I'm not usually a free market fundamentalist. I believe that government has a role in providing a level playing field for corporations, to protect natural resources, to ensure minimum standards for workers, and to guard against monopolies and other unfair restraints on trade.
But I have to agree with Fox News columnist Arthur Herman on one thing: The Internet has been developing just fine, and we don't need more government intervention.
Some countries, including China and Russia, are backing proposals that would give individual governments more control over the Internet, and they're pushing this agenda at a United Nations meeting in Dubai this month -- a meeting that is closed to the public, by the way.
Today, non-profit, non-governmental organizations such as the World Wide Web Consortium and ICAAN make major policy decisions about the Internet.
That doesn't mean local governments can't regulate the Internet at all. Governments can, and do, regulate Internet service providers, prohibit copyright and trademark infringement and child pornography, and much more. Some countries take that even further: China requires all Chinese websites to register with the government and comply with censorship instructions. That nation's government regularly restricts access to foreign news sources and social networking sites. And Syria completely shut down the Internet last Thursday after rebels seemed to gain ground in the country's ongoing civil war.
But some governments want to expand their oversight of the Internet even further, by banning anonymity from the Internet, or requiring content providers such as media organizations to pay to transmit over the Net.
Internet luminaries are reacting with alarm. Google VP and Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf -- one of the key people who helped create the Internet -- is urging people to sign a petition against these attempts to expand local governmental control over the Internet.
When the International Telecommunications Union met in Dubai on Dec. 4, government regulators were looking to create a treaty that will harm the Internet, wrote Mozilla chief counsel Harvey Anderson.
According to the ITU, revisions to the existing treaty -- WCIT-12 -- are necessary to help expand access to the Internet throughout the developing world.
But that's just not true, World Wide Web inventor and W3C director Tim Berners-Lee told the BBC on Tuesday.
It seems that at the moment the growth of the Internet is spectacular and the developing countries have the highest growth rate. Today connectivity is clearly becoming ubiquitous -- we need to look at other concerns such as net neutrality and whether governments spy on the Internet and whether they block it.
Under one proposal, for example, it would be legal for a country like Syria to turn off all Internet access in the country -- as long as the country notified the UN Secretary General of the suspension. The proposal, known as TD 54, was leaked and is available to the public.
There's also a proposal by European Telecommunications Network Operators to allow telecoms to charge for priority traffic. In response, the non-profit Center for Democracy & Technology wrote: "Such a change would stifle innovation by increasing barriers to entry into online content markets."
The public outcry has been huge. Almost 3 million people have signed a petition for a “free and open web.”
A similar petition to “protect global Internet freedom” has been signed by more than 1,400 organizations in 177 countries -- including groups like the Albanian Institute of Science, India's Centre for Internet and Society, and Indonesia's Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.
This outcry has already led to one positive effect: Leaders of the government delegations decided to open the plenary sessions of the conference to the public.
The conference will continue until December 14.
So unless you're a telecommunications company looking to make big bucks from charging fees for priority traffic or a government seeking more control over the Net, you still have time to put pressure on your political representatives to do the right thing.
— Maria Korolov is president of Trombly International, an editorial services company that provides coverage of emerging technologies and markets. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years.