Its defenders call the reigning order "the multi-stakeholder model." It certainly has its problems. But it has the virtue of transparency -- unlike the ITU (although, to its credit, the WCIT has responded to its critics by allowing a live webcast of the proceedings). It's also a model that has been largely vindicated by experience; after all, it's worked pretty well so far.
It's striking, in fact, that the Europeans, who don't necessarily side with Washington on many issues nowadays and who tend to be quite fond of multilateral forums, have supported the United States in its efforts to maintain the Internet status quo.
None of this, of course, means that there aren't threats to Internet freedom out there today -- and yes, even in America itself. Syracuse's Mueller notes that no other government in the world has surveillance resources to compare with Washington's. Powerful U.S. content providers are constantly lobbying to shape the web according to their interests. SOPA and PIPA have been defeated for the moment, but no one should doubt that their sponsors in the business world will seize the next possible opening to punish online copyright infringement in the most draconian of ways.
We all have an interest in keeping the system of Internet administration as open as possible -- and, if anything, making it even more decentralized. Reforming ICANN, which has attracted its own share of controversy lately, might be a start. But handing over greater control of the Internet to governments would definitely be a move in the wrong direction.
Speaking of which, it would be interesting to hear what Russian and Chinese Internet users, as opposed to their governments, have to say on these matters. Funnily enough, no one in Moscow or Beijing seems to be asking them. Even in democratic India, for that matter, technologists and activists have scolded officials for shutting them out of deliberations before the Dubai conference -- and rightly so. "The Internet is not a government-run telephone network," says Werbach. "Why is that only governments that should make these decisions?" It's a good question. And the answer is that they shouldn't.