Analysis US Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda has blown up hyperbolic claims that enforcing net neutrality rules in America could lead to the United Nations taking control of the internet.
Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, is strongly in favor of net neutrality, arguing that it is needed to protect the internet as we know it at home.
He serves as Uncle Sam's ambassador to the UN's International Telecommunication Union, which coordinates crucial stuff like the global use of radio frequencies, satellite orbits and communications infrastructure.
Significantly, given that Sepulveda is the US official in charge of international telecoms policy, he says that recent claims that net neutrality rules would limit the US government's ability to push back against other governments meddling with the web are "fundamentally flawed."
"There is a distinction between internet access and the content and services delivered over the internet, which is what people generally think of as the internet," he notes in an opinion article in this month's WiReD mag.
"We remain steadfast in opposing regulation of that content or services through international multilateral bodies."
The article comes amid an increasingly rancorous build-up to expected net neutrality rules, which should be provided to commissioners at US watchdog the FCC on 12 February for a vote on 26 February.
The FCC has made it clear it intends to put cable companies under so-called Title II legislation, which would give the government more powers over regulating citizens' internet access. That in turn has sparked an effort by the cable industry, through Republicans in Congress, to pass legislation that would address some of the main net neutrality concerns while also limiting the FCC's authority.
Alongside that effort, a range of arguments have been put forward for why net neutrality could be damaging, including a negative impact on broadband rollout (subsequently undermined by a public statement from Sprint and Google), and the claim that it would undermine the US's stance in the broader global arena.
An op-ed in the Washington Post by policy wonk Larry Downes last week argued: "The public utility approach would provide opponents of a free and open Internet ample opportunity to call out US efforts as hypocritical, unnecessarily undermining our authority."
Comcast also argued in a filing with the FCC that "reclassification could have broader implications globally and weaken the United States’ positions regarding international Internet regulation." New rules "could undermine the United States’ resistance to greater oversight of the Internet by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union."
Sepulveda's response to that line of thinking was that net neutrality fits squarely with the US international position:
The fight for network neutrality, like the fight for an open and free internet, is a clarion call for the world’s internet users and content creators to defend what has made the internet one of the world’s greatest enablers of global social and economic progress.
In both of these efforts, the United States will lead—at home, by ensuring that service providers cannot pick winners and losers, and abroad, by ensuring that as more and more people get access to the internet, they are able to take advantage of all of its benefits to innovate, collaborate, and communicate with the rest of the world.
Sepulveda's position is, of course, just as partisan as his opponents but it does remove one more argument against net neutrality.
As we see it, the only strong arguments remaining against FCC Title II rules are: ongoing legal uncertainty due to the almost certain legal challenge that the rules will face from the cable companies; and concerns that the FCC will be tempted to give itself too much power by not removing (forebearing) enough clauses from America's outdated communications legislation.
There is, of course, the argument that such a huge movement of control from the private to the public sector should go through a more thoughtful and considered process, but no one it seems is in favor of that approach. ®
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