Right now no country - or group of countries - controls the Internet. But there are quite a few authoritarian countries that are banding together to try to change that situation.
In Monday's Wall Street Journal, L. Gordon Crovitz wrote about efforts by Russia, China, Iran and others to turn control of the Internet over to the International Telecommunications Union - an obscure United Nations agency that used to establish rules, regulations and fees for phone calls between countries.
The ITU's glory days were back in the days of voice-only phone calls. According to Crovitz, it last drafted a treaty back in 1988. It currently has nothing to do with the Internet.
Crovitz explained that the Internet today is an informal link of 40,000 networks, interconnecting over 425,000 routes. The Internet Society is made up of nongovernmental groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force, Internet Architect Board and the Internet Research Task Force. Those groups provide technical standards, and most agreements are on an informal, almost handshake-like basis.
Crovitz points out that because of its self-regulating nature, no permission is needed to launch a website.
That, of course, is the problem as far as the authoritarians are concerned. Right now, it is far too easy for people opposing oppressive regimes to have their views aired. Crovitz mentions, for example, that Russia and Iran want a rule that allows them to monitor and censor all Internet traffic in their countries.
Crovitz argues that the main job for U.S. representatives at the ITU conference next week is to make the case for maintaining a free and open Internet.
One might not like all aspects of a completely unregulated Internet. But, think of the alternative. Governments have no business exerting control over the Web.
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.