The World Conference on International Telecommunications summit in Dubai appears to be in disarray after the United States and other Western countries declared they would not sign the proposed new International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs).
According to Commsday, the blanket refusal came after a bloc of African countries attempted to have its preferred language on the rights of ITU member states to access telecommunications networks inserted into the ITRs.
A vote was called by Iran which the African bloc won by 77 votes to 33, with six abstentions. The language in the African bloc proposal is seen by the Western countries as a way to open up the ITRs to governance and content regulation, and the US immediately declared it could not sign the treaty.
“It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the US must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” US ambassador Terry Kramer said.
“The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN Regulation,” Kramer said.
The United Kingdom supported the US position, and other Western countries such as Australia, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic also said they would not sign the treaty which is binding in international law.
“It is greatly disappointing that a consensus could not be reached,” Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said.
"Australia does not support any changes that would undermine the current multi-stakeholder model for internet governance or fundamentally change the way the internet operates.
"Australia believes that the approach taken by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), which has input from industry stakeholders, governments and the public, remains the best way to sustain the internet's growth and innovation."
Conroy noted Australia's stance did not mean it would step back from engaging with the ITU.
The US and other Western countries such as Australia had earlier signalled their firm opposition to increased regulation of the Internet as part of the ITR agreement.
Signs are that the summit has imploded, CNET reported, with no deal being reached to modernise the existing telecommunications regulation agreement from 1988.
However, this morning the Twitter account for secretary-general Hamadoun Touré tweeted that: "Drafting of text for ITRs concluded at WCIT12; ICT can now play greater role in driving sustainable development."
The WCIT meeting is set to finish tomorrow after two weeks' of negotiations
At the same time, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said it has gathered a petition with nearly 100,000 signatures, calling on Touré to reject proposals to change the way the Internet is regulated.
The ITUC said that despite Russia reportedly having withdrawn "its more extreme proposals", the trade unionists are concerned that nations negotiating the ITRs would be pressured into a compromise that would allow for greater state control of the Internet.
Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the ITUC, said working people around the world have used the Internet to organise themselves politically and to fight for their rights.
“Whether you were on the streets during the Arab Spring, protesting austerity in Europe or organising a factory [protest] in China, the unfettered internet has been a potent tool for fighting the powerful," Burrow says.
Some 4000 Australians have signed ITUC's petition.