The United States, along with the UK, Canada, and a host of other states, has refused to sign an updated International Telecommunications Regulations treaty at the International Telecommunication Union’s World Conference on International Communications (WCIT-12) in Dubai, citing concerns over treaty provisions related to Internet security and spam, as well as a resolution envisioning a greater role for the ITU in Internet governance.  In a statement delivered at the conference on December 13, the U.S Ambassador to WCIT, Terry Kramer, said, “the United States continues to believe that Internet policy must be multi-stakeholder 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.”

Originally signed in 1988, the regulations govern the interoperability of international telephone connections and other communications traffic.  Until now, they had not included provisions relating to the Internet.  The current draft, however, includes language calling on member states to “endeavour to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications and minimize its impact on international telecommunication services.”  The United States had raised concerns that such measures could pave the way to regulations of other types of content, such as cultural and political speech.  The treaty also contains a resolution calling on the ITU’s Secretary-General “to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the development of broadband and the multistakeholder model of the Internet.”  The United States has remained opposed to giving both the ITU and its member states a greater role in the potential regulation of online content.

The long-anticipated move to add provisions such as these has also garnered widespread opposition from many non-governmental organizations, as well as the private sector.  The Center for Democracy and Technology has warned, for instance, that proposals giving the ITU a role in regulation of cybersecurity or Internet privacy could undermine the potential of the Internet as a platform for innovative business models and an engine of economic growth.  Internet pioneer and Google Vice President Vinton Cerf, meanwhile, had simply urged the ITU to “keep the Internet free and open.”

As it has refused to sign the new treaty, the United States will not be bound by its terms.  The U.S. delegation’s rejection of the proposed treaty has drawn praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and House of Representatives alike.  FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell likewise commended the U.S. delegation but warned it to “immediately prepare for an even more treacherous ITU treaty negotiation that will take place in 2014 in Korea.”