In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell warns that several countries, including Brazil, Russia, China, and India, would like the UN to have a larger role in Internet governance. McDowell makes many of the same points I made in TIME.com last week and I agree with him completely. Here’s one thing he says that I find interesting:
Merely saying “no” to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance is likely to be a losing proposition. A more successful strategy would be for proponents of Internet freedom and prosperity within every nation to encourage a dialogue among all interested parties, including governments and the ITU, to broaden the multi-stakeholder umbrella with the goal of reaching consensus to address reasonable concerns. As part of this conversation, we should underscore the tremendous benefits that the Internet has yielded for the developing world through the multi-stakeholder model.
I’m not so sure about that. SOPA/PIPA showed that a “no compromises” approach can sometimes work. And it seems like the news today that the EU is pulling out of ACTA under pressure from netizens underscores that. ITU control of the Internet is ten times the threat that SOPA ever was, so I’m not sure we should rule out merely saying “no”. Dialog is always a good thing, but why should we enter a conversation agreeing we’re going to give in on some margin to states like China and Russia?
Here’s a question that remains a mystery to me: Assuming every other country agrees to centralize control of the Internet, wouldn’t true control require the U.S. handing over the root to the UN? Why would we ever do that? And what does it mean to “Subsume under intergovernmental control many functions of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Society and other multi-stakeholder groups that establish the engineering and technical standards that allow the Internet to work”? These are volunteer-run non-profits. How can they be “subsumed” by the ITU? Why would they submit?
And even if they are subsumed, all the power they now employ is merely putting out technical recommendations. It is the voluntary adhesion to these recommendations by the thousands of networks that make up the Internet which make them powerful. How would you mandate compliance with new standards from a centralized global body? Would nations have to make it illegal to belong to a rebel IETF putting out recs to compete with the ITU? I’m having a hard time envisioning how you ‘repeal and replace’ such a large, distributed, and successful bottom-up process.
UPDATE: Milton Mueller responds: