The International Telecommunications Union and World Conference on International Telecommunications was in crisis as we went to press at 6am AEST, with the United States, the United Kingdom and several of their allies declaring that they would refuse to sign the proposed International Telecommunications Regulations.
After working for 12 days to reach a compromise text described by the conference chairman as “95% there” the crisis erupted last night when the African bloc attempted to have its preferred form of words over the rights of member states to access telecommunications networks accepted in the treaty. The US and other allies saw the language as an unambiguous attempt to open the ITRs up to governance and content regulation.
Iran took the unprecedented step of calling for a vote, against the oft-stated intentions of the ITU to forge a consensus on the ITRs. The vote was won 77-33 by the African bloc with 6 abstentions. This caused instant backlash from the US and its allies.
The US then immediately declared it would not sign the treaty. Ambassador Terry Kramer said “It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the US must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form.”
“The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN Regulation.”
“We candidly cannot support an ITU Treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. As the ITU has stated, this conference was never meant to focus on Internet issues. However, today, we’re in a situation where we still have text and resolutions that cover issues on spam and also provisions on Internet governance … the United States continues to believe that Internet policy must be multi-stakeholder driven. Internet policy should not be determined by Member States, but by citizen, communities, and broader society. And such consultation from the private sector and civil society is paramount. This has not happened here.”
Then, UK head of delegation Simon Towle backed the US position. “My delegation came to work for revised ITRs. But not at any cost. We’re not able to sign a bad agreement that does nobody any favors and makes nobody happy.”
“We all agreed that content was not intended to be part of the ITRs, but content issues keep coming up. We preferred no text on security but in the interest of compromise we worked towards language we could accept. Unfortunately, the language that we proposed and the various alternatives we proposed were constantly rejected and the compromise that we have before us we could only possibly accept in the context of a treaty that was acceptable in all other respects. On the Internet itself, our position is clear. We do not see the ITRs as the place to address Internet issues. The proper place is multistakeholder fora, the IGF, the ICANN GAC.”
Other countries including Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Denmark also said they would not sign the treaty. Poland, Kenya, Costa Rica and New Zealand said they would need to consult their governments. Australia did not declare a position before the plenary was suspended.
The WCIT chair immediately went into damage control, calling for a break and hoping to reconvene the event at 11.30pm Dubai time (6.30am AEST) but all signs were that the event had collapsed.
Grahame Lynch and Dave Burstein