Wrap-Up – World Conference on International Telecommunications

On December 13, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States and 76 other countries joined the US in declining to sign the revised International Telecommunications Regulations treaty, which included language that would have allowed greater control by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) over the Internet space.

As Forbes reported, “The Internet, and the forces that support the free and open movement of information, rolled over traditional UN alliances at the WCIT. An effort to shift governance of the Internet from private bodies like ICANN and IETF was thwarted.” 

The remaining 113 countries did sign the International Telecommunications Regulations Treaty on December 14th but, because U.N. agencies like the ITU are driven by consensus and the ability of representatives to get corresponding laws passed in their respective countries, the signed treaty lacks much power.  According to reporters for Commmunications Day, an online publication for telecom executives, head of the UK delegation Simon Towle explained “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.”

Hamadoun I. Toure, the secretary general of the ITU, explained his perspective on the significance of the annex in his statement released on December 13: “Annexed to the treaty is a non-binding Resolution which aims at fostering the development and growth of the internet – a task that ITU has contributed significantly to since the beginning of the Internet era, and a task that is central to the ITU’s mandate to connect the world, a world that today still has two thirds of its population without Internet access.”

Toure’s perspective is very different from that of Bill Smith, Internet Evangelist at PayPal who participated in the WCIT as a member of the United States Delegation. As he described in a blog recounting the experience in CircleID on December 17, “Considerable effort was expended in removing or mitigating the more egregious proposals. In the process we, and others, communicated the benefits of a free and open Internet, liberalized markets, and competition. Unfortunately, not all of the contributions were dealt with in a manner that enabled the United States and others to accede to the treaty.”

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