WASHINGTON – The United States is refusing to sign a telecom treaty at a UN gathering in Dubai because it opens the door to governmental regulation of the Internet, the US delegation chief said Thursday.
“The United States today announced it cannot sign (the treaty regulations) in their current form,” Terry Kramer, head of the US delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, said in a teleconference from Dubai.
“The US has consistently believed and continues to believe that the (UN treaty) should not extend to Internet governance or content,” Kramer added.
Kramer said a formal vote at the Dubai gathering was not expected until Friday but that the proposal on the floor in Dubai, where representatives from 193 nations have been meeting since December 3, was unlikely to change.
“The version that’s out there now looks like the near-final one,” he said. “It looks unlikely it will materially change.”
Kramer said the treaty under the auspices of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union included some language “seeking to insert governmental control over Internet governance.”
The conclusion suggests a deep divide between the US and its allies, which seek to keep the Internet open and unregulated, and some authoritarian regimes which seek to impose controls over online use and content.
Russia, China and Saudi Arabia have been among countries seeking such changes.
The gathering was set to update global international telecom regulations for the first time since 1988. The US and its allies had argued that the term “telecom” should not extend to the Internet.
At least 10 other countries also announced in Dubai that they would not sign the treaty or would express reservations about some aspects, Kramer said.
An ITU spokeswoman said Canada and Britain also indicated they would not ratify the agreement.
“Negotiations are done,” ITU spokeswoman Sarah Parkes said in an email. “US, UK and Canada have announced they will not ratify. Others speaking now, several in praise.”
Kramer said the outcome in Dubai is unlikely to have any immediate impact on how people use the Internet because countries are already able to regulate online activities within their borders.
But he said the United States did not want to send a signal that nations would be authorized by a specific treaty to impose new Internet regulations.
“Countries have national sovereignty rights, so they can do what they want” internally, he said.
“What we don’t want is a set of global agreements where countries say this treaty gave us the right to impose conditions.”
A draft of the document released by the US researchers on the website WCITLeaks showed a resolution stating that “all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the existing Internet.”
Kramer said the draft appeared to give governments a green light to respond to spam and cybersecurity and thus “opens the door to regulating other types of content including political speech.”
US lawmakers had voted unanimously to oppose any efforts to give the United Nations new authority to regulate the Internet, and a variety of Internet activists and US firms, led by Google, had also warned against new regulations.
A US lobby of major IT firms, the Internet Association, said its fears were materializing.
“Under the cover of darkness the United Nations appears to have moved one step closer to regulating the Internet,” association president Michael Beckerman said.
“Millions of people across the globe have rejected the proposed UN takeover of the Internet,” he said, adding that the treaty “may forever alter the free and open multi-stakeholder governance model under which the Internet has thrived.”
Another US group, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said the proposal “was adopted over substantial opposition and undermines the current bottom up, multi-stakeholder governance structure of the Internet.”
CCIA said the vote also “sidesteps the traditional practice” of the ITU, which has operated by consensus and “contradicts the words of the ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure, who for months insisted that the WCIT would under no circumstances address Internet concerns.”