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“It is clear that the world community is a crossroads in its view of the Internet and its relationship to society in the coming century,” said Terry Kramer, leader of the American delegation to a global treaty conference on telecommunications held in Dubai. Then, after uttering this lofty declaration, Kramer refused to sign the treaty and his delegation boycotted the closing ceremony. We don’t know what was served at the ceremony but the Americans left the other attendees with generous portions of egg on their faces.
The Americans bolted because they perceived that the conference’s resolutions, approved by 89 of the 144 nations, represented a threat to Internet freedom. Yet, as the New York Times‘s Eric Pfanner points out, “Anyone reading the treaty… might be puzzled by these assertions. ‘Internet’ does not appear anywhere in the 10-page text, which deals mostly with matters like the fees that telecommunications networks should charge one another for connecting calls across borders. After being excised from the pact at United States insistence, the I-word was consigned to a soft-pedaled resolution that is attached to the treaty.
“The first paragraph of the treaty,” Pfanner writes, states that “’These regulations do not address the content-related aspects of telecommunications.’ That convoluted phrasing was understood by all parties to refer to the Internet, delegates said, but without referring to it by name so no one could call it an Internet treaty.” The stated goal of the conference was to “narrow the digital divide” and make the Internet available to “more of the 4.5 billion people around the world who remain offline,” says Pfanner.
With unctuous hypocrisy Kramer delivered this slap in the face “with a heavy heart,” but to some it was more like a heavy hand, and though Pfanner doesn’t say so in so many words, it’s clear that the strings controlling that hand were manipulated by big media companies whose paranoid terror of censorship overrides every consideration of regulation, good will or good faith.
Once again – we’re thinking of our refusal to ratify the Kyoto environmental protocol – the United States has blown a huge opportunity to be a light unto the nations. Shame!
Details in Message, if Murky, From U.S. to the World by Eric Pfanner