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 newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags internetlegislationCenter for Democracy and TechnologyInternational Telecommunication UnionComputer and Communications Industry AssociationU.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce CommitteeAnna EshooDoris MatsuiMarsha BlackburnGreg WaldenNew America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute

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

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?