ITU summit ends in toothless treaty

US-led bloc refuses to sign; commentators expect business as usual

Tags: International Telecommunication UnionUnited Arab Emirates
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ITU summit ends in toothless treaty The 12-day summit in Dubai was overshadowed by a deep rift over Internet governance.
By  Stephen McBride Published  December 16, 2012

A 12-day summit convened in Dubai by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was intended to establish a new international treaty for telecom regulations, but instead culminated on Friday in a bitter schism that largely pitted East against West over the issue of Internet governance.

Yesterday Reuters reported that 89 out of a possible 144 delegates within the UN-affiliated ITU's 193 members signed up to the treaty, first adopted in 1988. Among those refusing to sign were the US and much of Europe, nations that expressed concerns over proposals to formally regulate the Internet through governmental control.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia were among those nations, led by Russia, who advocated stricter policing of cyberspace. They were joined by China and several African countries, together signing Russian proposals that included calls for an end to the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) control over Internet naming and addressing. The pro-control group was also keen to control Web content and eliminate Internet anonymity.

The treaty was originally intended to spell out international regulations that would allow seamless telecom services across international boundaries and mainly covered financial issues such as co-operative tariffs. The new treaty comes into effect in 2015, but is thought to herald little change in telco operations as much of the inter-connectivity worldwide is established through commercial contracts between operators.

"The world will still be around and countries will still co-operate along the lines they have done for decades," said Paul Budde, managing director of Sydney-based consultancy BuddeComm.

"However, they have clearly drawn a line under how far they believe the ITU can go in relation to regulations that include the Internet."

From the outset of the talks, anti-control members have argued that the ITU's remit does not cover the Internet and some analysts believe the lack of consensus reached at the conference will weaken the UN body.

"The ITU won't become irrelevant but it tried to claim some of the Internet without having the mandate to do so," said an unnamed European delegate.

"It saw an opportunity, but both the triumph and the curse of the ITU is that it can't instigate anything, it depends on member states - some said let's expand the mandate and others said let's not."

Dr Hamadoun I Touré, secretary general of the ITU said on Thursday that the summit  had not been intended as a venue to discuss Web governance.

"History will show that this conference has achieved something extremely important," said Touré.

"It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications. There is not one single world view but several, and these views need to be accommodated and engaged."

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