DUBAI // A controversial UN telecoms treaty was rejected by more than a third of member nations yesterday over fears it promotes government censorship of the internet.
The UAE was among 89 of 144 countries that did back the motion at the World Conference of International Telecommunications in Dubai, saying it would increase connectivity and cut costs worldwide.
Among those to reject it were the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Hamadoun Toure, the secretary of the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU), insisted that the revised treaty, the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR), was not about governing the internet.
He said it would instead benefit users by increasing transparency ininternational mobile roaming charges.
"The conference did not include provisions on the internet in the treaty text," Mr Toure said.
"The new ITR does not cover content issues and explicitly states in the first article that content-related issues are not covered."
"If the word 'internet' was repeated here in Dubai it is a reflection of the world we live in because the two worlds of telecommunication and Internet are linked," Mr Toure added.
"History will show that despite some challenges and controversies, the conference has achieved a common goal and the treaty signing has achieved a momentous occasion to bring connectivity to two-thirds of the world's people who are still offline."
Mr Toure said he hoped that members who had asked for time to consult with their governments would join the majority who supported the treaty.
The treaty does not come into effect until 2015 and its provisions will be part of discussions between member states.
The ITR enables global interconnectivity and operation of the information and communication services. Countries that did not sign will be governed by the earlier version from 1988.
More than 1,600 delegates participated in the 12-day conference, including ministers and ambassadors.
Delegates from the 55 nations that did not sign the treaty said they were against government control of the internet.
"Internet policy should not be determined by member states but by citizens, communities and broader society," said Terry Kramer, head of the US delegation.
"The internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefits during these past 24 years - all without UN regulation. We cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with a multi-stakeholder model of internet governance. The ITU has stated that this conference was never meant to focus on internet issues, but we still have text and resolutions that cover issues on spam and also provisions on internet governance."
Countries that refused to sign also expressed concern about new fee suggestions in the treaty. Delegates said small businesses and universities would be affected if possible taxes were imposed on selling content-development applications overseas, and they objected to controlling traffic routing that would funnel searches through specific servers.
"Too much regulation and strict control by government and international organisations is not what we want to see," said Soichiro Seki, head of the Japanese delegation.
"At the last moment in the conference we had tense discussions and diversified views that did not merge. The big concern for us was that freedom of expression should continue with maximum use of the internet by end users. We are concerned with the ITR's future direction."
States that signed included China, Russia, Brazil, Iran, several African Union nations and Arab countries including Saudi Arabia.
Delegates said revisions were essential since countries had varied levels of internet development, so regulatory requirements differed.
The conference's UAE chairman, Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, was credited by delegates for trying to break the deadlock and hammer out a compromise.
"The issues were contentious and the views expressed sometimes were diametrically opposed, but we believe that the outcome has met the common interests of all. We share the same dream of a better future for us and our children," Mr Al Ghanim said.
"While we did not get a universal consensus, I believe we achieved a broad agreement and thank the 89 countries who signed the treaty. I hope the 55 who are yet to sign will reconsider their position so we can pave the way to a more connected world."
The treaty includes provisions for better connectivity for people with disabilities and a resolution to help land-locked nations and small islands gain direct access to the internet instead of via neighbouring countries.
"The media prejudged our discussions but we have saved our union," said Victor Strelets, the head of the Russian delegation.
"Member states have shown that they wish to govern the internet and have their say, not be dependent on the views of a few countries."