Australia walks away from WCIT treaty

Australia will follow in the footsteps of the US and the UK by rejecting the last minute revised international telecommunications treaty.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australia has joined the US and the UK in refusing to sign the proposed international telecommunications treaty, after last minute, wide-ranging revisions to the treaty at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) would have opened the door for greater government regulation of the internet.

The negotiations on the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) have been taking place in Dubai for the past 12 days. It could potentially give governments greater control over the internet, rather than existing independent organisations, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This was expected to be completed with a final resolution on the new ITRs by Friday.

Last night, according to industry publication Communications Day, the African bloc of delegates pushed to have its preferred wording, which includes mentions of internet regulation, into the treaty, and when a vote was called on the text, it was accepted with a majority vote.

The US, the UK, and Canada, among other countries, all immediately said that they would not sign the treaty.

The United States ambassador to WCIT, Terry Kramer, said that the document should not cover the internet at all.

"The US cannot sign revised telecommunications regulations in their current form," he said. "ITRs should be a high-level document, and the scope of treaty does not extend to the internet."

This afternoon, Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy indicated that Australia would also forgo signing the new treaty, stating that it would fundamentally change the way the internet operates.

"It is greatly disappointing that a consensus could not be reached," Conroy said. "Australia worked hard to develop suitable text for the ITRs that would have been acceptable to every Member State. Unfortunately, this was not achieved."

Australia had gone to the negotiations with the stance that the ITRs should not include mentions of the internet, and Conroy said that its position had not changed in the course of negotiations.

"Australia does not support any changes that would undermine the current multi-stakeholder model for internet governance, or fundamentally change the way the internet operates," he said. "Australia believes that the approach taken by ICANN, which has input from industry stakeholders, governments, and the public, remains the best way to sustain the internet's growth and innovation."

He said that the decision to not sign the ITRs would not mean that it would step away from engaging with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

"The ITU does great work in connecting the world, and we greatly value the ITU's capacity building work in the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world. We are proud to be part of that work."

Secretary General of the ITU Dr. Hamadoun Touré refuted the claims made by the US and others, and released a statement last night saying that the draft of the text for the revised ITR had been completed, and it did not include provision on the internet in the treaty.

"I have been saying in the run up to this conference that this conference is not about governing the internet. I repeat that the conference did not include provisions on the internet in the treaty text," he said, adding that annexed to the treaty is a non-binding resolution that aims to foster the development of the internet.

"[It is] a task that ITU has contributed significantly to since the beginning of the internet era, and a task that is central to the ITU's mandate to connect the world, a world that today still has two-thirds of its population without internet access," he said.

"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."

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