The freewheeling, unregulated Internet seemed to survive a push for new
rules at a UN treaty meeting, but the collapse of talks leaves
unanswered questions about the Web's future.
A total of 89 countries
endorsed the global treaty on telecom regulations at the UN's
International Telecommunication Union gathering in Dubai on Friday, but
the United States and dozens of others refused to sign, saying it opened
the door to regulating the Internet.
ITU chief Hamadoun Toure
insisted that the treaty had nothing to do with the Internet, despite
what he called "a non-binding resolution which aims at fostering the
development and growth of the Internet."
"This conference was not
about the Internet control or Internet governance, and indeed there are
no provisions on the Internet," the ITU secretary-general told
participants at the signing ceremony.
But James Lewis, who follows
Internet governance at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and
International Studies, said backers of the treaty distorted the facts.
"They were lying," he said. "It was totally about the Internet."
told AFP the ITU lost credibility because "they swore up and down there
wouldn't be a vote, that a decision would be by consensus, and then
they took a vote."
The outcome underscored a deep divide between
the US and its allies, which seek to keep the Internet open and
unregulated, and authoritarian regimes that want to impose controls over
online use and content.
Russia, China and Saudi Arabia have been among countries seeking such changes.
Lewis said the World Conference on International Telecommunication,
organized by the ITU in Dubai, failed to wrest control of the Internet
addressing system from the global nonprofit group called ICANN, the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
unclear, said Lewis, whether the treaty can even become effective
without a majority of the 193 ITU members endorsing it.
has to suspend consensus rules to say this treaty is to take effect, and
then it becomes an issue for the lawyers," he said, adding that the
matter could end up before the UN Security Council.
US officials, who led opposition to new Internet rules, said the document adopted in Dubai will have little immediate impact.
can exercise control of online activity within their borders, but
Washington and others objected to a treaty that would legitimize new
Internet controls under UN auspices.
The head of the US
delegation, Terry Kramer, walked out of the hall as the signing started
after protesting that the treaty was "seeking to insert governmental
control over Internet governance."
That position drew praise from lawmakers and activists back home.
Cybersecurity Caucus co-chairs Jim Langevin and Michael McCaul said the
treaty, if implemented, "would result in a significant setback for
anyone who believes free expression is a universal right."
another critic of the conference, said that many governments taking
part in Dubai proved they wanted increased censorship.
clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to
increase regulation and censorship of the Internet," a Google
spokesperson said in a statement.
"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."
general manager of the Global Internet Business Coalition, called the
outcome in Dubai "a humiliating failure" for the UN agency.
collapse will come as a severe embarrassment to the ITU," McCarthy said
in a blog post. "Efforts to bring its core telecom regulations into the
Internet era had exposed the organization to modern realities that it
was incapable of dealing with."
Milton Mueller, an Internet
governance specialist at Syracuse University, said it's not clear if the
new language is a threat to a free Internet.
"While I didn't like
the resolution nor did most Internet rights advocates, I doubt if its
passage would in itself be able to do much harm," he said.
Mueller said the diplomatic efforts were complicated by concerns in some
countries mainly with "bad" human rights records who object to US
sanctions that can cut off access to certain Internet services such as
those from Google.
"Weird and ironic, in that it is the pro-human
rights nations that are using denial of access to Internet services as a
form of policy leverage, and the anti-human rights nations that are
claiming a universal right of Internet access," Mueller said.