U.S. announces will not sign ITU treaty, period

The U.S. has just announced that, "U.S. cannot sign revised telecommunications regulations in their current form."
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

I just got out of a briefing with the United States ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), Terry Kramer.

The U.S. has just announced that, "U.S. cannot sign revised telecommunications regulations in their current form." Further, Kramer stated, "ITR should be a high-level document, and the scope of treaty does not extend to the Internet."

ITR in this case refers to International Telecommunications Regulations. Kramer stated that while the final signatories of whatever treaty comes out of WCIT-12 won't be known until tomorrow, the United States and a variety of other countries won't be part of it, "We cannot be part of that consensus."

He further stated, the "world community is at a crossroads of its collective view of the Internet." He also said, the "U.S. will continue to uphold and advance the multistakeholder model of internet governance."

There wasn't just one deal-breaker at the conference, although the last minute Internet resolution introduced last night didn't win any friends in the U.S. delegation. He also stated that there were other issues of disagreement which revolved around the question of whether a treaty would explicitly allow nations to look at content. Interestingly, this includes spam, which the U.S. considers a type of content, and doesn't want to allow to be regulated and inspected.

From an "agency" point of view, Kramer stated, "We don't want lack of clarity of the agencies subject to this. A lot of players could be subject to these regulations." The idea here is that if the definitions in the treaty are too open-ended, many ISPs, and even Web site operators could be subject to formalized regulations that the U.S. doesn't want to encourage.

When I spoke to Ambassador Kramer, I asked him what happens now? Will other countries route around the U.S. desires for an open Internet? And, I also asked, could this lead to what might essentially be two Internets, one open, and one closed?

His answer to me was very interesting. First, he said, "We hope that doesn't happen here". He also said, "Candidly, nations can still do that under national sovereignty."

The key, even though these treaties are non-binding, is that we in the U.S. don't want to set up a situation where various agencies are subject to influence because of the existence of a treaty and America's implied support. By removing America's support from the ITR, it's clear that the U.S. doesn't intend for its players to be subject to the model put forth by more oppressive nations.

He also stated that: "On a second Internet, anything is possible," but "It's not going to be an easy task to set up a different standard, very difficult to pull off," and "We need to continue to do this outreach so we don't inadvertently allow a balkanization of the Internet."

The bottom line, according to Kramer and U.S. policy is that, "Multi-stakeholder model is much more practical in advancing the Internet," even if the "divergence of views is significant."

Kramer believes this isn't over. He stated, "At the end of the day, these ITRs are not legally binding. What is fundamental about this is [there will need to be a] very explicit discussion about views on the Internet and how it should be managed."

Ambassador Kramer ended with, "Candidly, we're resolute on this." 

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