The US and UK have refused to sign an ITU treaty on international Internet governance.

The ITU, an agency of the United Nations, wanted to update existing measures as part of an international communications agreement which was last overhauled 24 years ago.

The agency was taking part in the World Conference of International Communication (WCIT), held in Dubai from December 3 until today (Dec 14).

The meeting aimed to get governments to thrash out a new information and communication treaty.

However, the US, Canada and UK all refused to sign it – on the basis that it called for all states to have equal rights in the governance of the Internet.

The countries also feared issues could arise over Government control if ITU was given control over the Internet: especially in the face of a proposed addition to the treaty by an African bloc of countries, relating to human rights, which stated that: “These regulations recognise the right of access of member states to international telecommunication services.”

That vote was eventually carried by 77 votes to 33, leading the US, UK and Canada to walk out over fears it could be perceived as a way of giving governments more power to censor the Internet – something that Google has been quite vocal about in its opposition.

Google set up a special portal to protest about the planned treaty: claiming that it was a danger to the free and open Internet the firm was striving hard to maintain.

The firm’s Take Action portal challenged the meeting and its agenda as well as urging users to take action and fight against what the search engine giant sees as a growing level of web censorship.

Google will see the outcome as an online PR victory of sorts – using it as evidence it has supported the two billion people now using the Internet, despite the emergence of ever-increasing restrictions from authorities across the globe.

A host of other countries also failed to sign the treaty.

Negotiators from a range of European countries including Denmark, Italy and Sweden, as well as negotiators from other countries across the globe including Chile, New Zealand, Costa Rica and Kenya, all said that further consultation was needed with their own national governments on the best way to proceed – and therefore they would not sign the treaty as planned.

In total, 20 countries refused to sign the treaty; they will not have a second chance to sign it, but can instead abide by the rules  if they so choose.

ITU chief Dr Hamadoun Toure said he believed the conference had been very successful and paved the way for a number of important changes. He also pointed out that, despite what had been indicated by others, the treaty did not cover issues relating to content.

He said: “We hope that the treaty that has been signed today will make it possible for the remaining people without access to mobile coverage today, to the 4.5 billion people still offline… when all these people come online, we hope they will have enough infrastructure and connectivity so that traffic will continue to flow freely.”

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