By Matt Smith and Joseph Menn
DUBAI/SAN FRANCISCO Dec 13 An attempt by
national governments to establish a worldwide policy for
oversight of the Internet collapsed on Thursday after many
Western countries said a compromise plan gave too much power to
United Nations and other officials.
Delegates from the United States, UK, Australia and other
countries took the floor on the next to last day of a UN
conference in Dubai to reject revisions to a treaty governing
international phone calls and data traffic.
"It's with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities
that the U.S. must communicate that it's not able to sign the
agreement in the current form," said Terry Kramer, the U.S.
ambassador to the gathering of the UN's International
While other countries will sign the treaty on Friday, the
absence of so many of the largest economies means that the
document, already watered down to suit much of the West, will
have little practical force. "It will bring some legal concerns
between countries that have and haven't signed the treaty," said
a South American delegate who declined to be identified.
Though technologists who had raised alarms about the
proceedings preferred no deal to one that would have legitimized
more government censorship and surveillance, the failure to
reach an accord could increase the chance that the Internet will
work very differently in different regions.
"Maybe in the future we could come to a fragmented
Internet," delegate Andrey Mukhanov, a top international
official at Russia's Ministry of Telecom and Mass
Communications, told Reuters. "That would be negative for all,
and I hope our American, European colleagues come to a
Delegates from the United States and other holdout countries
said they would continue to press at other international
gatherings in support of what they call a "multi-stakeholder
model," in which private industry groups set standards and play
a large role in the development of the medium.
Countries that had been seeking an expansion of the ITU role
reacted with some bitterness to the failure to reach a
Tariq al-Awadhi of the United Arab Emirates, head of the
Arab States' delegation, said his group had been
"double-crossed" by the U.S. bloc after it had agreed to a
compromise deal that moved Internet issues out of the main
treaty and into a nonbinding resolution saying the ITU should be
part of the multi-stakeholder model.
"Unfortunately, those countries breached the compromise
package and destroyed it totally," said Awadhi. "We have given
everything and are not getting anything."
Awadhi said the treaty should have covered all forms of
telecommunications, including voice over Internet protocol and
Internet-based instant messaging services. "They are using
telecom network and using telecom services," he said.
Kramer told reporters that the United States had negotiated
in good faith but that there were several issues that made
agreement impossible, including the resolution's recognition of
an ITU role.
He said a section on reducing the unwanted emails known as
spam, for example, opened the door toward government monitoring
and blocking of political or religious messages.
One of the last major sources of U.S. objection, a clause
that might have given countries the right to administer website
addresses, was struck from the treaty during attempts to salvage
The turnabout was a defeat for ITU Secretary-General
Hamadoun Touré, who had previously predicted that "light-touch"
Internet regulation would emerge from the conference.
But he said the 12-day meeting "has succeeded in bringing
unprecedented public attention to the different and important
perspectives that govern global communications."
Among the countries that said they could not sign, at least
without consulting officials in their capitals, were most
nations in Western Europe along with Canada, Philippines,
Poland, Egypt, Kenya and Czech Republic.
The U.S. bloc's coordinated snub followed a vote that
approved an African proposal to add a sentence in a treaty
relating to human rights.
Western delegates said that effectively reintroduced a
contentious proposal that had said no country should be allowed
to unilaterally deny another country access to communications
networks, which they said stretched too far into the political
"We prefer no resolution on the Internet at all, and I'm
extremely concerned that the language just adopted opens the
possibility of Internet and content issues," Simon Towler, head
of the UK delegation, said after the African proposal was
The treaty is scheduled to be signed at 1330 GMT on Friday.