Terry Kramer, the U.S. Ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications.

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U.S., other countries refuse to sign United Nations treaty on telecommunications and Internet

Ambassador: "Internet policy should not be determined by member states but by citizens ..."

UN is hosting global communications conference in Dubai

American delegation argues Internet governance issues are outside conference's scope

CNN  — 

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and Canada, is refusing to sign a United Nations treaty on telecommunications and the Internet that has been under negotiation for the past two weeks.

Terry Kramer, the U.S. Ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, said Thursday that “the U.S. cannot sign the [treaty] in [its] current form.”

“We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance,” said Kramer during a conference session. “As the ITU has stated, this conference was never meant to focus on Internet issues. However, today we are in a situation where we still have text and resolutions that cover issues on spam and also provisions on Internet governance.”

“Internet policy should not be determined by member states but by citizens, communities, and broader society, and such consultation from the private sector and civil society is paramount,” he continued. “This has not happened here.”

The U.S. decision to withdraw comes following a surprise move late Wednesday in which the chair of the conference called a voice vote on controversial proposal that encourages governments to help expand global Internet access. It was approved in a controversial manner that left some participants confused and upset. Additionally, many countries – the U.S. included – are opposed to including in the treaty any language about the Internet at all.

Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, chair of the conference, released a statement arguing the agreed-upon treaty does not include Internet provisions. Instead, he said the controversial proposal voted upon Wednesday is found in a non-binding annexed resolution to the treaty.

“The conference did NOT [sic] include provisions on the Internet in the treaty text,” said Touré. “Annexed to the treaty is a non-binding Resolution which aims at fostering the development and growth of the Internet.”

Kramer had initially indicated the U.S. would remain engaged in negotiations after Wednesday’s diplomatic ruckus. He also denied rumors the U.S. would be leaving the conference earlier this week.

Later on Thursday, several other countries indicated they agreed the conference is the wrong forum to discuss Internet issues.

Called the World Conference on International Telecommunications, or WCIT, the conference was intended to update a treaty governing international telecommunications that hasn’t been refreshed since 1988.

Since the conference began, the American delegation has argued that Internet governance issues are outside the scope of the conference. Other countries, including Russia and China, disagreed, submitting proposals intended to help governments fight cyberattacks and spam. The Americans – and many open Internet advocates – warned those proposals would be used to censor Internet users and would open the door to further disruptions to the open web.

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The U.S. also argued in favor of governments taking a hands-off approach to the Internet.

“The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years,” said Kramer. “All without U.N. regulation.”