Will ACTA effort be wasted?

UPDATE: Intellectual Property Watch (reg. req.) has an excellent piece up on the intersection of the U.S. net neutrality debate, plurilateral trade agreements and the ongoing debates around the world over broadband policy and ISP liability.

Net Neutrality Negotiators wrapped up the 10th round of formal talks on the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) here in Washington on Friday and set the next round of talks for next month, in Japan. According to a statement issued by the U.S. Trade Representative, participants committed to resolving all remaining “substantive issues” at that September meeting.

I’m old enough to remember when they were going to be resolved by the end of 2008. And then in 2009.

The delay hasn’t just postponed whatever benefits might have accrued to copyright and other IPR owners from the treaty in the meantime. It now threatens to suck the treaty’s provisions on “Enforcement Measures in the Digital Environment” into the widening political gyre of the net neutrality debate.

According to the USTR, the parties have committed to releasing the full text of ACTA “before deciding to sign it.” Although the U.S. has officially classified the treaty as an “executive agreement” not requiring ratification by the Senate to become effective, that doesn’t mean it won’t become politicized. Assuming the treaty really is finalized in September, the release of the text should happen just around the time the net neutrality debate — which does involve Congress — is likely to go thermonuclear.

The net neutrality debate began as a self-contained regulatory matter. But as the FCC has dithered, Congress has become more deeply involved, and the issue has become a more deeply partisan one. Earlier this month, even the Tea Party weighed in. While its position in opposition to any net neutrality mandate is largely nonsensical, given the group’s professed beliefs on other issues, its active involvement would likely scuttle any hope that a sensible policy could emerge.

Should Republicans take control of one or more house of Congress this fall, as seems likely, the stage would be set for a white-hot clash over net neutrality among a Democratic-controlled FCC, a partisan Democratic minority on the Hill and a tea-fueled, anti-regulatory GOP majority.

Into that volatile mix could now fall the text of ACTA, with provisions bearing on the role of ISPs in policing infringing Internet traffic. Not exactly ideal timing for proponents of ACTA.

It won’t help that the EU, where ACTA is highly controversial, is also in the midst of a political debate over net neutrality. Or that Canada is in the midst of a ferocious debate over a proposed new digital copyright law.

Get ready to rumble.

Further reading:

Michael Geist on ACTA

Tea Party Letter on Net Neutrality