ITU talks end in failure as US, UK refuse to sign treaty

The two week International Telecommunications Union (ITU) world conference has ended with talks collapsing over the effective future governance of the Internet.

Having been hosted in Dubai for nearly 2000 delegates worldwide, the UN’s ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) attempted to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) treaty, not amended since 1988. These regulations are, as one would expect, somewhat outdated.

The main point of contention involved an amendment to the treaty allowing national governments greater control of the Internet, as well as the other more standard elements of the treaty such as targeting roaming and data charges. What was eventually agreed on can be found here.

The US and UK refused to sign the amendment. In all over a dozen countries followed their lead and refused to sign, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden.

“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,” said US ambassador Terry Kramer.

Of course, in the opinion of other nations such as China, Saudi Arabia and Russia – who initiated the governance change – it may be considered that the US is happy in its position, given it is currently the default ‘home’ of the Internet.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, told the BBC at the beginning of the conference that such a change would be a “disruptive threat to the stability of the system”.

Regardless of this however, not everyone agrees that the talks were a failure. Khalid Al Awadhi, of the UAE telecommunications regulatory authority UAE TRA, tweeted: “States not signing won’t stop the global treaty”.

The topic of the Internet wasn't originally going to be touched upon in great detail; however, the fact it became an integral part of the conference stood out, according to ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun Touré.

“The word ‘Internet’ was repeated throughout this conference and I believe this is simply a recognition of the current reality – the two worlds of telecommunications and Internet are inextricably linked,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Ovum’s James Robinson, writing a research note, wrote that the Internet has “flourished so far and should be allowed to evolve”, adding: “The ITU’s view forms part of the general consensus that some change to the Internet model is needed to encourage future infrastructure investment and to ensure that innovation continues.”

This now appears to be the case, so is this good or bad news for the future of the Internet?

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