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U.S. official: If the UN keeps trying to regulate the Web, we should consider pulling funding

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. (WashingtonPostLive Production / The Washington Post)
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The United States should consider withdrawing its funding from the International Telecommunications Union if the UN agency keeps trying to assert regulatory authority over the Internet, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Ajit Pai, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, hinted that the intergovernmental body's proposed rules — which critics say gives governments more power to censor the Web — may have put the group's future in jeopardy.

"If the organization decides to become an international regulatory authority for the Internet," he said at a Washington conference for gay and lesbian technology advocates, "we will have to ask ourselves whether the United States should remain one of its top two funders."

The United States contributes nearly $11 million a year to the ITU, a figure that accounts for 7.7 percent of the agency's budget. Japan is the only other country to donate as much.

Last year, the United States and dozens of other countries walked away from an ITU plan that would have targeted spam and enhanced broadband access in developing countries, largely over a separate provision that would have allowed governments to manage their domestic Internets more intensively. Free-speech advocates worried that the rule would have given countries such as Russia and China greater freedom to suppress politically sensitive content.

In response, one opposition organization launched a bid to defund the ITU. The North American Network Operators' Group started a White House petition in January, but failed to attract enough co-signers to require a response from the Obama administration.

Pai is among the first U.S. officials to publicly sympathize with the idea. The next meeting of the ITU isn't until next year in Busan, South Korea. But that gives anti-ITU activists plenty of time to build support for the movement.