nature of the Internet, the paper said, noting the World Wide Web's interconnected global networks that defy international boundaries and, as such, make it extremely difficult for governments to tax or censor.
For over a year, these authoritarian regimes have lobbied a UN agency known as the International Telecommunications Union to grab the reins of the Internet and take over its management. The organization, which was originally created in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, last wrote a treaty on communications in 1988, years before the commercial Internet developed into a popular communications and commerce medium, and back when telecommunications referred to voice telephone calls routed through national telephone monopolies.
In the coming days, the ITU plans to hold a "negotiating conference" in the emirate of Dubai, say reports. In the past months, rumors have surfaced that a new treaty could be in the offing - one that will no doubt prove disastrous to a free and open Internet.
Most U.S. resolutions, as well as free-market commentary in publications such as the Journal, "have focused on proposals by authoritarian governments to censor the Internet," the paper reported. "Just as objectionable are proposals that ignore how the Internet works, threatening its smooth and open operations."
What would be the effect of having the Internet "reviewed" and "regulated" by global bureaucrats, most of whom are sympathetic to, or beholden to, authoritarian regimes bent on stifling free speech, free expression and individual liberty.
The Internet consists of 40,000 networks, interconnected among 425,000 global routes that cheaply and inefficiently deliver messages and digital content to about two billion people around the world every day - with a half-million signing on each day.
Up to now, the Internet has been self-regulating, which has obviously been working just fine (hence the growth figures in the previous paragraph). As it stands, no one has to ask for permission to put up their own blog or website. No government has the ability or right to tell network operators how they should do their jobs.
'Technology moves faster than any treaty process'
What has transpired is an extremely rare, if virtual, place for innovation that requires no prior permission from a regulatory or government agency or bureaucrat or governing body.
Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard pointed out that 90 percent of cooperative "peering" agreements among co-existing networks are "made on a handshake," adjusting as needs change.
"The Internet is highly complex and highly technical, yet governments are the only ones making decisions at the ITU, putting the Internet at their mercy," Sally Wentworth of the Internet Society told the Journal recently. She went on to say that Web developers and engineers who make the Internet work have said it's "mind boggling" that any government - even a so-called world government - would ever claim the universal right to regulate or manage the Internet.
"Technology moves faster than any treaty process ever can," Internet Society warned.
Even if the Obama administration hasn't yet publicly stated its position, liberty-minded officials and lawmakers in Europe (believe it or not) have stepped up to the plate.
The European Parliament has passed a resolution that protests plans by the ITU to seize control of the Internet.
"[The European Parliament] believes that the ITU, or any other single, centralized international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either Internet governance of Internet traffic flows," says the resolution, which was passed by a majority of EP representatives, reports said.
Biggest backers of regulation include Russia, China
According to Britain's The Guardian newspaper:
What's worrying the EP, along with an unlikely coalition of Google, the U.S. Republican party, organized labor, and Greenpeace, is that the meeting might try and take over regulatory oversight for Internet communications in a closed-door coup. The U.S. government has said it will oppose serious moves to change the current regulatory order, but how effective that will be remains to be seen.
"The resolution of the Parliament is a big success for internet users. This sends a clear and positive signal to the European Commission and the Member States", said Amelia Andersdotter, MEP for the Pirate Party and co-submitter of the resolution, The Register reported.
Some of the biggest backers of unmitigated Internet regulation include, not surprisingly, the authoritarian regimes of Russia and China.
As we've said, the Internet is truly the last bastion of genuinely free speech and expression, not to mention a tremendous creator of commerce and wealth. Regulating the Internet will have exactly the same effect as regulations on industry have had - it will stifle creativity, curb freedoms, kill jobs and destroy economic growth.
We'll be keeping an eye on this very important issue.
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