UK and US reject new UN telecom treaty

Delegates at a high profile United Nations conference have signed an international telecommunications treaty, but dozens of the event's attendees refused to sign it due to the inclusion of certain Internet-related provisions.

As reported by the AFP, 89 countries signed the treaty, while 55 declined. Britain, the United States, and Australia were among the nations who refused to endorse the document, walking out of the conference before the closing ceremonies.

Starting on 3 December, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in Dubai hosted some 1,950 UN delegates from around the world. They worked to revise a treaty known as the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which has been in effect since 1988 and offers guidelines related to international routing and charges between global carriers, as well as the overall Internet traffic between international network operators.

Some countries at the table, however, submitted proposals that would also give the UN some powers when it comes to Internet regulation, measures which countries including the UK and the US oppose.

American ambassador Terry Kramer, for one, spoke out against the Internet-related components of the treaty since before the conference started, but more than a week later, they were still included in the draft.

"We came to this conference with a wide divergence of views. Different countries contend with vastly different market environments, but all understand how critical ICTs will be to their ongoing social and economic development," conference chairman Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim said in a statement.

"While we did not manage to get universal consensus, I believe we nonetheless achieved a huge milestone in getting such broad agreement, and I am confident that these new ITRs will pave the way to a better, more connected world and a more equitable environment for all," he added.

In formally opposing the treaty, US delegate Kramer noted that his country "cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance."

"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. This has not happened here," he continued.

Political division was not the only problem faced by the UN-led event - on 6 December, the ITU conference was apparently targeted by hackers.

The final version of the ITR is available online.