WCIT-12 revises international telecommunications treaty without U.S. approval

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The World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 treaty revision conference ended Dec. 14 with a plurality of International Telecommunication Union member countries agreeing to sign the final document, although others could add their signatures later. Of the 193 member states, 155 were present at the two week conference in Dubai; 144 countries were eligible to vote (others weren't current in dues) and 89 signed the final document.

Among the countries openly opposing revisions (.pdf) to the International Telecommunication Regulations were the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Sweden.

Other countries that have expressed at least initial reservation include Japan, India, and all other European nations that sent delegates, including Germany, France and Poland. Support was heavy among African, Arab and Latin American countries. Russia, responsible for many of the revisions opposed by the United States, signed the final document, as did China. Signatory countries account for a small proportion of global telecoms traffic, the European Commission noted in a Dec. 14 statement.

Revisions accepted by the signatory countries – which must still approve the revisions domestically – include an expansion of the scope of the ITRs from "recognized operating agencies" to "operating agencies," a broader term that the State Department says includes Internet service providers.

Opposition to that expansion has been a key part of the U.S. position, although in a Dec. 13 press call, head of the U.S. delegation Amb. Terry Kramer noted a host of other issues also preventing U.S. assent.

Inclusion of an article against "unsolicited bulk electronic communications" that calls on ITU member states to take necessary measures to prevent its propagation "opens the door to regulation of other forms of content, including political and cultural speech," Kramer told reporters.

Another article in the final document telling member states to "individually and collectively endeavor to ensure the security and robustness of international telecommunication networks" goes against the U.S. position that the ITRs are not a useful venue for addressing security.

The United States "cannot accede to vague commitments that would have significant implications but few practical improvements on security," Kramer said.

The final document's nonbinding appendix calls on the ITU "to play an active and constructive role in the development of broadband and the multistakeholder model of the Internet."

Inclusion of that language in the appendix was seen by some as a compromise that would keep explicit Internet regulation away from the binding treaty text but acknowledge that many ITU member countries favor greater governmental control over the Internet.

"The conference did not include provisions on the Internet in the treaty text," said Hamadoun Touré, ITU secretary general, in a Dec. 13 statement.

But even in the appendix, an official statement claiming a role for the ITU in Internet governance garnered opposition.

A host of delegations "made it very clear that Internet issues did not belong in the ITRs and that they would not support a treaty that is inconsistent with the multistakeholder model of Internet governance," the Internet Society said in a Dec. 14 statement.

As for the direct impact the revised ITRs may have, Kramer told reporters that he doesn't "see a lot of near-term or intermediate-term risks here, because it's not a legally binding document."

For more:
- download the WCIT-12 final document (.pdf)
- go to the ITU WCIT-12 webpage

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