ITU treaty to regulate Internet won't have major impact on Internet governance, says telecom attorney

U.S. government and industry display rare show of unity at CES
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LAS VEGAS-- The treaty produced at the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) sanctioning international regulation of the Internet will not have a significant impact on Internet governance, judged Daniel Brenner, a telecom attorney who has participated in a number of ITU conferences.

During a 2013 Consumer Electronics Show session, Brenner said the treaty will not have a significant impact because the major countries behind development of the Internet are not signatories and the language of the treaty is mostly couched in terms such as "should."

"The treaty is not going to provide a new regime to govern the Internet. That's a good thing," said Brenner, who was the vice chairman of the U.S. delegation to the ITU World Radio Conference in the 1980s.

More than 2,000 delegates were registered to attend the WCIT conference, which convened last month in Dubai to overhaul 1980s-era international telecommunications regulations.

Brenner explained that the transition to international VoIP calling has deprived developing nations of a lucrative source of revenue generated by the traditional international telecom regime. Under that structure, developing countries received compensation for international calls through the international settlement system based on the legacy circuit-switched network.

But with international VoIP calling, those revenues have vanished, and many developing countries are not happy about the change, Brenner said.

In addition, some countries, such as Iran, want international imprimatur for censuring the Internet within their borders. "Countries that censure the Internet wanted to get through ITU regulations a chance to provide cover on an international law basis to regulate the Internet domestically," Brenner said.

The U.S. government and industry went into the conference dead set against ITU regulation of the Internet. "What was really amazing… is that for the first time the entirety of the industry sectors in the United States--that means the carriers such as AT&T (NYSE: T), Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), as well as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), who are often fighting at the FCC over issues such as net neutrality--those fights were put to one side in a united position saying that we do not want the ITU regulating the Internet," Brenner observed.

The U.S. delegation, however, had to convince developing countries they were better off with the free flow of the Internet, despite losing out on revenues from the legacy telecom system.

Brenner related that after weeks of futile debate, the delegates, many of whom did not know what they were voting on, voted on an ITU treaty to regulate the Internet.

Iran succeeded in attaching an amendment to the treaty granting human rights to countries. "The idea that countries have human rights, not the people within them, is a challenge to understand," Brenner quipped. The treaty was signed by 89 countries, while 55 countries, including the United States, opposed it or deferred a vote, he said.

For more:
- see the ITU release
- check out the FCC's statement on the treaty

Editor's Corner: At ITU's Dubai conference, what's not being said about Internet freedom rings loudest

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