China and Russia, among other countries, are pushing for U.N. control over Internet regulations, calling for international involvement beyond the U.S. as more people worldwide use the Web.
The proposal is expected to create tension at the first annual World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai later this year.
U.S.-based non-profits, like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, and the Internet Engineering Task Force, or IETF, now monitor the Internet and will likely oppose the suggested changes.
ICANN and the other regulatory bodies balance government, private sector, and NGO interests, keeping the Internet free and open. The proposed U.N. regulatory body, on the other hand, would likely shift power into world governments’ hands, possibly granting oppressive nations the ability to control and censor their citizens’ Internet access and threaten net neutrality.
The petitioning nations assert the U.S. exerts a disproportionate amount of control over the Internet, and for its part, current Internet monitoring relies on ICANN and IETF, agencies based in the U.S., reflecting the Internet’s origins.
The U.S. pioneered Internet development, and the U.S.-centric regulatory bodies reflects initiatives made in the 1990s, when users were predominantly American.
But now that Asia accounts for over half of global Internet users, the continued dominance of U.S.-led regulatory bodies irks emergent nations.
The request for an increasingly global approach to regulation may be valid, but some believe the proposed U.N. body would disrupt the power balance and allow for potential censorship, violating the U.N.’s report categorizing Internet access as a human right.
The Internet is increasingly global, and its regulatory bodies best serve users if they recognize and respond to its multinational character. Granting global governments exclusive control over the Internet threatens to hinder its growth, not help it, however, as often governments are apt to throttle online dissent when they fear imminent unrest.
“Upending the fundamentals of the multi-stakeholder model is likely to Balkanize the Internet at best, and suffocate it at worst,” FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said. “A top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without borders. No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make decisions in lightning-fast Internet time.”
The struggle for Internet control is likely to increase as governments experiencing social and political upheaval look to contain their citizens’ online organization efforts. The challenges will be in how to balance the interests of countries around the world while at the same time preserving basic freedoms.