Net Neutrality: Goes Global

Back in November of 2011, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in favor of net neutrality on a global scale. The resolution stated the following: 

“[The European Parliament] calls further on the Commission to ensure that internet service providers do not block, discriminate against, impair or degrade the ability of any person to use a service to access, use, send, post, receive or offer any content, application or service of their choice, irrespective of source or target.”

During these same proceedings, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has been called upon to investigate the idea of further regulating the internet. Proponents of net neutrality on a global scale argue that further regulation will actually provide more freedom for the individual citizen using the internet. 

The logic in this argument seems rather inconsistent. More regulation will increase freedom? What about the freedom of internet service providers to provide the amount of internet they desire? If an individual service provider is not adequately meeting your internet needs as a consumer, than switch to another provider. It’s as simple as letting the free market meet the demands of the consumer. 

Since the 1990’s, the internet has operated in a relatively free market based on a “multi-stakeholder” governance model. Federal Communications Commissioner Robert M. McDowell in the Wall Street Journal Online had this to say concerning how the current internet model is run:

“This (multi-stakeholder governance model) consensus-driven private-sector approach has been the key to the Net’s phenomenal success. In 1995, shortly after it was privatized, only 16 million people used the Internet world-wide. By 2011, more than two billion were online—and that number is growing by as much as half a million every day. This explosive growth is the direct result of governments generally keeping their hands off the Internet sphere.”

Commissioner McDowell, who was the Federal Communication Commissioner under President W. Bush and remains the Commissioner under President Obama, goes on to discuss the role the internet has played in the last two decades. He argues that the internet has and continues to vastly improve economies across the globe, creating millions of jobs, providing a medium outlet for political freedom advocates, and increasing the standards of living, especially for people living in third world nations, all within a consumer-based free market. 

And what is the response to all the vast benefits of an unregulated internet market?-‘Regulate it anyway because the evil and greedy internet providers can control internet supply!’ But what is the real reason behind increased regulation on the internet? Could the reason possibly be from a desire of governments like Russia and China to control the ever-expanding power of the internet?  

Beginning in February of this year, starting in Geneva and moving to Dubai, the United Nations (UN), led by Russia and China, has considered measures to establish “international control over the Internet” through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to quote Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Here are some of the proposals that may become international law by the end of next year: 

• Subject cyber security and data privacy to international control.

• Allow foreign phone companies to charge fees for “international” Internet traffic, perhaps even on a “per-click” basis for certain Web destinations, with the goal of generating revenue for state-owned phone companies and government treasuries.

• Impose economic regulations such as mandates for rates, terms and conditions for currently unregulated traffic-swapping agreements known as “peering”.

Establish for the first time ITU dominion over important functions of multi-stakeholder Internet governance entities such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit entity that coordinates the .com and .org Web addresses of the world.

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.

Regulate international mobile roaming rates and practices.

These proposals are not for the sole purpose of providing the individual internet user with more freedom. Anyone who believes or argues this is either ignorant of the facts or is misleading citizens across the globe. 

Speaking at The Free State Foundation in May of this year, Richard Beaird – Senior Deputy United States Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy – Department of State had this to say concerning the U.S. position on government takeover of the internet: 

“So if we say, as a firm position, that the United Nations and the ITU should not be engaged in the day-to-day operations of the Internet, we also say that it would be counterproductive to try to impose the context and practices of the past upon the world of broadband Internet, the world of today. Nothing should be done at the conference in Dubai to slow innovation, or to attempt to bring about a top-down and centralized control over the Internet. Those are fundamental principles that the U.S. delegation will take with it to Dubai.”

The fundamental principle of an un-regulated internet market is exactly the position the U.S. should and must take not only on a global scale but on a domestic scale as. Net neutrality is bad policy for the U.S. and bad policy for the world.