Opposing camps dig in on Internet treaty talks

Wed Dec 12, 2012 2:33pm EST
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By Matt Smith

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United States and its allies clashed with a Russian-led bloc in talks over a new United Nations telecoms treaty on Wednesday, threatening a compromise proposal that had aimed to settle thorny issues of how to govern the Internet.

Delegates from about 150 countries have been working at the UN's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai for the past 10 days to rewrite the International Telecoms Regulations (ITR) treaty that was last revised in 1988 before the advent of the World Wide Web, but divisions between them remained stark as a Friday deadline neared for an agreement.

Some countries have been seeking greater control over the Internet by giving some supervisory powers to the International Telecommunications Union via changes in the treaty, and a majority of countries have appeared willing to officially extend the mission of the ITU, a UN agency, to also cover the Internet.

But after making hopeful noises on a compromise on Tuesday, the United States, Europe, Canada and other countries hardened their position on Wednesday and sought to exclude any language in the treaty that could open the door to more government regulation of cyberspace.

A draft compromise that circulated on Tuesday had sought to keep most references to the Internet in a non-binding companion "resolution" outside the treaty's main regulations, with the approach meant to solve some of the toughest issues such as how to define what kinds of companies could be touched by the rules -- pure telecoms operators or a broader group of interests such as Google and Facebook.

The ITU usually agrees decisions by consensus, although this time it could come down to a vote, which may leave the United States and its allies in the minority.

"The ITU has put off the biggest problems until the last day. Maybe this approach will work, but it strikes me as a stupid strategy," said Kieren McCarthy, who runs .Nxt, an information service that specializes in Internet policy.

The balance struck by the conference chairman on Tuesday included one provision deemed most likely to impact the Internet, a clause that would allow countries the right to control "addressing," which some understood would include Internet addressing, which is currently managed by the U.S.-based non profit-making organization ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).   Continued...