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Democracy & Technology Blog Universal Service for the developing world?

On the eve of a conference in Tunisia to discuss the management of Internet domain names, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development has issued a 276-page report highlighting the existence of a digital divide between developed and developing countries. The report makes some useful observations about how Internet connections are over-regulated and over-taxed in many developing countries.

Then it includes this passage:

Concerns remain, however, about those developing countries, particularly among the least developed countries, that have very limited access to international backbone networks. For reasons both of the small size of their markets and of geographical difficulties, it is unrealistic to expect that domestic liberalization will be enough to bring down the cost of Internet interconnection to levels that enable a significant improvement in Internet affordability. (emphasis added) International cooperation has therefore an important role to play in accompanying and supporting the commercial development of Internet connectivity in these countries.

The conclusion says this:

Policies to promote Internet take-up by households, businesses and public entities by generating a critical mass of Internet users appear to be a more promising means of reducing Internet backbone interconnection costs than ex-ante regulatory intervention.

This is the same rationale used by advocates of Universal Service domestically, and a good example why it is critical to keep the U.N.’s hands off the Internet. Once the U.N. gains control of any piece of the Internet, it can use that authority to impose fees and regulations. French President Jacques Chirac has called for a worldwide tax — er, “Levy of solidarity” — to fund additional aid for developing countries. But he and his allies still lack leverage to make it happen. Control of some piece of the Internet is an obvious solution.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.