WCIT Treaty Talks End in Dubai With Walkout of U.S., Allies

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-12-15

WCIT Treaty Talks End in Dubai With Walkout of U.S., Allies

NEWS ANALYSIS: The U.S. delegation objects to the inclusion of any terms relating to Internet governance in the proposed World Conference on International Telecommunications treaty causing the U.S. and 55 other nations to refuse to sign.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT ) conference, which has been going on for two weeks in Dubai, ended on Dec. 14, when the United States and 55 other nations left the meeting without signing the treaty.

The reason for the walkout of WCIT attendees was wording added to the proposed treaty at the last minute that would expand the scope of the ITR (International Telecommunications Regulations) to include the Internet.

The U.S. delegation, along with several allies including the UK, Australia and Canada, refused to sign the treaty and walked out of the conference before the closing ceremonies.

“The United States today has announced that it cannot sign the revised international telecommunication regulations in their current form,” Ambassador Terry Kramer told a press conference after the meeting.

“Throughout the WCIT, the U.S. and other like-minded governments have worked consistently and unwaveringly to maintain and enhance an environment for success for the international telecommunications and Internet sectors. The United States has consistently believed, and continues to believe, that the ITRs should be a high-level document and that the scope of the treaty does not extend to internet governance or content. Other administrations have made it clear that they believe the treaty should be extended to cover those issues, and so we cannot be part of that consensus,” Kramer said.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who was deeply involved with the WCIT meetings, agreed with the action. “Our global policies must ensure a virtuous cycle of innovation and investment, driven by a free and open Internet. The Internet has thrived over the past two decades thanks to the free flow of data and information, and the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance,” Genachowski said in a prepared statement.

“It is therefore regrettable that discussions at the WCIT turned to the creation of a new layer of international Internet regulation, instead of focusing on the need to spur global growth through the expansion of international telecommunications networks. The U.S. and a substantial number of other like-minded nations simply could not sign such a treaty. We will remain strong and vigilant advocates for a free and open Internet. I thank Ambassador Kramer, FCC staff, and the rest of the U.S. delegation for their hard work and tireless efforts at the WCIT,” Genachowski said.

The decision by the US delegation comes as no surprise following repeated statements by the U.S. and several of its allies that the UN body with responsibility for communications, the International Telecommunications Union should have no role in Internet governance.

During most of the meeting, it appeared that this would be the case, but then in an evening meeting of the WCIT the delegates were asked to vote at the last minute on a draft resolution that would allow countries to discuss international Internet-related technical, development and public-policy issues. The draft that was voted on also included wording calling on governments to foster an enabling environment for greater growth of the Internet.

WCIT Treaty Talks End iin Dubai With Walkout of U.S., Allies

The 55 countries that refused to sign object both to the ITU having a role in running the Internet and they object especially to the ITU, an agency of the United Nations, having a role in controlling public policy as it relates to the Internet.

According to a document released by the U.S. Department of State, 70 nations in Africa, the Middle East, China and Russia voted in favor of adding the resolution to the treaty. Over 55 countries voted against the change, and have said that they will not sign the treaty.

“We believe these provisions reflect an attempt by some governments to regulate the Internet and its content, potentially paving the way for abuse of power, censorship and repression,” the State Department said in the statement released to eWEEK. “We stand on one of our most cherished of principles, free expression, in not signing this treaty and seeking more positive outcomes in the future that support the open and innovative Internet. We believe an open Internet also is important for commercial growth in all parts of the world.”

Ambassador Kramer explained what this all means from the U.S. viewpoint in his closing speech to the WCIT, which was provided to eWEEK by a State Department spokesperson. “There are a number of issues that were critical to the United States in these negotiations. Number one, recognized operating agencies versus operating agencies. The United States consistently sought to clarify that the treaty would not apply to internet service providers or governments or private network operators.

“Number two, spam. The United States position remains that spam is a form of content and that regulating it inevitably opens the door to regulation of other forms of content, including political and cultural speech.

“Number three, network security. The United States continues to believe that the ITRs are not a useful venue for addressing security issues and cannot accede to vague commitments that would have significant implications but few practical improvements on security.

“Number four, internet governance. In several proposals, it was clear that some administrations were seeking to insert government control over Internet governance, specifically Internet naming and addressing functions. We continue to believe these issues can only be legitimately handled through multi-stakeholder organizations.

“And finally, number five, the Internet resolution. This document represented a direct extension of scope into the internet and of the ITU’s role therein despite earlier assertions from Secretary General Hamadoun Toure that the WCIT would not address internet issues.”

In other words, the U.S. was true to its word. When the ITU decided it wanted to govern the Internet, the U.S. and its allies stepped in to prevent it. While 70 countries signed the treaty, there’s nothing they can do to enforce it and nothing they can do to make it happen without the U.S. Basically, in a last minute attempt at a power grab, the ITU shot itself in the foot.

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