A U.S. House of Representatives committee has told the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to keep its hands off the Internet.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Wednesday to approve House Concurrent Resolution 127, which urges President Barack Obama's administration to continue to stress that it is the "consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control."
U.S. lawmakers and some Internet advocates are worried that some member countries of the ITU will push for new Internet taxes or U.N. control of the Internet during a December treaty-writing meeting of the ITU in Dubai.
ITU observers in the U.S. say they expect proposals that will create new taxes in the form of Internet traffic termination fees and efforts to transfer Internet governance from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and other organizations to the U.N. The ITU has not made member proposals public, although the website WCITleaks.org has posted some leaked documents.
The House resolution, sponsored by Representative Mary Bono Mack, a California Republican, passed the committee by voice vote. Proposals likely to come before the ITU would "diminish the freedom of expression on the Internet in favor of government control over content," the resolution said.
The upcoming World Conference On International Telecommunications could give some countries an opening to "provide the United Nations with unprecedented new authority over the management of the Internet," Bono Mack said in a statement.
"In many ways, we're facing a referendum on the future of the Internet," she added. "A vote for my resolution is a vote to keep the Internet free from government control and to prevent Russia, China and other nations from succeeding in giving the U.N. unprecedented power over Web content and infrastructure."
The resolution had bipartisan support. The current approach to governance, with many groups involved, has created an Internet platform "supporting thousands of innovative companies, applications and services, not just in the United States but in communities around the world," said Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat.
Proposals during the ITU meeting could "signify a fundamental departure" from the way the Internet is governed, Eshoo said during a hearing Tuesday.
Several U.S. technology trade groups praised the committee for passing the resolution.
"Some in the Internet community have downplayed the threat posed by the U.N., but it seems like every day that another UN member state gives us reason to doubt their commitment to Internet freedom," Steve DelBianco, executive director of e-commerce trade group NetChoice, said in an email.
DelBianco pointed to a recently passed law in Ethiopia that makes it a crime to use the Internet to make voice calls.
Before moving to a style of Internet governance where every nation can push for new policies, "we should have a sober understanding that many of those governments will vote to have the U.N. make the rules," he added.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]