If you haven’t been following the push by regulators from the International Telecommunications Union to grab control of the Internet, Larry Downes’ article on Forbes.com this morning is a good window onto events.
Government regulators have long controlled and profited from telecommunications, also using it for surveillance. With the growth of the Internet, government regulators from around the world have lost their grip on communications, and now they are working to get it back. At the World Conference on International Telecommunications (or WCIT, commonly pronounced “wicket”) meeting in Dubai early next month, ITU regulators plan to introduce a series of proposals that would recapture telecommunications for the national regulatory bodies.
But, while showing just how out of touch ITU regulators are, Downs illustrates that the game has changed. A slick PR campaign will not help the ITU roll the telecom and Internet firms that oppose their plans. The telecom and Internet firms aren’t even the most important players.
The ITU is no different than the sponsors of ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, and other attempts at regulating the Internet, its content, or its users by governments large and small. Like the media lobbyists who continue to see the successful fight to kill SOPA and PIPA as a proxy war waged solely by Google and other Internet companies, the ITU simply can’t accept the reality that Internet users have become their own best advocates. Without prodding, they readily work together to defend a common-sense faith in self-governance for engineering resources and an unshakable belief in a free marketplace of ideas, the cornerstones of the Internet’s success.
That’s a little triumphal, but not too triumphal. The Internet is not governments’ to regulate.
Of course, governments will not release their grip on communications easily. The ITU’s unsubtle and ham-handed attempt to take control of the Internet is only one instance, belying more insidious work being done in the U.S. and abroad to tax and control us through our communications infrastructure.
Continued vigilance in the face of these efforts will defeat them, vigilance being—as always—the price of liberty.