As WCIT negotiations drag into the night, Internet remains a sticking point

Also at issue is whether human rights should be addressed

Negotiations on the future governance of international telecommunications will continue through the night at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai.

The international conference is attempting to revise global rules for governing telecoms and the Internet that have not been updated since 1988. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) progress is being made on the document, which must be agreed by consensus. On Wednesday, ITU spokesman Paul Conneally described the discussions as a "rollercoaster ride."

The remaining sticking points are on whether the new rules apply to the Internet and whether human rights should be included in the text.

According to Conneally there seemed to be agreement that the Internet should be mentioned only in terms of fostering its growth, but the preamble text was bogged down over discussion on whether human rights should be included. Those opposed included China, Iran and Malaysia.

In line with the European Union's common negotiating position, Poland, the Netherlands and the U.K. all said the revised International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) should not cover the Internet. They were backed by Kenya, the first African country to take this position.

As the issue was not resolved in Wednesday's plenary session, that section of the text was returned to the ad hoc group chaired by South Africa. The document must be signed on Friday, so it is expected that negotiation will continue until an agreement is reached. Organizers say this could be around 1:00 AM Dubai time on Thursday.

With agreement reached on many sections of the text, two other remaining big issues are quality of service, and naming, number and addressing of telecom services -- articles 3.7 and 3.8 of the text.

Article 3.7's text, "member states shall refrain from taking unilateral and/or discriminatory actions that could impede another member state's access to public international telecommunication networks and services, Internet sites and using resources," was strongly backed by Iran. But the U.S. said this is already dealt with in the UN treaties and is not needed in the ITRs.

Article 3.8's text, "member states shall, if they so elect, be able to manage the naming, numbering, addressing and identification resources used within their territories for international telecommunication" was opposed by E.U. countries as well as Japan. At issue is whether that language can be interpreted as handing control over the Internet to individual national governments.

"While we do not believe that Internet governance should be under the ambit of the ITRs, this does not mean the EU wants to 'set in stone' all current governance practices," said E.U. Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes in her blog. "So, while Europe has a firm line on an open internet, the reality is that our delegations are in Dubai to play a constructive role. The E.U. member states have both Union and national considerations to bear in mind, but we are consistent, coordinated and transparent on essential issues."

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
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