U.S., Allies Reject Internet Regulation in Telecom Treaty

The United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia are among about 20 nations that refused to sign a new treaty on global telecommunications, which has been in development at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, since December 3.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) convened the meeting for its 200 member states to review and amend the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) in place since 1988. Even before the meeting began, the head of the U.S. delegation, Ambassador Terry Kramer, warned of U.S. rejection of any attempts to impose new regulations on the Internet.

The U.S. delegation and like-minded nations walked away from the overall agreement December 13 because of clauses that could serve as groundwork for government regulation of the Internet.

“We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with a multistakeholder model of Internet governance,” Kramer said in a statement to the conference at large.

“Internet policy should not be determined by member states but by citizens, communities and broader society, and such consultation from the private sector and civil society is paramount,” Kramer said.

Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy also balked at the proposals crafted by other nations. The website ZDNet quotes Conroy saying that the Dubai outcome would fundamentally change the way the Internet operates.

“Australia believes that the approach taken by ICANN [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], which has input from industry stakeholders, governments and the public, remains the best way to sustain the Internet’s growth and innovation,” Conroy said. ZDNet specializes in reporting on information technology issues.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission also has a large stake in the issues on the table in Dubai. In a statement issued in Washington, Commissioner Robert McDowell said nations supporting the treaty “chose to discard long-standing international consensus to keep the Internet insulated from intergovernmental regulation.” McDowell said the vote “radically undermined” the governance scheme that has been in place for more than 20 years and has allowed the Internet to flourish and innovate.

Currently, Internet governance is limited to setting technical standards to assure interoperability and regulating the issue of domain names. ICANN manages those functions with offices in several countries, an international staff and a board of directors.

McDowell predicts that greater Internet regulation will impede engineers, entrepreneurs and citizens who use the Internet.

“Consumer prices will rise while investment and innovations will stall,“ McDowell said.

McDowell urged advocates of a free Internet to work to prevent government intervention that may stem from the new agreement. Another round of negotiation on the ITRs is set for 2014.

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