Talks on Internet treaty fail as U.S. bloc won't sign

Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:22pm EST
 
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By Matt Smith and Joseph Menn

DUBAI/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An attempt by national governments to establish a worldwide policy for oversight of the Internet collapsed on Thursday after many Western countries said a compromise plan gave too much power to United Nations and other officials.

Delegates from the United States, UK, Australia and other countries took the floor on the next to last day of a UN conference in Dubai to reject revisions to a treaty governing international phone calls and data traffic.

"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," said Terry Kramer, the U.S. ambassador to the gathering of the UN's International Telecommunication Union.

While other countries will sign the treaty on Friday, the absence of so many of the largest economies means that the document, already watered down to suit much of the West, will have little practical force.

Though technologists who had raised alarms about the proceedings preferred no deal to one that would have legitimized more government censorship and surveillance, the failure to reach an accord could increase the chance that the Internet will work very differently in different regions.

"Maybe in the future we could come to a fragmented Internet," delegate Andrey Mukhanov, a top international official at Russia's Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications, told Reuters. "That would be negative for all, and I hope our American, European colleagues come to a constructive position."

Delegates from the United States and other holdout countries said they would continue to press at other international gatherings for unified support of what they call a "multi-stakeholder model," in which private industry groups set standards and play a large role in the development of the medium.

Countries that had been seeking an expansion of the ITU role reacted with some bitterness to the failure to reach a consensus.   Continued...