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

Ambassador Kramer: Too Many 'Net-Related Items Remain for U.S. to Support
Publish date:
Updated on

The U.S. won't sign 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 ITU's are nonbinding--they do not trump national sovereignty--and the revised ones don't go into effect until January 15, so 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 scop[e 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.

"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 further."