In January, several million Americans contacted Congress to stop passage of two bills that would have destroyed Internet freedom and stifled innovation. The twin bills, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), were meant to counter Internet piracy, a very real problem. But they both used a sledgehammer when a scalpel was necessary. The legislation would have done more than block piracy – they would have hurt Internet users’ ability to get content from their favorite websites and prevented new websites from being created.
The world needs a similar citizen uprising to stop another well-meaning but harmful attack on the ability of Internet users to access websites outside their home countries. A United Nations body, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), will be meeting in December in Dubai to consider at least two proposals which would dramatically affect the ability of Internet users to get the content they want to receive over the Internet.
One proposal would require that a website owner or service provider pay a fee as a “sending party” to the government of any country for the country’s citizens to view the content. This would mean that popular websites like Khan Academy or BBC World would not be available to people outside their native countries unless the website or service provider paid a fee to the user’s country. This would hurt people in developing countries who hunger for access to quality news and education.
The countries that are advocating for this were getting money for international phone calls and have seen that revenue fall off. They see foreign website owners and service providers as having cash to fill the gap in declining long distance telephone revenue. They say they need this money to pay for their broadband infrastructure. But there are other proven ways to encourage quick broadband adoption, including liberalizing market access, encouraging broadband competition, providing spectrum awards and insisting on transparency of ownership of awardees of government telecommunications contracts.
Another proposal up for vote at the ITU meeting would allow governments or some type of multi-government body to use “security” or other justifications to create new rules to regulate the Internet.
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