Keep the Internet Free

By Stephen M. Ryan  |  Posted 2005-04-25

In November, a conference will be held in Tunis, Tunisia, under the auspices of the World Summit on the Information Society. At this conference, participants including U.N.-related bureaucrats and representatives from countries such as Cuba, China and Brazil will make a bid to create a new international regime to control the route servers, Domain Name System, IP number registries and other portions of the Internet. This bid for control must itself be controlled if the interests of U.S. citizens and the cause of freedom are not to be put at risk.

Democratically elected governments that favor the current technology-centered Internet governance model and the private-sector businesses that may find themselves taxed to support a new blue-beret Internet authority must step forward with an answer.

Countries such as Cuba and China have a view of Internet governance strongly colored by their power to throttle their citizens right to free expression on the Net. They distrust the current techno-democratic control of the Internet and the powerful and transforming technology it represents. Other countries that cannot supply running water and basic health services dont need to decide how the Internet will be run. Yet such Third World nations may hold the balance of power in Tunis.

In February, I attended the first two days of the Working Group on Internet Governance meeting in Geneva, to which some 75 countries sent delegations. Anti-U.S. sentiments were typically expressed in references to a "single country ... which has a larger and more powerful role than all the others ... and which believes private corporations should control the Internet."

The ITU, a U.N. agency that coordinates telegraph and telephone postal and telegraphic monopolies, seeks a new role in world Internet governance. The ITU claims the Internet is just like, well, the telephone was when it was introduced.

Before any changes are made, we must remember several facts. The Internet has been developed through consensus from the engineering, not the political, community for the past 30 years, and it continues to run in a manner that is effective, efficient and responsive to its users. In addition, the policy processes, while inefficient, have been remarkably open, transparent and inclusive, ensuring that both the public and private sectors can contribute. The result: Today, the Internet functions effectively and brings tremendous value to civil society.

To the degree that concerns exist, they are being addressed in an open, transparent, inclusive manner without the help of a bunch of international bureaucrats who are most adept at eating delicious entrecôte and drinking fine wine in Geneva or elsewhere.

Stephen M. Ryan, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, in Washington, provides lobbying, litigation and counseling services to Internet policy organizations and high-technology corporations in regulated industries. He can be reached at sryan@ Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community and welcomes contributions. Send submissions to

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