The ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) is now over... and it played out almost exactly as many had predicted. After going back
on explicit promises that the treaty would (a) not be about the internet and (b) would only be completed by consensus, rather than by majority vote -- the US lived up to its promise
not to support such a treaty by officially stating that it would not sign
. A number of other countries quickly followed suit including: the UK, Canada, Denmark, Australia, Norway, Costa Rica, Serbia, Greece, Finland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Sweden, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Qatar (though some apparently said they could not sign because they first had to consult with their own governments -- so it's possible that some of these may change their mind, but many viewed such statements as a more diplomatic way of refusing to sign).
The US, on the other hand, was explicit in refusing to sign:
"It's with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the US must communicate that it's not able to sign the agreement in the current form," said US Ambassador to WCIT Terry Kramer. "The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN regulation. We candidly cannot support an ITU Treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance," Kramer added.
The US delegation also laid out the specific reasons
why it refused to sign, and they're the same issues we've been talking about all along: (1) the attempt to expand the definition
of the types of entities covered by the treaty from the big telcos to just about everyone running network (2) the explicit inclusion of internet and internet governance in the treaty (3) the claim of a mandate over cybersecurity
and (4) the official regulation of spam. That last one hasn't received as much attention, but the US found the rules put forth for dealing with spam going way too far, and putting in place rules that would violate the First Amendment.
Of course, with so many countries bailing out, the ITU's promise that this would all be about consensus look positively laughable in retrospect. But, perhaps even more laughable is the response from ITU boss Hamadoun Toure
whose claims read like those of a bureaucrat in complete denial. First he claimed complete "surprise"
that the US and other countries walked away:
I couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t sign it. I especially was surprised by the reasons that were put in place. I had made it clear from the opening that [Internet and content were not a part of the discussion]. I invited ICANN to show that we want to build bridges. The telecoms society and internet society need to work together. I made an appeal to please help us build bridges. The fighting will not help the consumer that we are trying to reach here.
He kept going on and on insisting that the internet and internet governance were not a part of the agreement, even though they are
. Of course, he then effectively admits that part of the goal is
to be the key player in the internet
I have been saying in the run up to this conference that this conference is not about governing the Internet. 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.
So it's not about the internet, but the internet is central to the ITU's mandate. Of course, this claim is also a lie. The ITU's mandate does not
cover the internet, but telecom
infrastructure. One of the more nefarious moves by Toure and the ITU in this whole process was to continually blur the lines between telecom infrastructure and the internet, as if they were one and the same.
The word “Internet” was repeated throughout this conference and I believe this is simply a recognition of the current reality – the two worlds of telecommunications and Internet are inextricably linked. I demonstrated that from the very beginning by inviting my friend Fadi Chehadé, the CEO of ICANN, to address our conference at the beginning.
So... again, he's saying two different things. First, he claims that the treaty has nothing to do with the internet, and then insists that telecommunications and the internet are "inextricably linked," which explains why the treaty pretty clearly would impact internet governance -- which is why so many nations are refusing to sign.
Finally, there's this bit of self-aggrandizing bullshit:
History will show that this conference has achieved something extremely important. It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications. There is not one single world view but several, and these views need to be accommodated and engaged.
WCIT has shown us this truth and we have worked hard together to find a way that is acceptable to all. Let WCIT be the beginning of this dialogue. As our two worlds increasingly converge so must we increasingly converse and find a common way.
To be honest, this feels like a speech that was written before the events of the past two weeks, perhaps at that secret meeting
to plan its media strategy. To sit there and claim that WCIT was about finding a way "acceptable to all" and one in which the focus was on "finding a common way" is especially laughable, given how the whole thing concluded. History may very well show that something extremely important was achieved, but it may just be that the achievement was demonstrating clearly what a charade the ITU is
, and making it clear that it is not the right organization to have anything to do with internet issues. The ITU has been shown, once again, to be an out-of-date, out-of-touch, obsolete organization searching for relevance.
The simple fact is that the world does not need an ITU to "enable" the internet. The internet was built and expanded rapidly through other means, driven by demand and what it enabled people to do. The current system is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it has been working, and shifting to a model driven by international bureaucrats was never in the cards.
The internet does not need the ITU. The ITU needed the internet to remain relevant. The internet, however, does not work that way, and any attempt to move it into such a system of bureaucratic oversight was doomed from the start.