After a break for sleep, Iran called for a vote on the African proposal -- this despite the ITU's earlier promise that disputed issues would be resolved by consensus, rather than a majority vote.
When the vote was carried by 77 to 33 in favor of the proposal, the U.S., the UK, and Canada said they could no longer ratify the treaty. As Simon Towler, the head of the UK delegation, put it
: "My delegation came to work for revised international telecommunication regulations, but not at any cost. We prefer no resolution on the Internet at all, and I'm extremely concerned that the language just adopted opens the possibility of Internet and content issues."
Were there others opposed to the treaty?
Yes, many. And not just countries. Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee -- two of the founders of the Internet and the World Wide Web, respectively -- came out strongly against its ratification. Google ran an adamant campaign against the treaty and the process that wanted to overhaul it, declaring, "A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future."
What about the other countries involved?
Many of them basically half-refused to sign. Delegates from Chile, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, and Sweden essentially voted "present": Though they didn't flat-out refuse to sign, they also said that they'd need to confer with their national governments -- ""consult with capital" -- about how to proceed.
But what about the other countries?
Many of them, including Russia, Iran, and Qatar, supported the treaty -- and, this morning, the remaining members of the ITU (which is made up of 193 countries), signed it. But, as Forbes's Elise Ackerman points out, given that so many major players refused to ratify the document, "the gesture in many ways was hollow."
Why's that, exactly?
Because, like other UN agencies, the ITU derives its power from consensus. Without that -- without buy-in from its members, particularly its more powerful ones -- any treaties under its auspices are extremely difficult to enforce, and therefore largely meaningless.
So what does that mean for the countries that did sign?
Despite this setback, the ITU's secretary-general, Dr. Hamadoun Toure, insisted that signing countries would enjoy benefits including "increased transparency in international mobile roaming charges and competition." He also stressed, however, that the treaty did not address content-related telecommunications -- a note to which effect has also been added to the final text of the treaty.
What does this mean for the ITU?
Toure tried to put a positive spin on the proceedings: "History will show," he said, "that the conference has achieved something extremely important. It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications." Which, okay. But this was a loss, and an embarrassing one, for the ITU. As Ackerman put it, "the collapse of negotiations around the treaty update exposed the ITU as woefully out of step with the most technologically advanced sectors of the global society."
What does this mean for the rest of us?
It means, basically, that we won't see much change in how the Internet is currently run, at least when it comes to international regulations. But the treaty's defeat as a matter of consensus might also have more far-reaching implications for how the world gets together to regulate (or not regulate) the Internet. Closed-door sessions are in some ways at odds with the ideal -- and, for the most part, the reality -- of a free and open Internet. The ITU debacle was, on top of everything else, a reminder of that.