US, UK and other countries won't sign telecom treaty

An agreement among the majority of countries includes provisions about Internet governance and content

The U.S., U.K. and Canadian delegations to a worldwide telecom treaty-writing meeting will not ratify a resolution approved by the majority of countries because regulations will include provisions on Internet governance and content.

Negotiations at the International Telecommunication Union's World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) in Dubai ended Thursday with disagreements about ITU regulation of the Internet and censorship of the Web. Negotiations were still ongoing late at night Dubai time, and a final version of the resolution was expected Friday.

Several other countries, including Kenya, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, indicated late Thursday they would not sign the document or take partial reservations, said Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation to WCIT.

The resolution, to be signed Friday, will likely include language that would allow governments to get involved in Internet governance, a provision on fighting spam and a provision on fighting cybersecurity, among other issues, Kramer said during a press conference. The U.S. delegation objected to all three of those provisions, saying the spam and security provisions will open the door to new censorship of the Web.

ITU regulations should not address cybersecurity with "vague commitments that would have significant implications but few practical improvements on security," Kramer said.

The Internet governance proposals would take power away from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and multistakeholder groups, Kramer added. "It was clear that some administrations were seeking to insert government control over Internet governance," he said.

The resolution won't include a controversial provision requiring the sender of an Internet communication to pay the transport costs, but there were still "too many issues" that the U.S. objected to, Kramer said.

The resolution is not binding, and Kramer predicted few short-term effects of the WCIT agreement. But moving forward, the U.S. and its allies will have to work hard to push their view of using multistakeholder groups to resolve Internet governance issues, he said. "We are going to need to continue to do this global outreach so we don't inadvertently allow a Balkanization of the Internet," he said.

Some WCIT observers have also raised concerns that many countries could use the resolution as a model for regulation of the Internet.

Negotiations during the two-week conference began to sour late Wednesday, when countries began backing away from text they had already agreed to and WCIT Chairman Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim called for a show of hands to "take the temperature" of the room. He then declared that a majority was in favor of a resolution including the Internet in the WCIT regulations, in addition to traditional telecom services, a position the U.S. and its allies had opposed.

Several organizations, including the Internet Society and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), also raised objections, saying the Internet provisions were included contrary to assurances from ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré ´hat the treaty was not about the Internet.

The international telecommunication regulations have not been updated since 1988.

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

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Topics: telecommunication, regulation, Internet Society, internet, Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim, International Telecommunication Union, government, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Hamadoun Touré, Terry Kramer
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