First Coffee for November 8, 2005

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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First Coffee for November 8, 2005

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is Crosby, Stills & Nash:

First CoffeeSM wants you to know Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China are making a power grab to control the Internet in the guise of the United Nations.

The U.N. is holding a World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia on Nov. 16 in hopes of pulling off control of the entire World Wide Web.

Republican Senator Norm Coleman, from Minnesota, sounded the alarm in The Wall Street Journal a couple days ago:

It sounds like a Tom Clancy plot. An anonymous group of international technocrats holds secretive meetings in Geneva. Their cover story: devising a blueprint to help the developing world more fully participate in the digital revolution. Their real mission: strategizing to take over management of the Internet from the U.S. and enable the United Nations to dominate and politicize the World Wide Web. Does it sound too bizarre to be true? Regrettably, much of what emanates these days from the U.N. does.

The Internet faces a grave threat. We must defend it. We need to preserve this unprecedented communications and informational medium, which fosters freedom and enterprise. We can not allow the U.N. to control the Internet.

Amen. The U.N. would have great difficulty organizing a two-car funeral, and as Coleman explains, the European Union is endorsing a plan from China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Cuba to “terminate the historic U.S. role in Internet government oversight, relegate both private enterprise and non-governmental organizations to the sidelines, and place a U.N.-dominated group in charge of the Internet’s operation and future.”

Any time China, Iran, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Cuba agree on anything you’ll find First CoffeeSM on whatever the other side is.

Industry observer Declan McCullagh reports that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan claims “The United Nations wants only to ensure the Internet’s global reach, and that effort is at the heart of this summit.”

First CoffeeSM can’t imagine how the U.N. could do anything to further the Internet’s “global reach” beyond what it is now, other than getting nations such as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Cuba to stop censoring it. Here, let’s all hold our breath until that happens.

“Governance of matters related to the Internet, such as spam and cybercrime, is being dealt with in a dispersed and fragmented manner, while the Internet’s infrastructure has been managed in an informal but effective collaboration among private businesses, civil society and the academic and technical communities,” McCullagh reports Annan saying.

One does not find any operational precedent for believing the U.N. could efficiently and fairly run the Internet.

Coleman tells us what’s really going on behind the smooth words of Kofi Annan: “The threat is posed by the U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society taking place later this month in Tunisia. At the WSIS preparatory meeting weeks ago, it became apparent that the agenda had been transformed. Instead of discussing how to place $100 laptops in the hands of the world’s children, the delegates schemed to transfer Internet control into the hands of intrigue-plagued bureaucracies.”

Businesses, those who understand how reality operates, oppose the idea. Ivory-tower academics, such as Hans Klein from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Milton Meuller from Syracuse University, predictably think giving Iran and Cuba some control over the Internet is a pretty good idea. Thank God for gilded, glorified drunk tanks that are ivory towers.

The Internet is rooted in a Defense Department project of the 1960s, but once it got off the ground the DoD gave control of it to civilians, opening it to commerce by the National Science Foundation in 1995. Three years later, the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers assumed governance responsibility under Department of Commerce oversight.

ICANN is scheduled to be fully privatized next year. The U.S. government has virtually no say in how the Internet, which it birthed, is operated. Does anybody believe for three seconds that the governments of Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China would allow the freedom of today’s Internet? If you do, please send your banking information to First CoffeeSM as you have already won the Australian Lottery!

Under the U.N. proposal ICANN’s role would be taken over by the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union, which currently helps out state telephone monopolies most threatened by the voice over Internet protocol revolution by issuing burdensome regulations thwarting VoIP. Inspires confidence here, for sure.

It is pretty difficult today to find examples of the United Nations running anything like the Internet at all, much less doing it well.  Quite simply, it is not structured to do things like that. The only organizations who ever efficiently moved relief supplies to the tsunami victims were the American and Australian navies, once the U.N. took over the whole operation bogged down in red tape and inefficiency, and today relief supplies rot away on docks under U.N supervision.

It’s not that the Internet is currently under the “control” of the American government, and the U.N. merely wants to exchange one governmental agency for another, it’s that there is no real governmental control over the Internet, which is why it works so well as it is.

Sure the U.S. government claims oversight, but it’s rarely invoked. “Since funding the development of the internet in the 1960s, the U.S. government always maintained its claim to have the rights to oversee it,” but “the U.S. government never interfered in ICANN’s operations and decisions,” writes Constantin Gurdgiev, a research fellow at the Policy Institute at Dublin University and a director of the Open Republic Institute who adds “The [U.N.] proposal will replace ICANN with an unaccountable and uncontrollable multinational bureaucracy [with] unlimited powers to regulate international and national commerce, research and freedom of speech.”

What governments like Cuba, Iran, China and Saudi Arabia really want is the power to censor content without being held accountable for doing so, as they currently are. Now there’s at least a measure of international awareness and condemnation. Yet if the U.N. ran things China could veto the creation of, say,,, and other such sites. One cringes imagining what Cuba and Saudi Arabia would do with veto power.

What the European Union wants isn’t so much to stop the sale of Nazi paraphernalia and child pornography over the Internet, as the ability to tax it. This is why you have people such as the European Union commissioner for Internet and media affairs, Viviane Reding, asking for such grotesqueries as “the establishment of an arbitration and dispute resolution mechanism based on international law,” a meaningless concept, but one which the EU could use to tax anything it felt like taxing online.

Brett Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Thatcher Center on Freedom is correct when he writes “The result of a UN-controlled and regulated Internet would be that non-democratic countries that oppose the right to free speech such as China and grasping, anti-market impulses like those of the European Union would have a greater voice in guiding the Internet in a direction away from ‘freedom, education, and innovation.’”

The United States must do what it does best and ensure the Internet stays free.

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