The United States vs Russia for the future of the Internet

US officials are escalating a campaign to defeat a Russian candidate for a United Nations agency that can determine the extent to which governments control the Internet.

The Big Picture: Russia’s designs on the unknown agency raise the stakes what the Russian government’s vision of the Internet could mean for the rest of the world, particularly after its invasion of Ukraine.

  • “You don’t have to look very far to understand, in this day and age of geopolitics, how important it is to have the right kinds of open communication networks,” said Alan Davidson, president of the National Communications and Information Administration. Axios.
  • “Part of the reason we can see what we see on Earth [in Ukraine] It is because we have open communications.”

playing condition: The United States presents a candidate to lead the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ telecommunications agency.

  • If elected, Doreen Bogdan Martin will be the first woman to hold the position of Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union and the first American leader since the 1960s.
  • Her competitor is the Russian candidate Rashid Ismailov, who previously worked for the Russian government and Huawei, as well as Nokia and Ericsson.

News Leadership: FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworsel is campaigning for Bogdan Martin during a trip to Europe this week, where she visited the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the World Telecommunication Standardization Association in Geneva.

  • A government official told Axios that Rosenworsel is meeting with delegations from Asia, Latin America and Europe to advance the American candidate.

why does it matter: There is a battle brewing over how much role the ITU and governments should play over Internet standards and protocols, with China and Russia calling for the ITU to have more control over how the Internet works.

  • Seeing China and Russia would “encourage governments to exercise greater control over who is allowed to use the internet, how it is allowed to be used and whether or not there should be a free flow of information,” David Gross, former ambassador for international communications policy, said Axios .
  • This contrasts with the Western “bottom-up approach” of technologists, civil society groups, and others defining Internet standards and protocols.

How it works: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization, coordinates the Internet’s address system and other technical operations.

  • But the leaders of Russia and China have said the ITU should be a venue for negotiations about how the Internet will work.
  • Gross said this “multilateral approach” means that “the government should be the one making these decisions.”

The plot: The vote will be taken by secret ballot this fall at the Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union in Bucharest by the 193 member states. Each country has one vote.

  • Bogdan Martin has worked for the ITU for nearly 30 years, lives in Europe and is seen as a global citizen – a boon for an American candidate taking on an international role.
  • “Things are very much done based on consensus in the ITU, so she knows how to achieve that consensus,” Susan Ness, a former FCC commissioner and a respected fellow at the German Marshall Fund, told Axios. “But make no mistake, controlling the Internet is a crucial question.”

Yes, but: The Russian and Chinese vision of more government oversight and insight into Internet operations may attract other member states as well.

  • ICANN’s roots as an American organization have led many other countries to argue that the United Nations should take on more of its functions.
  • “We are very concerned about which direction the ITU might move under this kind of guidance from someone who comes from a more authoritarian view of telecommunications,” Davidson told Axios.
  • “We believe that there are actually elections that involve a lot more risk than you would normally find in a standards body. That’s why the United States government is putting so much energy into supporting this historic candidate.”