Internet Freedom Hearing Includes Rare Moment of Congressional Consensus

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ITU

In today’s political climate, it is rare to hear a unified voice from Congress, especially one pertaining to regulation. In today’s House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology’s hearing on “Fighting for Internet Freedom: Dubai and Beyond” one such voice was heard. The overall consensus from member participants was a clear demand to keep the Internet open and free. Held jointly with the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade and the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. The hearing focused on last December’s World Conference on International Telecommunications convened by the ITU in Dubai.  

 

Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld testified on behalf of civil society. As an advisory member to the US delegation to Dubai, Harold was positioned to give a first hand account of both the successes and difficulties of working within a multi-stakeholder approach. While Public Knowledge considers the inclusion of civil society within the US delegation an important step forward, there were limitations to which civil society was able to participate. It is also important to recognize the difficulties this approach presents to stakeholders from developing nations that cannot participate to the degree in which other delegations can. This creates both an opportunity and challenge for the US, both domestically and abroad.

As revealed in the testimony, there was a clear line drawn in the sand between the US and allies and those countries that sought to ensure that Internet governance was included within ITR's; regulations that are an opportunity to tackle many other issues at the convergence of business and government. Although efforts were made by countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Russia to push proposals that would drastically change the open nature of the Internet, many were successfully rebuffed.

However this very attempt, as stated by panelist FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, is proof of the incremental behavior and commitment of the governments of countries like China to move forward with an agenda of censorship. The active inclusion of language by member states that attempt to expand government control over free expression caused the United States, along with 53 other countries, to refuse to sign the ITR’s. However, the very attempt was the cause of much concern for the members of all committees, many of which emphasized the importance of opposing efforts to diminish the open framework of the Internet.

Panelists and members discussed opportunities to oppose these efforts, through supporting a resolution maintaining US support for a global Internet free from government control and the continuation of a multi-stakeholder model that governs the Internet. Other options lie in fostering our relationships with delegations in developing nations. Nations that view the United States a global Internet leader, many of which are successfully engaged by organizations such as the Internet Society.

Going forward, it is clear that the subject of Internet governance is at the forefront of congressional concern. Whether that concern can remain optimistic in nature depends on how we choose to engage others and the continued inclusion of civil society as a valued stakeholder. 

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