In September representatives from India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) got together to talk about the Internet. Their conclusion: The 'Net needed help from the United Nations in the areas of developing policies, technical standards, operation, dispute resolution and crises management.
The improbable conclusion that the U.N. could actually provide any help in any of these areas has been discussed in various Internet-savvy forums and roundly dismissed as a very bad idea. But that did not stop India from formally proposing it to the U.N. on Oct. 26. Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives is trying its best to come up with an even worse idea for Internet governance.
Fundamentally, the IBSA proposal is to take Internet management away from the motley collection of organizations and companies that have made a roaring success of the Internet, which is now used by billions of people and serves as the mechanism supporting trillions of dollars of commerce, and turn it over to the diplomatic core, a group not noted for its ability to do anything other than talk and obstruct. Or, to put it another way, the IBSA proposal is based on the premise that the Internet is too important to leave to those people who know what they are doing. This would be a good way to ensure that the Internet of the future would not resemble the dynamic and innovative Internet we know today.
Currently the Internet is basically unregulated, from the point of view of traditional telecom regulators. Technical standards for Internet protocols and applications largely come from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and many private companies. The Internet runs over new as well as traditional telecommunications standards from organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the U.N.-based International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
But there are no meaningful international Internet-specific regulations or policies. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) serve as voluntary multi-stakeholder forums for discussion and coordination of Internet policies and operation, but have little decisional power (on purpose). Both organizations held meetings last month in Africa.
(See opening remarks from Larry Strickling of the U.S. Department of Commerce for a good description of the multi-stakeholder concept and Kieren McCarthy's review of the IBSA proposal for more detail on the IBSA proposal and its impact.)
Back in the United States, a similar proposal to destroy the future usability of the Internet has been proposed by some members of the House. The proposal, with the neat handle of the "E-PARASITE bill," seems to be a conscious effort to take the already awful PROTECT-IP bill and make it worse.
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