ITU chief claims Dubai meeting 'success', despite collapse of talks

ITU chief claims Dubai meeting 'success', despite collapse of talks

Summary: The revised international telecoms rules will help billions of people get online, Hamadoun Toure has said at the close of the WCIT meeting. However, censorship fears led several major countries, including the UK and US, to refuse to sign the new rules.


The revision of the world's telecoms rules has been a "success", according to the head of the International Telecommunications Union, despite the fact that countries such as the US and UK have refused to sign it.

The WCIT meeting n Dubai has closed. Image: ITU/Flickr

In a press conference at the close of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, ITU chief Hamadoun Toure said he was "pleased that this conference is coming very successfully to an end".

Toure said the resulting changes to the international telecommunications regulations (ITRs) introduced new protections for consumers around the world, and would help billions more get online.

The US, UK, Canada and Australia walked away from negotiations on Thursday, over fears that the finalised text of the new ITRs could be interpreted as giving the ITU, a UN agency, control over elements of the internet. This was in turn seen as a way of giving governments greater powers of censorship.

What's in the ITRs?

The treaty does not once mention the words 'internet', 'broadband', 'web' nor 'content'.

However, one particularly contentious clause was Article 5B, which reads: "Member states should endeavour to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications and minimise its impact on international telecommunication services."

Although this could be seen to refer to SMS spam, for example, some saw the clause as making it easier for repressive regimes to classify unwanted online communications as spam and crack down on them — such regimes can already do this, of course, but the fear was that the treaty's phrasing might lend greater legitimacy to such actions.

There was also a non-binding resolution at the end of the conference which called on Toure to "continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive roles in the development of broadband and the multi-stakeholder model of the internet". This, however, was not actually part of the treaty itself.

A proposal by European telcos to ban net neutrality around the world never made it through to the final text.

Final rules

Toure noted that the revised ITRs would see greater transparency in global roaming charges, lead to "more investment in broadband infrastructure" and help those with disabilities.

"We hope that the treaty that has been signed today will make it possible for the remaining people without access to mobile coverage today, to the 4.5 billion people still offline… when all these people come online, we hope they will have enough infrastructure and connectivity so that traffic will continue to flow freely," Toure said.

The 20 or so countries that are not signing the new ITRs on Friday (such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland) will not be able to sign it in future, but they will be able to 'adhere' to the rules nonetheless, if they choose to.

This is clearly off the table for some countries such as the US and UK, but others have said they intend to take the ITRs back to their parliaments for debate and possible approval.

Topics: Broadband, Censorship, Fiber, Telcos

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • The ITU, dead man walking.

    Now I understand why the UN gets a bad rap, it's because of these useless committees always begging for money.
  • e ITU, dead man walking.

    ...more like a small undemocratic target for lobby groups
    • Much like the WTO

      It does seem that lobbyists have more influence with these sorts of organizations than elected officials do.
      John L. Ries
  • Dubai Meeting Was A Success!

    This is just what we'd expect to hear from a bureaucrat. This fellow Hamadoun Toure - the head of the ITU - sounds like he has a nice job. Does he have to accomplish anything? Is he accountable to anybody?
    • He's accountable to diplomats

      The Secretary General of the ITU is elected by representatives of the member states, but I don't think member governments spent a lot of time thinking about the ITU or Mr. Toure's activities.

      The WTO is much the same, but trade gets a lot more attention than does telecommunications.
      John L. Ries
  • The Emperor has no clothes

    A new set of ITRs rejected out of hand by the US and most other western democracies isn't going to be of much value.
    John L. Ries
  • It Was A Microsoft Success

    The ITU, too, has its Daverocks.
  • spam

    do they really think the barrier for 4.5billion people not being online is the possibility of receiving spam emails?