A Principled Stance on the Internet’s Future

Last Friday, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) ended without broad agreement regarding proposed revisions to a major international telecommunications treaty. Why? Because what should have been a limited effort to modernize quarter-century old telecommunications regulations turned into an attempt to legitimize greater state control over the Internet. The United States has consistently opposed such efforts based on core principles:  that the Internet’s social and economic benefits come from the free flow of information and ideas and that the technical innovation enabling this information flow comes from the full engagement of civil society, industry, and governments in the process. 

The United States went to the WCIT prepared to negotiate revisions to a telecommunications treaty, last revised in 1988. These changes would have reflected the realities of the modern world while staying true to the charter of the Conference. Unfortunately, a small number of vocal states at the WCIT which do not endorse the principles of economic opportunity and free expression sought, in proposal after proposal, to instead focus on the Internet. Because of those efforts, the Conference  missed a significant opportunity to encourage economic growth through greater broadband deployment.

In the end, the United States determined that it could not sign the proposed treaty and we were far from alone in our stance. Fifty-four nations in the developed and developing world—including India, Kenya, the Philippines, Colombia, and almost all of Europe—have also chosen not to sign the treaty. Moreover, U.S. industry, Congress, and civil society were united in recognizing the value of a principled decision to protect  the existing multistakeholder governance model of the Internet and not sign a treaty that could have set a dangerous precedent for greater state control of information on the Internet.

We recognize, however, that many states wanted something from this Conference that it did not provide, but could have: increased investment in broadband to connect more people around the world to the digital future. And to those nations, we reaffirm that our Administration is committed to connecting more across the globe to modern technology — and will do so both directly, and in forums positioned to address real needs in a constructive way.

The United States believes that expanded global access to telecommunications services and broadband Internet—combined with an inclusive Internet governance model—remains the best path towards economic growth that benefits everyone. We know that the WCIT was not the last place that those opposed to an inclusive Internet will try to gain legitimacy for their approach. As a result, the U.S. remains committed to upholding our principles in all our international engagements. The Obama Administration looks forward to continued discussions with all parties, from other nations to industry to civil society, on how best to promote the growth of this infrastructure so the world can continue to enjoy the benefits of digital innovation.

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