WCIT treaty includes controversial Internet proposal, keeps content out

The treaty is to be formally signed on Friday, with the U.S. threatening not to sign

The final treaty of the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai includes a new provision that the treaty does not address content-related aspects of telecommunications, but retains a controversial proposal on fostering the growth of the Internet.

The U.S., U.K, and its allies will not sign the treaty or will take reservations, Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation to WCIT, said on Thursday. The U.S. and some other countries have tried to keep the Internet out of the treaty, alleging that member countries of the International Telecommunication Union would try to regulate the Internet.

The signing of the treaty is scheduled for later on Friday.

The proposal to add a provision that the treaty does not address content-related aspects of telecommunications came late Thursday from the chairman of the conference, Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim, after Australia, Poland and some other countries asked that a provision on security networks should be amended to specify that only the technical network infrastructure was covered under the provision. Al-Ghanim said a lot of the sensitivity at the conference came from apprehensions that the provisions of the treaty could be misinterpreted to deal with content.

Several proposals during the conference, including from Russia, China, and some Arab countries, had proposed multinational control over the Internet, providing an equal role to all ITU member states in the management of the Internet.(

Much of the control of the Internet, including its numbering and naming system is currently in the hands of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under contract with the U.S. government.

The resolution to "foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet," which figures after the appendix to the draft treaty, states that the Internet is a central element of the infrastructure of the information economy, and recognizes that all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance, the security and stability of the Internet, and its future development.

Resolutions do not, however, have treaty status and are not in principle binding on member states, according to a guide to the treaty-making process from the ITU. They are described as the standard mechanism by which a conference instructs its subordinate organs such as ITU Council or ITU Bureaux to take some kind of action.

The preamble to the proposed treaty includes a reference to human rights obligations, which was also a contentious issue during the conference with some countries like Malaysia insisting that it did not belong in the preamble, but should instead figure in the Constitution of the ITU.

The Internet Society said in a statement late Thursday that it was disappointed at the "fundamental divides" at the conference. "It was extremely important that this treaty not extend to content, or implicitly or explicitly undermine the principles that have made the Internet so beneficial," the organization added.

A member state can take reservations on any part of the treaty, which effectively means it is not obliged to apply that part of the treaty, according to ITU procedures. Each country has to ratify the treaty, and it needs to be passed into each country's national legislature.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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