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UK and US refuse to sign ITU Internet treaty

The United States said today that it will not sign an international telecommunications treaty thanks to the inclusion of Internet-related provisions.

"It is with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the US must communicate that it is not able to sign the agreement in the current form," US Ambassador Terry Kramer told attendees of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations, is currently hosting a meeting in Dubai for 1,950 delegates from around the world. They are working to revise a treaty known as the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which have been in effect since 1988 and offer 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, have submitted proposals that would also give the UN some power when it comes to Internet regulation, which the US and other countries oppose. Ambassador Kramer has been speaking out against the Internet component of the treaty since before the conference started on 3 December, but more than a week later, they are still included in a draft that's on the table.

"The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefits during these past 24 years – all without UN regulation," Kramer said today. "We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance."

Though the conference was not intended to focus on Internet issues, attendees have offered text and resolutions on issues like spam and Internet governance, he said.

"These past two weeks, we have of course made good progress and shown a willingness to negotiate on a variety of telecommunications policy issues, such as roaming and settlement rates, but the United States continues to believe that Internet policy must be multi-stakeholder driven," Kramer said. "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."

According to the BBC, the UK. and Canada have also pledged not to sign the treaty in its current form, while delegates from Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Kenya also have reservations.

This week, Conference Chairman Mohammed Nasser Al Ghanim called on attendees to vote - by a show of hands - if they were opposed to a resolution that would "foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet." The move, which Al Ghanim said was supported by the majority of attendees - did not follow the typical conference protocol, rattling some who opposed the proposal, though Al Ghanim said the vote was not binding.

With the conference scheduled to conclude today, check out our analysis of the key twists and turns that have shaped WCIT.

In a Thursday statement, Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell said "our delegation's resolve should be commended."

"By agreeing to broaden the scope of the ITU's rules to include the Internet, encompassing its operations and content, these nations have radically undermined the highly successful, private sector, non-governmental, multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance," McDowell continued.

He warned the US to "immediately prepare for an even more treacherous ITU treaty negotiation that will take place in 2014 in Korea."