A new treaty on telecommunications and the Internet

30 December, 2012

From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report in Special English.

Delegates from around the world recently agreed on a new treaty on telecommunications and the Internet. The agreement came at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai. Yet, the United States and more than 50 other countries refused to sign the treaty. They are calling it a threat to Internet freedom.

This was the first time that the International Telecommunication Regulations have been amended in more than 20 years. At that time, the Internet, as we know it, did not exist. Delegates at the Dubai conference were divided over how the Internet should be governed.

"Countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia, China and to some extent Iran, they were concerned about the fact that the Internet's naming system and address system is governed by a non-profit, which essentially operated through the United States, and is to some extent underwritten by the US Department of Commerce."

Bhaskar Chakravorti is senior associate dean with the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He says the United States has a different position on ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

"The United States and its position can affect most of the western countries' positions as well. And this is really being run by a non-partisan, objective, non-profit body and it is an apolitical body, and it is by no means being influenced by the US government or any of the western governments."

Dean Chakravorti says the United States believes that governments interested in stronger internet control have another goal.

"They have a history of putting controls over the contents that come through the Internet in the wrong countries. And they would like to have a mechanism by which they could go ahead and restrict the content, and to some extent, potentially be able to place a toll both and charge content providers for their coming to the countries."

These discussions took place during two weeks of tense and sometimes heated debate among the conference delegates. Officials reported receiving more than 120 proposals from members of the International Telecommunication Union.

The group's secretary general Hamadoun Touré called the signing of the treaty "a momentous occasion". He expressed regret that some governments failed to sign the agreement, Dr Touré said he hoped the ITU would continue to work with those countries.

Some observers say division over the treaty remains so strong that it is not likely to go into effect in 2015 as planned, unless changes are made.

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports are at 51voa.com. For VOA Learning English, I'm Steve Ember.