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U.S. Forgoes Telecom Treaty

Chinese Internet surfers in Beijing, China. (file)
Chinese Internet surfers in Beijing, China. (file)

The United States joined 54 other countries in refusing to sign revised International Telecommunications Regulations.

The United States joined 54 other countries in refusing to sign revised International Telecommunications Regulations or ITRs at the World Conference on International Telecommunications held recently in Dubai.

The U.S. stood against changes to the 1988 treaty that would extend its scope, beyond the mechanics and sharing of telecommunications, including in some ways that implicate government scrutiny and regulation of content. These changes included a vague, potentially expansive redefinition of terms that effectively could extend the regulations beyond traditionally covered public telecom operators to governments or private networks that operate international telecommunications services.

The U.S. also firmly opposed an adopted “Internet resolution,” that suggests a greater role for the United Nations-run International Telecommunication Union in matters related to Internet governance. And, the U.S. objected to, and successfully negotiated the removal of, several proposals seeking to insert government control over internet governance, specifically over internet naming and address functions.

While many countries calling for the expanded treaty cite spam and security issues as a reason to increase controls, the head of the U.S. delegation, Ambassador Terry Kramer, said international regulations on these issues could lead to censorship. Rather, the U.S. firmly holds that the Internet can only be legitimately handled through multi-stakeholder organizations:

“These are organizations that start saying: ‘How do we prevent cyber-security risks?’ These are organizations that start saying ‘How do we create better interoperability?’ But they are open organizations made up of a lot of people that have technical expertise, that basically have the agility to deal with issues. They are not made up of organizations that are government-controlled or limited in membership.”

“It is clear,” said Ambassador Kramer, “That the world community is at a crossroads in its collective view of the internet and of the most optimal environment for the flourishing of the internet in this century. … No single organization or government can or should attempt to control the internet or dictate its future development.”