The Corner

The U.N. Seeks to Tax the Internet

The U.N. recently revived its long-held desire to take control of the Internet. It is unlikely to get its way. So, led by European nations — who else? — it has hit upon another means by which to exercise its influence: Taxes. CNET reports:

The United Nations is considering a new Internet tax targeting the largest Web content providers, including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Netflix, that could cripple their ability to reach users in developing nations.

The European proposal, offered for debate at a December meeting of a U.N. agency called the International Telecommunication Union, would amend an existing telecommunications treaty by imposing heavy costs on popular Web sites and their network providers for the privilege of serving non-U.S. users, according to newly leaked documents.

The documents (No. 1 No. 2) punctuate warnings that the Obama administration and Republican members of Congress raised last week about how secret negotiations at the ITU over an international communications treaty could result in a radical re-engineering of the Internet ecosystem and allow governments to monitor or restrict their citizens’ online activities.

“It’s extremely worrisome,” Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at theInternet Society, says about the proposed Internet taxes. “It could create an enormous amount of legal uncertainty and commercial uncertainty.”

As I noted last month:

The current system has served extremely well, allowing the Internet to flourish and grow with neither the dead hand of government interference holding it back nor baleful tyrants attempting to shape its structure in their own image. It is just 22 years since British computer engineer Tim Berners-Lee developed the language and architecture behind the World Wide Web and turned an electronic delivery mechanism that the American government had been developing since the 1960s into an information system with almost unlimited potential. His idea has caught on. The number of websites has grown from just 50 in 1992 to almost 377 million in mid-2012. In 1995, there were just 16 million Internet users; now, there are 2.28 billion. Such growth is a glowing testament to the salutary neglect of American stewardship.

Despite this sterling record, the United Nations seeks the opportunity to institute an unnecessary tax scheme designed by Europeans. What could possibly go wrong?

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