The ITU's WCIT has ended as expected with a crucial minority of states refusing to sign up to the treaty, mostly due to a 'resolution' added as a receptacle for all the contentious Internet stuff. By I.D. Scales.
The ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications ended today and it's as yet (at the time of writing) unclear which states have or haven't signed the treaty on new international regulations and its accompanying resolution. That news is expected later today, but U.S., U.K., Canada, Poland, the Netherlands, Kenya and New Zealand and others have already indicated that they won't ratify because it appears to set a framework within which governments could involve themselves in Internet governance and content. Other delegations will likely join this list.
The treaty signed today and will likely have resolution provisions on spam-fighting, cyber-security, Web naming and Internet numbering, although the most highly contentious Internet proposal on sending network pays traffic exchange for the Internet, originated by European telcos, hasn't made the final cut.
The US position is that while not much will happen in the short term in the longer term it may provide a framework for regulation of the Internet by those signed-up states. The US and its allies will have to do lots of "outreach" to ensure that this doesn't happen and that the world doesn't end up with what lead negotiator for the US, Terry Kramer, has called a Balkinisation of the Internet.
So what happened?
Despite assurances from the ITU secretary general, Hamadoun Toure, that the new treaty would not involve the Internet and that nothing would pass through without consensus being reached first, both of those things appeared to have happened. The cunning plan was to house the contentious measures in a 'resolution' rather than in the Internationa Telecoms Regulations (ITRs), thus sticking to the letter of those assurances. According to ITU rules, resolutions do not have treaty status and aren't binding on member states.
But then, when you boil it down and shove it out into the real world, the treaty itself isn't binding and parts or all of it can be abrogated. In practice, much of the telecoms world ignores the ITRs in any case.
Here's how the process has unfolded over the past two weeks: despite all the denials there WAS a concerted attempt by a large bloc of countries to introduce International Telecoms Regulations which would have validated and assisted states to exert greater control over the Internet.
That this was going to happen was obvious from the beginning, so the task for the US, Europe and other allies was, to block these proposals as they emerged at WCIT.
The conference then proceeded on this basis with the ITU hierarchy reassuring the US, its allies, and the world at large that the output of the conference would be based on consensus and that, slightly confusingly, the US had been assured by the Secretary General, that 'the Internet' would not be subject to any ITR regulation (if so why was the Russian bloc hell-bent on introducing them?).
The US had made clear from the start (with full political backing from Washington) that it wouldn't sign up to anything which it regarded as dangerous to the functioning of an open Internet.
So not much room for consensus there. How would the situation resolve itself?
The conference progressed with the Russian bloc to try to get something on the Internet past the US bloc, with accusations of bad faith and and skulduggery, threats to walk out, compromise texts and so on, flying about right up to the last moment.
In the end the contentious far-reaching Internet issues (which despite all assurances were really the ONLY thing the conference was about) were blocked from the treaty itself but appear to have emerged in a resolution attached to the treaty text, which seems to set out aspirations for further regulatory development.
As for the main treaty, the ITU says there are "pioneering new provisions" which include "globally harmonized numbers for access to emergency services, new text mandating greater transparency in the prices set for mobile roaming, and new provisions to improve the energy efficiency of ICT networks and help combat e-waste."
So despite all the sound and fury has any damage (or even any benefit) been achieved?
Neither side appears to have won this round. The US bloc can feel relieved that the Internet was pretty-much kept out of the ITRs but worried that all the issues therefore remain unresolved and that they have been left to fester in a 'resolution'.. The worry now is that the resolution will become a framework for the other states to develop their regulatory agenda over security, content control and naming and numbering.
The truth is that, despite the posturing this conference wasn't about writing rules in any meaningful sense. It suited both sides though to make out that it was: for the ITU it's obviously very important to look as if you actually have power; for those who wanted to galvanise opposition in the US to the moves to exert control over the Internet, it was equally important to make the 'threat' look real.
What the WCIT was really about was setting a frame for the ongoing argument about control of the Internet. Some of the states that want it do so because - after the Arab Spring - their very survival may be at stake. Others just want to tilt the balance of power away from the US and to try and trap a slice of the revenue that they believe is flowing past them and into the coffers of Google & Co.
What's for sure is that all the issues will be back - the end of the WCIT will only see a brief lull in hostilities.
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