PublishedOctober 10, 2012

International Regulation Unnecessary for Global Internet Deployment

The ITU has not revised its regulations (ITRs) governing things like satellite spectrum slots and telephone network connections since 1988.  No matter, the global Internet is working very well anyway.

Except where there’s little or no access. Some countries that have struggled with the economics or politics of broadband access, and sometimes both, are looking to the ITU for help.

While the Internet is in a sense a virtual ecosystem of invisible high speed electronic bit communications, certain physical realities and constraints stubbornly remain. You may arrange to buy a car on the Internet, and even quickly close the deal and pay, but to take possession of the vehicle, something large or some person (or both) must actually travel much more slowly. Without a vast system of personal devices, wires or towers, cables, computers, servers and other physical equipment, you could not have even begun to “shop” online for that car in the first place.

Every country must ultimately be responsible for the quality, reach, affordability and openness of its own domestic broadband infrastructure. Looking to a global body of national governments to somehow ensure universal broadband access or cybersecurity for the world is pure fantasy.  But the ITU is looking for relevance in the 21st century and some countries have moved to fill the void with detailed suggestions to be presented as formal proposals at the upcoming meeting.

Some of the large European incumbent telecoms, through their trade group, ETNO, have proposed a scheme whereby network access providers can exploit their local terminating access monopoly by charging content and app providers to deliver online goods and services to their end users online.  Even though those end users have already paid for their broadband connection.   ETNO claims the companies need this new revenue stream in order to invest in further network build-out.

This is extortion, and must be exposed as such.

The U.S. delegation to the December meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has been appointed and has convened for preparatory meetings in Washington.  Terry Kramer, who heads the U.S. delegation to the ITU, has signaled U.S. support for continued international multi-stakeholder driven governance of the Internet to ensure its smooth functioning according to voluntary consensus standards and procedures. A unanimous bipartisan Congressional resolution takes essentially the same stance. However, the U.S. — along with at least Canada, Japan, and most European countries — strongly opposes new missions in Internet regulation for the ITU, an agency of the United Nations.

The challenge for this family of nations, and others, will be to lead by example, demonstrating how the domestic deployment of open Internet infrastructure (whether by governments or private companies or a collaboration of both) is the most reliable path to economic growth and participation in global markets.

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