WCIT Concludes with UN treaty as U.S.-bloc walks away

As reported yesterday, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which has been ongoing in Dubai since early December, will conclude today with a UN treaty approved by 77 members against 33 nations refusing to sign, Bloomberg's Amy Thomson reports.

Certain areas under the 24-year-old system, such as modifications to taxation and compensation for telecommunications companies, had been in need of revision as publicly run phone companies have increasingly been privatized. Additionally, new assurances of access for the disabled and in developing markets have been updated in the UN treaty. 

On the other hand, friction over issues involving regulatory access to international telecommunications services and discretionary control over limiting spam pushed a U.S.-led bloc away from the negotiating table. 

Advocates in the technology industry have voiced support for countries refusing to sign the treaty. The Internet Society, backed by Microsoft, Verizon, and Google, opposed the language of the treaty and a compromise to the multi-stakeholder, non-governmental system under ICANN and IANA. 

Countries refusing to sign the treaty cited regulation of Internet and content issues as beyond the scope of the conference, though Hamadoun Toure, UN Secretary General to the International Telecommunication Union, countered that the place of the Internet is inextricable from telecommunications in today's global networks.  

Following the U.S. defection from the treaty, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell had the following to say in a statement:

"A majority of the ITU member states, including many countries that purportedly support Internet freedom, chose to discard long-standing international consensus to keep the Internet insulated from inter-governmental 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.”

Countries that have not signed the treaty will continue to be bound by the standards from 1988, potentially creating disconnects that the conference was designed to avert. While the U.S. and defenders of an uncensored Internet staunchly opposed deviation from a multi-stakeholder model, the impression from the report is that the failure to reach an updated consensus was a disappointment. In the end, inclusion of language reflecting Internet regulation was too much to concede after assurances that amendments would not cover this area. 

The next round of ITU negotiations is scheduled for 2014 in South Korea, according to the report.