Australia will not sign a revised international telecommunications treaty, as it has the potential to fundamentally change the way the internet operates, according to the Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy.
Over the past two weeks, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) has been considering amendments to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). Some of these amendments sought to extend the ITRs to include internet governance.
“It is greatly disappointing that a consensus could not be reached,” Senator Conroy said in a statement. “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."
Conroy said it remains Australia’s view that for the ITRs to be enduring and useful they should focus on the interconnection of international telecommunication networks. However, he underscored that the decision not to sign the ITRs did not mean that Australia was stepping back from its engagement with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). “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."
The US, UK and Canadian delegations to the meeting also decided not to ratify the resolution because regulations will include provisions on Internet governance and content.
Several other countries, including Kenya, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, indicated late on Thursday they would not sign the document or take partial reservations, said Terry Kramer, the head of the US delegation to WCIT.
The resolution, to be signed Friday, will likely include language that would allow governments to get involved in Internet governance, a provision on fighting spam and a provision on fighting cybersecurity, among other issues, Kramer said during a press conference.
Some WCIT observers have also raised concerns that many countries could use the resolution as a model for regulation of the Internet.
Negotiations during the two-week conference began to sour late Wednesday, when countries began backing away from text they had already agreed to and WCIT Chairman Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim called for a show of hands to "take the temperature" of the room.
He then declared that a majority was in favor of a resolution including the Internet in the WCIT regulations, in addition to traditional telecom services, a position the U.S. and its allies had opposed.
Several organisations, including the Internet Society and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), also raised objections, saying the Internet provisions were included contrary to assurances from ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré that the treaty was not about the Internet.
The international telecommunication regulations have not been updated since 1988.
Grant Gross and Jennifer Baker contributed to this story