The Internet became a global engine of economic growth, political discourse, and cultural transformation without centralized governance of its technologies or access policies. Its structure and standards were developed through the voluntary efforts of individuals who are passionate about evolving network technologies. David Clark, an Internet pioneer, famously said: “We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.” This declaration of liberty from government control is responsible for the Internet’s decentralized structure, which is the source of its power.
That power is now under siege. A group of nations led by China and Russia seek to establish “international control over the Internet” through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations that governs traditional telecommunications services (i.e., telephone). At the urging of these and other nations, the ITU will meet this December to consider expanding its regulatory authority to include the Internet.
Ceding control of the Internet to authoritarian governments would destroy the free market foundations of its success. The ability to innovate without the interference of “kings, presidents, and voting” would be replaced by compliance with international rules imposed by slow moving, unelected bureaucrats. Foreign nations are proposing to limit Internet privacy rights, take control of privately managed Internet address systems, standardize Internet networks, and tax American Internet use. These and other restrictions would limit innovation, slow economic growth, and chill political expression.
America needs to defend the Internet from government control globally in the 21st Century.