Walkouts Reflect Split on UN Telecommunications Rules

Officials from several countries, including the U.S., walked out during talks at the World Conference on International Telecommunications after several controversial passages were included in the treaty.

by / December 14, 2012
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Officials from several countries walked out on talks about regulating international Internet traffic at the World Conference of International Telecommunications. The treaty, which some said would have permitted individual governments power to regulate phone calls and data traffic, was passed over the objections of officials in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Qatar and Sweden, the Guardian.co.uk reported.

Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation, declared opposition to the draft treaty. "It is with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunity that the U.S. must communicate that it's not able to sign the agreement in its current form," he said during the conference. Since first being named as leader of the U.S. delegation, Kramer announced the U.S. would oppose any major changes to existing international treaties. According to International Telecommunication Union (ITU), countries not signing the new treaty must continue to follow the version from 1988.

Google supported the countries opposing the treaty, making this statement: “What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet,” Google stated. “We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty and also with the millions of voices who have joined us to support a free and open web.”

Hamadoun Toure, the UN secretary general to the ITU, maintained that the proposed treaty changes would not enable censorship. “We wanted to show that we want to build bridges because the Internet and telecommunications societies need to work together.” Toure added that the conference was a success in the sense that it brought greater public attention to telecommunications issues.

In an interview with Government Technology before the conference, U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer indicated that such disagreements between countries could potentially lead to an Internet very different from the one we know today. “The people that would be the most alarmist about this would say that it would balkanize the Internet -- create a whole bunch of standards and approaches,” Kramer said. Ultimately, he explained, the Internet could become a fractured, uncooperative infrastructure.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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