U.N. could tax U.S.-based Web sites, leaked docs show

Global Internet tax suggested by European network operators, who want Apple, Google, and other Web companies to pay to deliver content, is proposed for debate at a U.N. agency in December.

Declan McCullagh and Larry Downes
CNET
6/7/2012

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 the Internet Society, says about the proposed Internet taxes. “It could create an enormous amount of legal uncertainty and commercial uncertainty.”…

…Robert McDowell, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission who wrote an article (PDF) in the Wall Street Journal in February titled “The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom,” appeared to reference the ETNO’s proposal for Internet taxes during last week’s congressional hearing.

Proposals that foreign governments have pitched to him personally would “use international mandates to charge certain Web destinations on a ‘per-click’ basis to fund the build-out of broadband infrastructure across the globe,” McDowell said. “Google, Tunes, Facebook, and Netflix are mentioned most often as prime sources of funding.”

They could also allow “governments to monitor and restrict content or impose economic costs upon international data flows,” added Ambassador Philip Verveer, a deputy assistant secretary of state…

…This isn’t the first time that a U.N. agency will consider the idea of Internet taxes…

The entire article is at CNET

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