Russia, China back down at WCIT

As the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) draws to a close the pace of negotiations is picking up.

According to the latest report, Russia, China and other countries at the Dubai conference trying to update international telecom regulations have withdrawn a proposal thought to be aimed at increasing government control over the Internet.

The conference is organized by International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations.
At a Webcast press briefing on Wednesday at 6 at p.m. Dubai time, ITU officials said one issue agreed on is that member countries adopt either 911 or 112 as local emergency phone numbers.

The goal is to make it easier for travellers in foreign countries to call for help.

Some countries objected, however, saying it would mean local carriers would have to reprogram network switches.

Sarah Parkes, the ITU’s chief of media relations listed off a number of areas where there appeared to be consensus. But, she added, discussion on the treaty’s preamble “quickly bogged down” over whether there should be any mention of human rights.

The U.S. proposed new text that “members states affirm their intention to implement these regulations in a manner that respects their human rights obligations, which are not altered in any way.”

That may have been seen as a way to pressure nations who impose Internet or telecom control on their populations.

But several countries – including China, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iran – objected.

“It remained a very polarizing issue before the meeting broke for lunch,” Parkes said.

On the other hand, a proposal that “member states shall refrain from taking unilateral and/or discriminatory actions that could impede another member states’ access to public international telecommunications networks” was strongly supported by Iran, Cuba and others, according to Paul Conneally, the ITU’s head of communications.

He said they called this clause a matter of human rights.

Countries like Iran worry that Western nations will attack its telecom systems.

But Conneally said the U.S. retorted that the proposed clause should be rejected because the WCIT treaty is only supposed to deal with technical issues. A similar clause is already part of the U.N. agreements.

It was hoped a full text of the proposed regulations would be completed by Wednesday evening, allowing a full day of debate Thursday. The conference is scheduled to wrap up Friday.
ITU press officials said traditionally the regulations would be adopted by consensus, as opposed to a vote.

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