Marco Rubio: Keep the Internet free


The Internet’s impact around the globe is staggering. It has connected people and ideas in ways not previously imagined. Just last year, authoritarian rulers were overthrown in North Africa and the Middle East by popular uprisings. These events have been greatly aided by their people’s access to the Internet, which helped them share ideas, organize demonstrations and highlight repressive government actions in real time.

We need to protect fundamental Internet freedoms in the hope that greater connectivity will help bring greater prosperity to people around the world while helping the oppressed achieve what the Arab Spring achieved for the people in the Middle East and North Africa.

If we look just 90 miles from the shores of Florida, to the homeland of my parents and grandparents, we see what the tyrannical Castro brothers have done to all Cubans not just through dictatorship but with control of technology and the Internet. The average citizen is strictly prohibited from using Google, YouTube and blogs. Only the government elite and foreigners have access to the Internet in Cuba, as well as the few who might illegally access a limited piece of the Internet.

Or look to China, which recently announced plans to tighten government control over the Internet. The new rules require all users of microblogs like Twitter to register with their real names, and all forums, blogs and microblogs must meet government approval. The communist government is clearly concerned about the Internet’s power to connect and influence people. Rather than allowing the Chinese people to take advantage of new innovations and Internet services, the government has issued stricter rules to maintain more control and restrict freedom of information.

It is no surprise that China is one of the nations due to call for more international control over the Internet at the coming World Conference on International Telecommunications in December, when 193 countries are to meet in Dubai to update the International Telecommunications Regulations.

Some countries view this meeting as an opportunity to give the United Nations and International Telecommunications Union unprecedented controls over Internet governance. Last year, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan proposed an “international code of conduct” in an attempt to claim greater control over the Internet.

A top-down, international regulatory model goes against the very nature of the Internet. An international regulatory regime, and the politics and red tape that go with it, directly conflict with the Internet’s purpose of sharing ideas and connecting people. Governments and international bodies cannot keep pace with the Internet, and they should not try to do so.

The current bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model has ensured the Internet’s success and helped safeguard it from international or state control. The Internet we know today — which has transformed societies and economies around the world — has thrived because it is not controlled by governments and is open, allowing for continued innovation and information sharing.

To ensure this continues, the United States must be a leader. We cannot sit idly by as Internet freedom around the world is threatened. I have introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning some countries’ efforts to control the Internet and urging the Obama administration to oppose these actions. The House recently passed a similar resolution by 414-0. It is time for the Senate to act.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should pass this resolution without delay, and we must get the Senate’s full weight behind it. Given the Internet’s impact on commerce and the exercise of basic freedoms, we must proactively assert our interests in keeping the Internet free and prevent enemies of freedom from dictating its future.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) serves as a member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

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