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Is it time for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to be dismantled? At an event titled “Who Should Govern the Internet?” held by the New America Foundation on Nov. 29th, Andrew McLaughlin, former Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the White House, gave his answer to just that question: ‘yes.’ 

Broadband for America has closely followed developments surrounding the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) taking place this week where the United Nations (UN) agency could be granted jurisdiction over the online universe. Many fear altering the current multi-stakeholder governance model will destroy the open nature of the World Wide Web and allow governments who fear its uncontrolled nature to censor and control content.

McLaughlin emphasized that the ITU “fosters corruption, monopoly and censorship.” Recent headlines seem to reflect McLaughlin’s concerns.

On Nov. 29th, Ambassador Terry Kramer, the head of the US WCIT delegation, referred to proposals submitted by Russia as ‘shocking.’ He explained that Russia's proposals would let governments "review [Web] content and say that's purely a national matter," raising concerns over online censorship. That same day, a district court in Moscow declared videos by the punk rock band Pussy Riot as ‘extremist’ and ordered Internet providers to block them in Russia. Many have seen the prosecution of the band as politically-motivated, fueling fears that transferring power to the ITU would only increase the ability of the Russian government to regulate Web content and stamp out dissent.

Perhaps even more frightening are reports indicating that the Syrian government, in the midst of a brutal civic conflict, disconnected from the Internet entirely. On Nov. 29th at 12:26 Damascus time, Internet monitoring company Renesys reported all IP addresses in the country served by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment became unreachable. The blackout has been confirmed by network monitoring from Akamai Technologies and Google. According to Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher, over the past few months, there have been a number of short blackouts of Syria's Internet connectivity as the government moved to block dissidents from communicating with the outside world.

It is particularly unfortunate that many governments fear the Internet, given its potential to benefit humanity. Indeed, McLaughlin believes that wireless Internet connectivity may turn out to be the most potent force in alleviating poverty in the world as it empowers individuals to improve their lives. Broadband for America has reported before on the benefits of cloud computing to developing nations, a small but clear example of how the web can advance economic development and increase opportunities for citizens across the globe.

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