The United States government said no to an international telecommunications treaty over provisions added at the last minute that would broaden the scope of the United Nations to include the Internet.
For the U.S. delegation and several Internet companies that attended the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, the final treaty was a deal-breaker.
Terry Kramer, the U.S. ambassador to the WCIT, announced that the U.S. would not sign the International Telecommunications Union treaty on Thursday as the WCIT was wrapping up after 12 days of discussions and negotiations. Also refusing to sign were a number of western countries including Canada, Australia, and the U.K.
According to a Bloomberg report, the ITU treaty would give countries the right to block spam, which the U.S. and others interpreted as akin to government censorship.
"What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet," Google said in a statement. Google sent four representatives to the conference and even set up a website in advance of the meeting to support Internet freedom.
Following the news that the U.S. and other countries were walking out on the treaty, a flurry of press statements from lawmakers and regulators were issued, throwing their support behind the decision.
"It is ... regrettable that discussions at the WCIT turned to the creation of a new layer of international Internet regulation, instead of focusing on the need to spur global growth through the expansion of international telecommunications networks. The U.S. and a substantial number of other like-minded nations simply could not sign such a treaty," said Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement.
Without international consensus and U.S. support, the treaty, which does not go into effect until January 2015 could face problems.
"It is clear that the world community is at a crossroads in its collective view of the Internet," Kramer said in the Bloomberg report.
The ITU's secretary general Hamadoun Toure was taken by surprise. "I repeat that the conference did NOT include provisions on the Internet in the treaty text. Annexed to the treaty is a non-binding resolution which aims at fostering the development and growth of the Internet—a task that ITU has contributed significantly to since the beginning of the Internet era, and a task that is central to the ITU’s mandate to connect the world, a world that today still has two thirds of its population without Internet access. The new ITR treaty does NOT cover content issues and explicitly states in the first article that content-related issues are not covered by the treaty. Likewise, in the preamble of the new text signatory member states undertake to renew their commitment and obligation to existing human rights treaties," Tour said in a statement.