U.S. Can't Support New ITU Telecom Treaty

The U.S. won't sign the ITU telecom treaty as it is shaping
up in the final hours of the WCIT-12 conference in Dubai.

"The U.S. today announced that it cannot sign the
revised international telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) in their current
form," U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, who headed the Dubai delegation, told
reporters in a call from Dubai. He said the U.S. continues to believe that the
ITRS should be a high-level document and that the scope of the treaty should
not extend to Internet governance, but that other countries believe it should
be extended to cover those issues, "so we cannot be part of that consensus."

Kramer said the International Telecommunications Regulations
(ITRs) still contain too many Internet references that could be used by others
as leverage for regulating Internet content. The U.S. has said that the treaty
should not apply to ISPs, private network operators or governments.

The conference still had a few hours to go, but Kramer said
he did not think there would be sufficient changes to make it possible for the
U.S. to support it. The plenary session was still going on when Kramer left to
make his announcement. He said the version the U.S. had seen was the near-final
one and the level of support from other nations suggested it would not
materially change.

The ITRs are nonbinding -- they do not trump national
sovereignty -- and the revised ones don't go into effect until Jan. 15; Kramer
said he hoped, and didn't expect countries who did support the new ITRs, to
suddenly launch new Internet control efforts, pointing out that countries that
want to do that are already doing so. Asked whether the split over the treaty
could lead to the creation of two Internets, one open and one closed, Kramer
said he hoped that would not happen.  "If a country says I want to have a
different approach than the current open, multistakeholder one that drives innovation,
they can still do that, but they are going to be facing an increasingly
interconnected market."

Although items on a sender-pays regime were removed --
Kramer said the U.S. was pleased with that -- and network security
"watered down," the U.S. continued to have problems with raising the
security issue in the ITRs, as well as expanding the definition of recognized
operating agencies vs. operating agencies, and language about spam. Any of
those would have been nonstarters for the U.S., which has argued all along that
the ITRs are not the place to deal with the Internet.

An ITU representative had said earlier Thursday that there
appeared to be hope for consensus, including with changes to security language,
but that proved not to be the case.

Kramer also called the separate Internet resolution
supported by many countries a "direct extension of scope" into the
Internet and of the ITU's role therein, despite earlier assertions from the
ITU's secretary general that the ITU's would not address Internet issues.

An ITU representative had argued that the resolution was not
part of the ITRs, but Kramer said separating it out did not change the U.S.
objection to it.

Kramer said that other countries who are either not going to
sign or have major issues over the Internet-related language include United
Kingdom, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt Sweden, Netherlands, Kenya, the Czech
Republic, Canada, New Zealand and Poland.  "They are all either going to
express reservations or not sign," he said.

In a statement on what he called the treaty's final draft,
ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré insisted that the treaty did not include
Internet language.

"I have been saying in the run up to this conference
that this conference is not about governing the Internet," he said.
"I repeat that the conference did NOT include provisions on the Internet
in the treaty text."

"The new ITR treaty does NOT cover content issues and
explicitly states in the first article that content-related issues are not
covered by the treaty. Likewise, in the preamble of the new text signatory
Member States undertake to renew their commitment and obligation to existing
human rights treaties.

"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."

Kramer did not characterize the conference as a failure,
saying the U.S. had made its points and teed up a discussion about the multistakeholder
future of the Internet, just one that should not be held in the context of
treaty negotiations. "I do think the conference does set up for a much more
direct conversation that is going to have to happen on multistakeholder
governance, the only model that has proved to be effective."

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who was a member of the
U.S. WCIT delegation, was less sanguine about the conference takeaway.

"Today, America's delegation to the World Conference on
International Telecommunications (WCIT), led by Ambassador Terry Kramer, stood
strong for Internet freedom when it proclaimed that it would not sign new
international rules that capture the Internet.  Our delegation's resolve
should be commended.

"Unfortunately, a majority of the International
Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Member States, including many countries that
purportedly support Internet freedom, chose to discard long-standing
international consensus to keep the Internet insulated from intergovernmental
regulation.  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 has long warned of the potentially for countries
like China, Russia and Arab States to push for such an expansion.

"Even though the United States refused to sign the new
agreement, what happened today in Dubai could have ripple effects here at
home," he said. "Consumers everywhere will ultimately pay the price for this
power grab as engineers and entrepreneurs try to navigate this new era of an
internationally politicized Internet. 

"If this assault on Internet freedom continues unabated,
consumers' prices will rise while investment and innovation will stall. As
egregious as today's action was, many of the anti-freedom proposals were turned
back - but the worst is yet to come.  The United States should immediately
prepare for an even more treacherous ITU treaty negotiation that will take
place in 2014 in Korea.  Those talks could expand the ITU's reach even

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.