The Wall Street Journal

The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom
The Wall Street Journal

In 1988, delegates from 114 countries gathered in Melbourne, to negotiate an international treaty for the future of telecommunications regulation. Since then, representatives from nations have reunited and agreed that the Internet—that amazing global network of networks—was different from traditional phone service, and was best kept free from international phone regulation. That could change soon.

At least 191 countries are gearing up for the next round of talks at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in Guadalajara. The ITU is a treaty-based organization under the auspices of the United Nations that regulates international telecom services. To date, the ITU has had no jurisdiction over the Internet. But the U.S.’s own telecom regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), may spark a possible cascade of international regulation of the Web, led by the ITU.

Despite a four-decade bipartisan and international consensus to insulate computer-oriented communications from phone regulation, the FCC is headed toward classifying these complex 21st century technologies as « telecommunications services. » This could inadvertently trigger ITU and, ultimately, U.N. jurisdiction over parts of the Internet.

Like free trade, free-flowing information promotes freedom itself. Countries that regulate the Internet more heavily tend to be less free. The Internet has been open since it was privatized in 1994, allowing consumers to visit any website of their choice within network limitations. Since its inception, the Net has migrated further away from government control. As the result of a longstanding international consensus, it has become the greatest deregulatory success story of all time.