Australia has joined its allies the United States and the United Kingdom in not signing the new ITU treaty; after a vote at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) saw the inclusion of calls that the UN be given a greater role on regulating the Internet.
“It is greatly disappointing that a consensus could not be reached,” Senator Stephen Conroy, the Communications Minister, said. “Australia worked hard to develop suitable text for the ITRs that would have been acceptable to every Member State. Unfortunately, this was not achieved.”
“Australia’s consistent position has been that the internet should not be included in the ITRs. This is a point on which we would not compromise. Australia does not support any changes that would undermine the current multi-stakeholder model for internet governance or fundamentally change the way the internet operates.”
“Australia believes that the approach taken by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), which has input from industry stakeholders, governments and the public, remains the best way to sustain the internet’s growth and innovation.”
The change came from an African proposal, but only came to a vote after Iran’s call (which it passed with 77 votes to 33, despite earlier promises by the ITU for resolving disputes through consensus). That proposal, according to the BBC, was to add a preamble that would recognise “the right of access of member states to international telecommunication services.”
The US claims that this was an attempt to include the Internet governance in the treaty.
It remains controversial, however. According to IT Pro Portal, the Spanish delegation is calling the vote into question, saying that they were misled by Conference chairman Mohamed Nasser al Ghanim. “Had we known that it was a vote, we might very well have acted differently,” they told the publication.
Also potentially rejecting the new treaty include Canada, Kenya, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands and New Zealand. However, with most of the world supporting the treaty – which has already been watered down to suit the Western countries – it could see a fractured internet, where it would work differently.
Talking to Reuters, an official for the Russian delegation said, “Maybe in the future we could come to a fragmented internet. That would be negative for all, and I hope our American, European colleagues come to a constructive position.”
However, while Conroy has rejected the updated treaty, the minister has said that they will not reduce its role in the ITU as a result. “The ITU does great work in connecting the world and we greatly value the ITU’s capacity building work in the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world. We are proud to be part of that work,” he said.