Walden proposes Internet freedom bill


The new draft legislation would make it formal U.S. policy to "promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that governs the Internet."

It is unclear what kind of practical impact the bill would have. A committee aide said the measure would not empower people to sue to overturn any government regulations.

"Governments’ traditional hands-off approach has enabled the Internet to grow at an astonishing pace and become perhaps the most powerful engine of social and economic freedom and job creation our world has ever known," Walden said during the hearing, which was jointly held by Walden's panel and two subcommittees of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Despite objections from U.S. officials, a majority of countries at the Dubai conference voted in December to expand the authority of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations agency, over Internet policy.

Supporters of the treaty revisions say they will help governments fight spam and improve cybersecurity.

But at Tuesday's hearing, witnesses warned that the new treaty could curtail the free flow of information around the world.

"The ITU now has unprecedented authority over the economics and content of key aspects of the Internet," said Robert McDowell, a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

He warned that the "dynamic new wonders of the early 21st century are inches away from being smothered by innovation-crushing old rules designed for a different time."

McDowell urged supporters of Internet freedom to prepare to fight further regulatory efforts at an ITU constitutional convention scheduled for next year.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the technology subcommittee, said the United States and developing countries share many of the same goals, such as expanding Internet access and ensuring the security of communications networks. But she emphasized that "each of these goals can be addressed through the existing multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance."

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed that the ITU "has no business" regulating the Internet.

"This struggle will be a permanent one. Those seeking to control the Internet will never stop. It is too valuable," Royce said.

— Updated at 1:12 p.m.