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Obama Administration Backs Away from UN Internet Policy Agreement

Administration Officials Fear Government Censorship


The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will refuse to sign a U.N. treaty recently under consideration at a global telecommunications conference. The U.S. objection stems from provisions that would give the United Nations the authority to declare censorship and regulation of the Internet.

Terry Kramer, the U.S. ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications said "The United States has announced today that it cannot sign (the treaty) in its current form,” Other countries also spoke out against the treaty, causing the agreement to fail to garner enough support for it to pass.

The United Nations has been getting more involved in global broadband policies and recently stated the importance of broadband like no other official government body could. Representing global broadband interests in nations around the world, the United Nations recently published a comprehensive global broadband policy document entitled The State of Broadband 2012: Achieving Digital Inclusion for All. Emphasizing the growing global importance of broadband, the UN summed up the economic significance of Internet access:

By 2020, the number of connected devices may potentially outnumber connected people by six to one, transforming our concept of the Internet, and society, forever. Today’s Internet economy is large and growing fast by every measure. In 2012, the Boston Consulting Group estimated the size of the Internet economy in the G20 countries at around US$ 2.3 trillion or 4.1% of GDP in 2010; by 2016, this could nearly double to US$ 4.2 trillion2. In 2011, McKinsey estimated that the Internet accounts for 3.4% of total GDP and one fifth of all growth in GDP for the G8 countries plus five major economies (Rep. of Korea, Sweden, Brazil, China, and India – McKinsey Global Institute, 20113). Taking into account the spillover effects of broadband could boost these estimates further, as broadband connectivity is also argued to impact positively labor productivity and job creation

The treaty was being debated at a global conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which was sponsored by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations organization focused on establishing technical standards and telecommunication regulations.

The U.S. Ambassador summed the objection against the agreement as follows:

“The United States has consistently believed that the scope of the treaty does not extend to Internet governance or content. Other administrations have made it clear that they believe the treaty should be extended to cover those issues so we cannot be a part of that consensus.”

Broadband in The United Kingdom: Falling Behind or Keeping Pace with the World?: UK Broadband Report Raises Question of Readiness to Adopt

The UN has long recognized the prominent role of broadband in national initiatives:

"Governments play a critical role in convening the private sector, public institutions, civil society and individual citizens to outline a vision for a connected nation. Policy leadership is necessary to:

  • Highlight the role of broadband in national development
  • Establish a forum for dialogue and encouraging work across Ministries and sectors
  • Set an agenda that outlines policy goals and targets
  • Provide an enabling environment for private investment to flourish.

Measuring Economic Impact of Broadband: Does Speed Matter? UK Report Challenges Benefits of Higher Broadband Speeds

The U.S. delegation was concerned with measures that would give governments the authority to regulate spam on privately managed Internet networks. Some have speculated that nations could use that provision as an excuse to censor government critics using the authority of the global agreement. The meeting was the U.N.'s first significant review of global telecommunications policy since 1998.

United Nations: Broadband Access is a Basic Human Right: Disconnection from the Internet is Against International Law

The economies of both developed and emerging nations are becoming increasingly reliant on broadband, and many industries are emerging because of the Internet. This includes obvious ones, such as Internet service providers and device manufacturers. As a result, government bodies from local, state, federal, and global jurisdictions will continue to advance policies to manage and control access.

Click here to read about broadband's role in recent world events.

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