House Republicans and Democrats spoke with one voice Tuesday
as they talked about the threats to global Internet freedom coming out of the
International Telecommunication Union WCIT telecom treaty in Dubai last
One of the key takeaways from an unusual joint hearing among
three different subcommittees was the importance of giving developing companies
more support in the form of money, education and infrastructure so they do not
turn to authoritarian regimes like Russia and China for help.
The hearing was hosted by the Energy and Commerce Communications
Subcommittee, but was a joint production with the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the Subcommittee on
Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.
It featured remote testimony from Dr. Bitange Ndemo, who led
the Kenyan delegation to the Dubai conference, and stood with the U.S. in
opposing Internet-related language that made it impossible for the U.S.
delegation to sign on to the treaty. It was joined by 54 other countries.
Ndemo said many of the countries that did sign on had been
Legislator after legislator took to the microphone to praise
the U.S.'s stand against the Internet language and ask what could be done to
repel future attempts at government encroachment into Internet policy, which
everyone agreed would continue.
Rep. Ed Royce (R- Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs
Committee, said Dubai was only the first step in a series of attempts by
authoritarian regimes to regulate the Internet. He said he expected those
countries to push an even larger agenda in the future.
"I think the struggle is going to be permanent,"
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member on the
Communications Subcommittee, agreed. "The Dubai conference made it clear
we have a lot of work ahead of us."
Eshoo, along with Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg
Walden (R-Ore.), gave FCC commissioner Robert McDowell props for being early to
warn of the attempted global Internet grab. "You rang the bell a long time
ago," Eshoo said, "and we are grateful."
McDowell, who was a witness at the hearing, was still
ringing that alarm bell. He said that the Internet was under assault, and
warned of the next flash point -- a world telecom conference in May -- and an
even bigger one in 2014, the plenipotentiary meeting of the ITU. He said three
promises made by ITU officials before the conference -- "No votes would be
taken at the WCIT; a new treaty would be adopted only through unanimous
consensus; and any new treaty would not touch the Internet" -- had been
And although 54 countries joined the U.S. in not signing the
Dubai treaty, McDowell said that number was misleading since a number of those,
including some otherwise close European allies, were willing to support the
inclusion of Internet language until Iran added an amendment.
"In short, the U.S. experienced a rude awakening
regarding the stark reality of the situation," he said. "[W]hen push
comes to shove, even countries that purport to cherish Internet freedom are
willing to surrender. Our experience in Dubai is a chilling foreshadow of how
international Internet regulatory policy could expand at an accelerating
Ambassador David Gross, who along with McDowell was a member
of the U.S. delegation to the WCIT conference, made a pitch for continued
engagement with the ITU. While he was in total agreement that the language in
the treaty made it unacceptable, he said remained extraordinarily important,
both in terms of spectrum policy and as a way to do outreach to the developing
That outreach was a continuing theme throughout the hearing.
Congress' bipartisanship on the issue of global Internet
regulation was evident early on. Both the House and Senate passed resolutions
championing the multistakeholder model. Asked at the hearing whether that
helped buttress the U.S. position in Dubai, the witnesses, all of whom had been
members of the delegation, said yes.
Both Gross and McDowell said that other countries had taken
note of the unusual agreement from an oft divided Congress. McDowell said it
was really quite extraordinary to those folks abroad. It was domestically, too,
Walden quipped. Gross said he thought it had had a "substantial"
impact. "When Congress speaks, the world listens," he said.
The takeaway from the hearing was that there were continued
threats that required constant vigilance, and that one way to win hearts and
minds would be to help the developing world. That would include not only infrastructure,
said Sally Shipman Wentworth of The Internet Society, but also education, so
that homegrown engineers would understand the stakes for their countries.
There were also some suggestions that governments and
private industry might help pave the way to conferences for countries that
could not afford the price of admission to an Internet dialog that was
important for them to be a part of. Not doing so, they suggested, could send
them to authoritarian regimes for help.