The world-wide plot against the Internet

Bureaucrats from around the world will gather behind closed doors in Dubai next week to plot an end to the Internet as we know it — or so Washington would have you believe.

Hill lawmakers warn that the 120-plus U.S. delegation needs to fend off efforts by China, Russia and developing nations to use a United Nations branch organization to censor or tax the Net. Google is orchestrating an online petition drive, and even Grover Norquist is involved.

The hype is a perfect storm for Matt Drudge: The U.N. will take over the Internet — unless you act fast.

“It was very important for the United States to send a shot across the bow and let countries like China and Russia know that we are onto the games they’re trying to play,” said Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who led a successful effort to pass a resolution against the interference in August. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) backed a companion measure in the Senate.

What’s more likely — almost certain to happen, really — is that the World Conference on International Telecommunications will fail to change much of anything about the way the Web works or who cashes in during the two weeks of meetings that start Monday in this Middle Eastern enclave.

But paranoia runs deep in D.C. — almost as deep as the pockets of the tech companies and front groups that don’t want to take any chance that the U.S. government would endorse a treaty that would scramble their business models.

Bruce Mehlman, a tech lobbyist whose clients include Red Hat, said “vigilance against such incursions” of government regulation “will be the eternal price of liberty.”

Google’s petition drive asks supporters to sign this statement: “A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice.”

Even Norquist is in on the act. The Digital Liberty division of his Americans for Tax Reform machine warns that China, Russia and Brazil will stop at nothing in their efforts to clamp down on the Internet.

But as it turns out, the Internet is not about to be dismantled.

In a consensus-driven process, member states of the International Telecommunications Union, a branch of the U.N., will negotiate a new treaty on international telecommunication regulations. It’s only one vote per country, and, by definition, that will weed out extreme proposals, experts say.

At the end of the day, the U.S. doesn’t have to sign the treaty — it’s all voluntary.

So why all the hysteria about the Dubai confab?

“The concern over WCIT was never that it would be the killing blow but rather the latest, and by no means the last, effort by repressive governments to kill the Internet any way they can,” said Larry Downes, a tech consultant and one of the preeminent rabble-rousers of doom surrounding the treaty negotiations.

As Danielle Coffey, a government affairs executive at the Telecommunications Industry Association put it: “You can kill a document, but you can’t kill an idea.”

Web and telecom companies and public officials have serious concerns about the political and economic motives of other countries when it comes to the Internet. The Dubai conference presents an opportunity for states to get buy-in to principals that could legitimize censorship, to regulate global Web commerce to boost their bottom line, or to do both.

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