'Father of the Internet' says battle over UN regulation will determine future of the Web

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Proposals to give the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) more control over the governance of the Internet could come up at a conference in Dubai in December. 

The proposals would give the U.N. more control over cybersecurity, data privacy, technical standards and the Web’s address system. They would also allow foreign, government-owned Internet providers to charge extra for international traffic and allow for more price control.

The Internet is currently governed under a “multi-stakeholder” approach that gives power to a host of nonprofits, rather than governments.

Cerf argued that the multi-stakeholder model "has been, and will continue to be, the best way to address the technical and policy issues facing the Internet globally."

Lawmakers and Obama administration officials agreed on Thursday that control of the Internet should not be handed over to the U.N.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philip Verveer said the negotiators at the Dubai conference will likely try to achieve consensus before adopting any changes but that the measures could come up for up or down votes. He explained that the United States does not have veto power at the ITU like it does at the U.N. Security Council. 

He said it is unclear whether there are enough votes among the 193 ITU members to adopt the changes. Verveer identified Japan, Canada, Mexico and many European countries as members that share the U.S. view on the governance of the Internet.

Robert McDowell, a Republican commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said if the ITU does try to regulate the Internet, the United States could opt out of many provisions, but that the changes could create a "balkanized" and "bifurcated" Internet instead of the global one that exists today.

McDowell also testified that foreign government officials have talked to him about plans to create an international fund allowing state-owned telecom companies to charge for access to certain websites on a per-click basis to fund the build out of Internet networks. 

He identified Google, iTunes, Facebook and Netflix as possible targets for the extra fees. 

McDowell said that in addition to restricting freedom, the proposals would be "devastating to global economic activity."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) accused the Obama administration of hypocrisy for opposing the U.N. effort on Internet control but supporting net-neutrality regulations that bar Internet providers from slowing down or speeding up access to websites.

Supporters of the regulations say they preserve competition and protect consumer choice, but opponents argue they amount to government regulation of the Internet.

Blackburn also questioned why the FCC hasn't officially closed its inquiry into whether the Internet should be reclassified as a "Title II" utility, which would give the agency more authority over it.

McDowell, who voted against the FCC's net neutrality rules, said that closing the docket on reclassifying the Internet would send a "strong signal" to the international community that the United States values Internet freedom.