Free Internet campaigners are hailing as a victory the news that more than 80 countries have refused to sign new ITRs (International Telecommunication Regulations) at a global conference in Dubai.

Negotiations on the future governance of international telecommunications at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) hit difficulties mid-week as some delegates attempted to push through rules governing the Internet and online content.

The U.S., U.K., Sweden, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and Qatar all refused to sign the agreement, citing concerns with the text that includes a reference to spam -- unsolicited bulk communication in the parlance of the conference -- despite assurances from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that content would not be included.

The final draft of the treaty does not include any reference to the Internet, but a non-binding resolution document does include references to fostering an enabling environment for the Internet. Despite the vague language and its inclusion in the resolution rather than the ITRs themselves, alarm bells still sounded for the majority of those countries that didn't sign.

However, some of these non-signatories said that they would have to consult with their capitals before reaching a final decision. The remaining members of the ITU, which is made up of 193 countries, signed the treaty on Friday afternoon. But with such a large opt-out, the validity of the ITRs has been thrown into question. The ITU has no powers to force countries to comply with its rules.

Members had the option to sign, sign with reservations on certain clauses that they would then not implement or refuse to sign at all.

The international conference was attempting to revise global rules for governing telecoms and the Internet that have not been updated since 1988.

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