Global telecom treaty without Net controls signed by 89 nations

Fri Dec 14, 2012 3:55pm EST
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By Matt Smith

DUBAI (Reuters) - An international telecommunications treaty signed by 89 countries out of a possible 144 on Friday will have little impact on how carriers operate or how consumers surf the web or make calls around the world when it comes into effect in 2015.

But the acrimonious debate over the treaty - and refusal of so many countries, including the United States and much of Europe, to sign up immediately - have exposed a deep split in the international community.

A U.S.-led bloc advocated a hands-off approach to the Internet, while Russia, China and much of Africa and the Middle East sought greater governmental oversight of cyberspace.

About 150 nations met in Dubai, under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to update a set of telecom rules dating back to 1988, before the Internet and mobile phones transformed communications. Their failure to find a consensus may herald a new fight over cyberspace.

"The world will still be around and countries will still cooperate along the lines they have done for decades," said Paul Budde, managing director of Sydney-based consultancy BuddeCom. "However, they have clearly drawn a line under how far they believe the ITU can go in relation to regulations that include the Internet."

As in a prior version, the International Telecom Regulations spell out guidelines on technical issues such as how carriers charge each other for incoming international phone calls, as well as taxation and accounting.

Countries that sign the treaty are supposed to be guided by its principles, although these have no force of law.

Users in countries that block certain content will still experience the same version of the Internet, while telecom operators will feel little impact because international call charges are decided via commercial contracts between them.   Continued...