The planned launch of the White House’s Alliance for the Future of the Internet has been postponed, following substantial pushback from leading digital rights groups, according to two sources involved in the planning process, including one U.S. official.
The alliance was conceived as a coalition of democracies, making a series of commitments to support the free and open internet, and was initially slated for launch in advance of this week’s Summit for Democracy. But digital freedom advocates argued the plan for the alliance had been rushed and included flawed policy proposals that risked fragmenting the internet, rather than protecting it.
Last Thursday, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told Protocol in an email that the administration was planning to roll out the alliance this week, but wouldn’t specify a launch date. Protocol reported Saturday on the behind-the-scenes scramble to shape the proposal for the alliance. One day later, on Sunday, a U.S. official said, the National Security Council informed the State Department it was postponing the launch.
The White House did not respond to Protocol’s request for comment, and the State Department referred Protocol to the White House.
Digital rights groups, foreign governments and some other U.S. government agencies were initially alarmed by some of the ideas being floated by the White House in an early draft of the proposal for the alliance, which was obtained by Politico. Those ideas included requiring countries to use only “trustworthy” providers for internet infrastructure, which critics read as a promise to swear off Chinese-made infrastructure. Critics also viewed the alliance as somewhat duplicating other ongoing efforts in civil society to push back against authoritarian uses of the internet. Such duplication, they worried, could sideline experts in the field and risk spreading advocacy groups too thin.
Until this weekend, both these groups and also tech industry representatives had been told the launch would happen before the Summit for Democracy. But on Monday, the White House held a briefing with some of the digital rights groups who objected to the initial plan to confirm the launch is being postponed “in part to get more global South feedback and engagement,” one paricipant in the briefing said.
A senior administration official told Protocol last week that the initial vision for the alliance is just a starting point. “We’ve been thinking about this as a high-level set of principles that will help frame a bunch of discussions we hope to have, including with a wide range of outside stakeholders in the coming months, over the first part of next year,” the official said.
The launch is now delayed until January, according to the participant in Monday’s briefing.