Critics question wording of Internet freedom bill

The Republican bill could limit the U.S. FCC and other agencies, some digital rights groups say

Legislation that would make it official U.S. policy to promote a global Internet "free from government control" could restrict the U.S. Federal Communications Commission from using its authority and prevent law enforcement agencies from taking action against cybercriminals, some critics have said.

Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee objected to the bill during a hearing to amend it Wednesday, after some digital rights groups also raised concerns this week.

Supporters of the bill said it's an attempt to send a clear signal to other countries that the U.S. opposes a takeover of Internet governance by the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union, but critics questioned if the legislation was a back-handed effort to limit the authority of the FCC.

The bill, similar to a sense-of-Congress resolution that passed last year before the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), allows lawmakers to again question the FCC's net neutrality rules and limit the agency's authority in a coming transition to all-IP networks by telecom carriers, said Representative Doris Matsui, a California Democrat.

"This bill will have many unintended consequences on domestic telecom policy," she said. "The bill is about rehashing the debates of the past. The bill is also about prejudicing the debates of the future, specifically concerning the transition to IP-based voice services."

Representative Anna Eshoo, also a California Democrat, asked the Energy and Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee to change the bill from official government policy back to a sense-of-Congress resolution. The subcommittee should also make it clear that its aim is to shield the Internet from the control of international regulatory bodies, not from domestic agencies, she wrote in a letter to subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican.

The current language in the bill "could affect domestic efforts by the United States and our allies to address cybersecurity, combat cybercrimes, maintain public safety, and ensure the free flow of information over the Internet," she wrote.

The bill would make it official U.S. government policy to "promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet."

Republican members of the subcommittee said they were confused about the objections to the bill, when Democratic lawmakers supported the earlier resolution containing similar language. The bill is aimed at preventing an Internet takeover by the ITU, said Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican.

"With all the problems we face domestically and internationally, the last thing we need is to back away from aggressively defending Internet freedom," she said. "Failing to [pass the bill] would send an incredibly bad and discouraging message to the rest of the world and put our innovators here at home in a very difficult position."

Congress must make it clear it opposes international regulations of the Internet, added Walden, author of the bill. Last December's WCIT "was the start, not the end, of international efforts to regulate the Internet," he said. "And just as international opponents of an Internet free from government control are redoubling their efforts so, too, must we."

Earlier Wednesday, in letters to the committee, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association also raised concerns about the language in the bill, offered by Walden.

The ambiguous wording of the bill could be seen as U.S. opposition to international groups working together on Internet issues, CDT and New America said.

"In the United States, consumer protection statutes, antitrust laws, and other state and federal regulations have formed a policy framework aimed at protecting users and promoting competition, both online and off," their letter said. "Just as Congress did not want to cede the United States' ability to institute national policy to an international institution, it should not curtail its own ability to address domestic issues through well-considered national legislation developed by a democratically elected Congress."

The subcommittee will continue its markup of the Internet freedom legislation on Thursday.

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 grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Marsha BlackburnAnna EshooU.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce CommitteeCenter for Democracy and TechnologylegislationgovernmentInternational Telecommunication UnionDoris MatsuiinternetComputer and Communications Industry AssociationGreg WaldenNew America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?