Kramer: WCIT Conference Must Steer Clear of Internet
McDowell says Congress' message is unequivocal: no expansion of ITU authority
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/14/2012 2:04:59 PM
At an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event in Washington on Tuesday, he signaled that the U.S. could walk if the conference morphed into an effort to extend the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) treaties on traditional telecom into Internet governance and content control, which he pointed could come via innocuous-sounding changes. FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who was also a speaker, seconded that motion.
Kramer said that confining the treaties to telecom was a nonnegotiable item for the U.S. delegation. He acknowledged cybersecurity and broadband build-out and access were all issues worth framing at the conference, but they could not be solved there, and the attempt likely would fracture the proceedings.
He warned that changes of a single word could have far-reaching effects on geopolitics, the free flow of information and the world economy. He also warned that if the conference did devolve into an attempt to give governments more control over Internet traffic and content, the conference could fall apart, which would not do Dubai or ITU organizers any good. He also said that the U.S. would not be bound by any Internet-related changes, though it would obviously have an impact given that the Internet is a global community.
On that note, he said it would not be productive to attack the UN (as a number of congressional Republicans have done), or not to try to remain at the table.
While he said that some European countries were backing off a proposal to adopt a sending-party-pays model for charging for Internet traffic (to help fund broadband build-outs), India was starting to talk about a similar proposal, in which developed markets would help pay for broadband build-outs in developing countries.
ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure has suggested consensus at the conference is in reach. Kramer was not so sure given Toure's discussions over the European pay Internet model that he finds troubling. He said consensus was possible on identifying the problems, but that trying to find consensus on solutions was where it would break down.
Moving the Internet to a pay model, including trying to charge for quality of service, would fundamentally change its character, he said, and made it clear the U.S. would support such a move. While he said he was sympathetic to the need for broadband build-outs, a pay model would discourage some players from sending traffic, or would require them to charge a large fee that would exacerbate the digital divide over affordability. "We understand the problem," he said. "But the solution is not effective."
In fact, he said that a successful conference would be one where they agreed on the problems, but did not try to reach solutions that would inevitably divide them.
Kramer also said another proposal to give government's a role in determining the routing of Internet traffic was a nonstarter as well. He said that would only drive up costs and make it easier for the government to censor traffic.
He also warned about efforts by Syria, Russia and China to move away from the multistakeholder model of Internet governance that was the key to its success.
Kramer's message in Dubai will be that the Internet is working under the current multistakeholder model and the virtuous cycle of innovation and investment that results from that approach and that attempts at a more government-centric model would threaten that continued success.
Kramer said that is a message he will be relaying repeatedly over the 2-3 weeks before the conference begins Dec. 3.
FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who was on a panel with Kramer at the EIA event, seconded the multistakeholder emphasis, also warned of innocent-sounding proposals that may be anything but -- "small tweaks can become tectonic changes," he said -- and reminded his audience that when the conference is over Dec. 15, the fight will still go on. He noted that the nation states pushing for more control of the Internet are "patient and persistent incrementalists."
McDowell said he understood that the economics pushing some of the efforts at expanding the treaties to include the Internet. They are looking to replace dwindling revenues from the days of long-distance, money that flowed disproportionately from the developed to the developing world. Some of that went to the social benefit, some of that money to things not so beneficial to the populace, he said. At any rate, getting the ITU more involved was not the answer, he concluded. Countries that regulate the Internet are freer and more prosperous, he said.
McDowell, who has been one of the leading voices on the issue, will be in Dubai for the conference. He pointed out that preserving the multistakeholder model and rejecting nation state encroachment is one issue on which Congress has been uncharacteristically in accord. He said the instructions from the directly elected representatives of the people were not to allow expansion of ITU jurisdiction into the Internet "one iota."
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