- - Monday, October 20, 2014

International bureaucrats have schemed for years to put the Internet under the thumb of the United Nations. President Obama rightly tells them to knock it off, and we applaud him for it. He ought to send the same message to his chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Regulators from across the world gather this week in South Korea, where proposals are circulating at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union to entrust oversight of Internet services to the United Nations. The Obama administration’s assurances sound refreshingly cogent.

“You can rest assured that the United States will oppose these efforts at every turn,” says Penny Pritzker, the U.S. secretary of commerce. “We know that those interested in government control tend to be countries that censor content and stifle the free flow of information. We will be clear that these steps are contrary to our belief in the value of free speech — whether on the Internet, in society, in the public sphere — both here at home and abroad.” We couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, the administration’s commendable words abroad are undermined by action at home, where the FCC wants to apply rules from the era of rotary-dial telephones to the Internet. Under the misleading banner of “net neutrality,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposes to declare high-speed Internet subject to agency regulations, even though Congress explicitly exempted online services from government red tape.

Mr. Wheeler employs the word games that Russia, China and Saudi Arabia used in a proposal two years ago to sweep digital communications into an obsolete regulatory framework. Those nations wanted the International Telecommunications Union to strengthen the power of sovereign governments to shape the Internet within their borders. Authoritarian regimes want to cut off the ability of dissidents to spread their message. The world’s strongest democracies — the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, India and Australia — all said no to the proposed treaty.

American negotiators had the backing of a unanimous House and Senate, which declared that “the consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States [is] to promote a global Internet free from government control, and preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.” Unfortunately, America’s negotiating hand and credibility have since been weakened by the revelations that the National Security Agency has been snooping on everyone’s emails and eavesdropping on the telephone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

How can international negotiators trust U.S. government agencies that have been caught lying so boldly about their Internet meddling? How can the U.S. position of “hands off” be taken seriously when Mr. Obama’s chief telecommunications regulator wants to treat the Internet as though it were a telephone?

The United States should apply the same freedom principles abroad to Internet governance at home. Top-down government regulation means death to free expression, universal participation and innovation, whether it’s regulation by the International Telecommunications Union or the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. It’s all bad.

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