Countries conclude UN conference with two different visions for future of Internet

Countries are now moving forward under two different communications systems to govern telecommunications and the Internet, as the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) concluded Friday with member states failing to arrive at consensus.

Eighty-nine countries were in favor of a controversial new version of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which now includes the decision to create a global emergency telephone number, greater broadband access for persons with disabilities and provisions to address spam. This version was strongly objected to by the U.S.-led delegation, which will not abide by the new rules.

Among the 89 signatories were Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Iran, Russia and various African states.

The 55 countries who opposed the new version of the ITRs include the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Sweden, Poland, India, Kenya and others. The U.S. and its allies heavily objected to the regulation of content and Internet companies.

A breakdown in talks between the delegations late Thursday evening — spurred by heavy opposition by the U.S. delegation and its allies — left International Telecommunication Union (ITU) secretary general Dr. Hamadoun Toure “very much surprised”, reported the Associated Press.

The 89 countries supporting the new version of the treaty have argued for greater government control of the Internet, which they argued will encourage its continued growth by discontinuing a system they said favored the U.S.

Despite insistence by Toure Thursday evening that the treaty does not address the Internet, supporters looked to wrest control of the growth the Internet from what they said is system that favored the U.S.

The controversial resolution to “foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet” — which mentions the Internet 9 times — was included in the final version of the treaty signed at the end of the conference.

The ITU expressed optimism about the 55 countries, stating the they “may sign later.”

ITU spokesperson Sarah Parkes told Bloomberg that the countries not signing the would remain under the version of treaty passed in 1988, when the treaty was last updated. Opponents to the treaty revision argued that the conditions created by the 1988 agreement spawned the success of the Internet.

“This sounds much like a digital version of the cold war,” writes The Economist. “The funny thing is that the leading countries in the two camps are the same two that were at loggerheads until the iron curtain parted. One must hope that the failure of the WCIT is not a first step towards raising a digital one.”

In 1988, the decision to enshrine the deregulation of telecommunications networks in the ITRs sparked similar controversy.

Final conference stats provided by the ITU show that of the 193 member states involved with the ITU, 155 were present at the conference and 144 had voting power because they had paid dues.

The treaty is expected to take affect January 2015.

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