Don’t Let Government Break the Internet

It’s great to hear just about anybody speak on Internet freedom, but U.S. Representative Steve Scalise did the topic justice at this year’s State of the Net Conference in Washington, DC.

Discussions at the highly-anticipated conference ranged from Big Data and the Cloud—perhaps the most used and least understood terms of 2013—to a matter that hits close to home for us all: the future of a free and open Internet.

The world watched last month as legislators, academics, and government officials rallied in support of a common value at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). At the international conference held in Dubai, the U.S.—joined by more than 80 countries spanning the map from Canada to Australia—showed the world that Internet freedom ranks as a top U.S. priority. But, Rep. Scalise suggests that it is time the United States apply this thinking back at home—not just in the global arena.

Keeping Internet freedom close to heart is no easy task and will require regulatory humility and restraint. Rep. Scalise recommends that legislators in the coming year seek to place government as a facilitator of the multi-stakeholder process for Internet governance, rather than a replacement for it. According to Scalise, the first steps towards this end are “taking a look at our domestic policies through the lens of Internet freedom,” “eliminating outdated regulations,” and “rejecting new ones that muddle message.”

Issues will undoubtedly emerge as America continues to transition towards all Internet Protocol (IP) networks and conducting business online. Dealing with how web-based businesses operate will continue to be a struggle, but Scalise reminds legislators that keeping Internet freedom close to heart entails “always remembering that startups are staffed by entrepreneurs and engineers, not compliance officers and attorneys” and “that mom-and-pop operations are not just brick-and-mortar but web-and-blog based nowadays.”

Consumer privacy and cybersecurity issues will not cease to exist either, but in order to protect against tunnel vision, Rep. Scalise advised policymakers to remember that well-intentioned policies often have unintended consequences. With every policy, Scalise encouraged legislators to be “always asking what we are losing if proposals come forward, not only what we’re trying to achieve.”

Over the past thirty years the Internet has given Americans immeasurable economic and social benefits, all in the absence of heavy-handed government regulation. Leveraging policies to systematically shift authority away from the widely accepted multi-stakeholder approach and into the hands of elected officials would be a mistake. In fact, Scalise would argue that “one key reason why the Internet has flourished since its commercialization in the early 90s is because the government hasn’t figured out how to regulate it.”

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