FCC chief blasts Russia for passing Internet censorship bill

{mosads}The FCC chief explained that he recently attended an economic forum in Russia where he discussed how expanding broadband Internet access can grow a country’s economy and improve education, healthcare and government services. He argued that a free and open Internet is essential to meeting those goals.

“I believe this legislation will stifle investment in broadband and impede innovations that could advance Russia’s promising Internet economy,” Genachowski said.

The Russian Duma, its lower house of Parliament, approved the controversial bill unanimously on Wednesday. The measure would give the government the power to force site owners and Internet providers to shut down blacklisted sites. Supporters of the bill say it is aimed at curbing child pornography and sites that promote drug use or suicide.

But critics warn it is attempt to stifle political dissent in a country where the government already owns the television stations. The Russian Wikipedia blacked itself out earlier this week in protest, warning the bill would create the Russian version of China’s “great firewall,” which allows the government to filter Internet content.

“While protecting children on-line is a legitimate governmental concern, the Duma’s bill, in its current form, could lead to restricting access to valuable Internet content and services and chilling innovation, economic opportunity, as well as free expression,” Genachowski said. “I urge Russia to recognize the full benefits of a free and open Internet, including a stronger economy and more prosperous and free society.”

The bill now heads to the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, where it is expected to pass. It would then go to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law.

The controversy over the bill, and in particular the Wikipedia blackout, is reminiscent of the battle earlier this year in the United States over anti-piracy legislation. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would have allowed the U.S. government to cut off access to sites dedicated to copyright infringement, and critics claimed it amounted to Internet censorship.

Genachowski carefully avoided wading into the controversy over SOPA, though the White House eventually issued a statement expressing concern about the potential to restrict Internet freedom and stifle innovation.

The FCC is an independent government agency, and Genachowski’s statement is not necessarily the official position of the Obama administration.

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