Editorial: Internet bill is a gesture worth making

Published May 17, 2013 at 05:00AM

While an official U.S. policy favoring global Internet freedom may not improve things in China or even here at home, adopting one is a gesture worth making. And so the U.S. House of Representatives did this week, approving H.R. 1580 unanimously and sending it on to the Senate.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is in some ways a repeat of an earlier measure that said government, whether the United States, the United Nations or China, should not run the Internet or charge for what appears there. Last year’s measure was a resolution, however, while this year’s would become law if passed by the Senate and signed by the president. Both say regulation should be left to a collection of nonregulatory institutions, in whose hands it now lies, and use of it should remain free.

It’s a notion not popular in many countries outside the U.S. Last year at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, some 86 nations signed a treaty giving the International Telecommunications Union authority to oversee some aspects of the Internet. Another 55, including the U.S. and Canada, did not sign the treaty.

Those supporting the shift say there’s nothing particularly sinister about it. It gives countries more explicit power to regulate the Internet within their own borders, but they’ve been exercising the same implicit power for years, according to an Australian news website, theconversation.com. China offers the most visible example of a government determined to control what its people see and say on the Internet, and this won’t change that.

There’s another issue, however, and that’s money. The Internet has, historically, been free. That’s good for large, wealthy nations like the United States, less so for smaller, poorer countries. If the latter could charge to carry commercial content — think Google or Facebook — they could use what they collect to expand their own national Internet capabilities.

Either way, we agree that the best Internet for the greatest number of people in the world is the most free, both in terms of control and in terms of ability to use it. Walden’s measure simply makes that notion official.