On Feb. 27, a diplomatic process will begin in Geneva that could result in a new treaty giving the United Nations unprecedented powers over the Internet. Dozens of countries, including Russia and China, are pushing hard to reach this goal by year’s end. As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last June, his goal and that of his allies is to establish “international control over the Internet” through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a treaty-based organization under U.N. auspices.
If successful, these new regulatory proposals would upend the Internet’s flourishing regime, which has been in place since 1988. That year, delegates from 114 countries gathered in Australia to agree to a treaty that set the stage for dramatic liberalization of international telecommunications. This insulated the Internet from economic and technical regulation and quickly became the greatest deregulatory success story of all time.
Real time data communications across borders isn’t the invention of the Internet. Before that we had the telex (see right.) But think about it: the telex was…
- …the purview of the few. How many of you remember having one? (No, I’m not trying to be unfair to my younger readers, I’m talking to you, control-freak Boomers.)
- …slow, so slow it travelled over telephone lines with ease.
- …expensive (see bill below from the early 1970’s, then do some inflation calculations.)
- …incapable of graphics or any other binary data transfer and storage. (You could store the results other than on paper, mostly with paper tape.)
For those of us who had access to such a thing, and the international business and dealings that went with it, it was a broadening experience. But we were definitely in the minority.
I know I exaggerate somewhat in saying we’ll go back to the telex for international communication and data transfer. But we’ll be much the poorer if we allow the Internet to be choked by those who seek to control it–and us–above all else.
One more thing: McDowell notes the following:
While precious time ticks away, the U.S. has not named a leader for the treaty negotiation. We must awake from our slumber and engage before it is too late. Not only do these developments have the potential to affect the daily lives of all Americans, they also threaten freedom and prosperity across the globe.