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­.s. Rejects Telecommunications Treaty


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Hamdoun Tour at the WCIT

Hamdoun Tour speaking at the opening of the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications.

Credit: International Telecommunication Union

The United States, Canada, and several European countries formally rejected a treaty proposed by Russia, China, and several developing countries that would have altered how international communications are governed. While the proposed agreement would not take effect until 2015 and is not legally binding, the United States and its supporters felt they had headed off a significant threat to the "open Internet," according to American delegation head Terry Kramer.

The two sides had differences of opinion over the growing importance of digital communications networks as tools for personal communications, global commerce, political proselytization, and unconventional warfare. The United States position was that the Internet should not have been mentioned in the proposed treaty because doing so could lead to curbs on free speech and replace the existing, bottom-up form of Internet oversight with a government-led model. "We cannot support a treaty that is not supportive of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance," Kramer says. The Russian-led treaty argued that the Internet was within the scope of the talks because Internet traffic traveled through telecommunications networks.

The United States and its supporters interpreted the wording of the treaty as supporting a shift in the governance of the Internet to bring it under the regulatory framework of the International Telecommunication Union. The Internet is currently governed by a loose grouping of organizations, mostly in the private sector, rather than by governments, with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers operating under a contract from the United States government.

Another issue was whether the treaty should include a reference to human rights in its preamble. Several European countries, supported by the United States, Tunisia, Kenya, and others, succeeded in inserting such language into the proposal, arguing that "nondiscriminatory access" to telecommunications was an important free-speech issue. However China, Saudi Arabia, and other countries consistently opposed this clause.

There was also a dispute, brought forth by several African countries, over adding a guarantee that nations, not just individuals, should have access to "international telecommunications services." This proposal was adopted in a majority vote, over the objections of the United States and many European nations. The United States position on many of these issues is supported by Internet companies and groups that campaign against restrictions on the Internet.

From The New York Times
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