by Joe Mullin

January 9, 2013

from ArsTechnica Website



An FCC Commissioner says

recent ITU meeting "like the Star Wars bar scene."



Last month, a majority of the members of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) voted for a murky proposal, suggesting that the ITU has the power to regulate the Internet.


The proposal was passed despite vociferous objections by the US and other developed countries. In the end, 55 countries refused to sign on, while 89 did sign the resolution.


That was seen as a success for the US and its allies, but anyone celebrating the outcome might be doing so too soon.


In fact, several of the companies that sided with the US only ended up in that position because of an overreach on the part of Iran, according to one speaker at a Thursday CES panel.


Ambassador David Gross, who was the US representative to the ITU for several years, said that Iran decided to,

"meddle in a well-cooked document," adding an unusual "human rights" proposal that suggested a human right to access telecommunications networks.

The twist is that this was a situation in which the "human rights" were granted to a government, not to actual humans.


The real goal was to strike a blow against sanctions. (Other behind-the-scenes accounts, including one published on Ars, suggest this proposal originated with Cuba. In any case, both countries supported it.)

"Europe voted for the bulk of the ITRs (International Telecommunications Regulations) in this space," noted Robert McDowell, an FCC Commissioner who was in attendance.

Most European countries didn't support the final proposal because of the more controversial language inserted by Iran and Cuba.

"It could have been worse, in a way, but it also could have been better."

The whole scenario was chaotic, with a lack of clarity over what would or wouldn't be voted on.

"It was a like the bar scene in Star Wars," he said.

And the ITU is not likely to stop its attempts to increase its power, cautioned McDowell.

"This is an organization that has greatly expanded its jurisdiction and will continue to do so," he said. "The countries that accomplished what they did last month are patient, and they are incrementalists."


"You could hear they [nations that voted yes] have very real concerns about Internet governance," agreed David Redl, a lawyer for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.


"They are not likely to stop talking about it just because the US doesn't want to. We need to look at this going forward and do a lot of groundwork with nations around the world."

The Congressman who introduced the panel, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), said that as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he was determined to stop the UN from messing with the current structure of Internet governance.

"I predict dire consequences if the Internet is regulated by the UN or other inter-governmental entities," said Goodlatte. "Censorship could become the new norm," and free-market principles could be threatened, he added.

The debate had many different forces in the US working in the same direction.


Congress, after all, had passed a resolution sending a "hands off" message to the ITU which was overwhelmingly supported by both parties. Today, jokes abounded about the rarity of seeing both AT&T and Google with representatives on the same panel, actually agreeing with each other on policy.


Even though the leadership in developing countries are the ones pushing for the ITU to have more power, the idea that it will help their citizens was dismissed during today's talk.

"The direction the ITU is headed in will hurt the developing world the most," said McDowell. "They fear a free... Internet. They fear it politically, and they don't care about the economics."