Internet survives as Dubai conference collapses

The Dubai conference of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has ended in disarray – much to the relief of those who support internet freedom.

The purpose of the conference was to draft a new international treaty on cross-border communications. As I reported last week, Russia and others – including a group of Arab countries led by the UAE – viewed this as an opportunity to assert more governmental control over the internet.

Although 89 countries accepted the new treaty – prompting the ITU to describe it as a "solid new framework for tomorrow’s hyper-connected world" – 55 countries refused to sign, in effect making the treaty inoperable.

Rejectionists include the US, the UK, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Qatar and Sweden. The US had earlier described the text as "inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance".

According to AFP, a key part of the document states that "all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the existing internet and its future development and of the future internet" – which is seen as opening the door for meddling by authoritarian regimes.

In a highly critical report for the dot-nxt website, Kieren McCarthy argues that the main loser in all this is the ITU itself:

"Having turned industries and governments upside down, the internet has claimed its first organisational scalp, subjecting the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to a humiliating failure at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai ...

"The collapse [of the conference] will come as a severe embarrassment to the ITU. Efforts to bring its core telecom regulations into the Internet era had exposed the organisation to modern realities that it was incapable of dealing with. In the end, they proved overwhelming ...

"In the end, the ITU and the conference chair, having backed themselves to the edge of a cliff, dared governments to push them off. They duly did. And without even peeking over, the crowd turned around and walked away."