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A Blow to Internet Freedom

Today, at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a majority of national delegations adopted revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) that could lead to significant challenges to a free and open Internet, as well to how global information and communications technology (ICT) companies offer Internet-based services.  The United States joined with other like-minded delegations to strongly oppose these revisions.

While the official ITR text has not been released, the opposition by so many countries that have been committed to a free and open Internet is enough to characterize the outcome as nothing short of ominous.  Indeed, it is expected that the newly-revised ITRs, which would reportedly go into effect in 2015, will be interpreted as expanding the scope of the ITU’s jurisdiction to the Internet, ICT standardization, certain aspects of network and cyber security, and to the content of “telecommunications,” e.g., spam.

The WCIT conference was effectively brought to a close after delegations cast their votes via a show of special placards on the revisions, which were offered on an African States amendment to the ITR preamble.  The additional text endorsed the notion that “Member States” rather than individual citizens have the right to access “telecommunication services.”  This effort was in part a counter-punch against the imposition of economic sanctions by the U.S. and many of its allies that often include limitations on access to web resources.  The vote on the amendment was 77 delegations in favor, 33 opposed, with the rest either abstaining or ineligible to vote due to nonpayment of dues to the ITU.  It was the only formal vote taken at the conference, and was interpreted as acceptance of the final draft of ITRs as amended, due to an earlier favorable motion to close off the days-old discussion. 

Ambassador Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation, was first to be recognized after the vote, expressing disappointment with the outcome and indicating that the U.S. will not sign the new ITR treaty.  As of this writing, the following countries have joined the U.S. in making similar announcements:  Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Poland, Sweden and the UK.  I anticipate that a number of more countries will express similar sentiments later today and in the days that follow.

ITI’s ITU Task Force will evaluate the revised ITRs, consult with the U.S. delegation, and determine what additional actions we should take in light of this disappointing outcome. 

The following is an unofficial transcript of Ambassador Kramer’s statement on behalf of the U.S. delegation:

>> UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Mr. Chairman, as head of the U.S. Delegation, I wanted to start out and thank you for your tireless work and leadership. Your personal commitment to a successful outcome here is very impressive.

However, I do need to say that it's with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it's not able to sign the agreement in the current form.

The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years -- all without UN Regulation.  We candidly cannot support an ITU Treaty that is inconsistent with the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. As the ITU has stated, this conference was never meant to focus on Internet issues. However, today, we're in a situation where we still have text and resolutions that cover issues on spam and also provisions on Internet governance. These past two weeks of course we have made good progress and shown a willingness to negotiate on a variety of telecommunications policy issue, such as roaming, and settlement rates.

But the United States continues to believe that Internet policy must be multistakeholder driven. Internet policy should not be determined by Member States, but by citizens, communities, and broader society. And such consultation from the private sector and civil society is paramount. This has not happened here. 
We live in an interconnected world, which is becoming more interconnected with every passing day. We came to this conference with a hope for finding ways to advance our cooperation in the telecommunications arena, and continue to believe that is an important goal.

We are disappointed that this conference didn't fully provide that opportunity. But remain committed to finding other ways to advance on our shared common goals.

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to ask at this -- that this intervention be entered into the record of the plenary and thank you for your time.

Public Policy Tags: Broadband, Communications, & Spectrum, Internet Governance