DUBAI — Once-in-a-generation talks on a global telecommunications treaty were perched on the verge of collapse Thursday, with delegates seemingly unable to break an impasse over the most sensitive issue: whether to include the Internet in the negotiations.
The United States signaled to other conference participants that it was prepared to withdraw support for the process if it did not receive concessions on the key sticking points, according to two people briefed on the situation, who insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. The United States received backing for its position from many European countries but faced opposition from Russia and others in the talks, which are being carried out under the auspices of a U.N. agency, the International Telecommunication Union.
The United States says the Internet should not be mentioned in the treaty, which deals with technical matters like connecting international telephone calls, because doing so could lead to curbs on free speech. A bloc of other countries, led by Russia and including China and the host nation, the United Arab Emirates, argues that the Internet should be within the scope of the talks because Internet traffic travels through telecommunications networks.
The goal of the talks, led by Mohamed Nasser al-Ghanim, director general of the Telecommunication Regulation Authority of the United Arab Emirates, was to revise a document that was last updated in 1988, when the Internet was in its early stages of development. With more than 190 nations represented, agreement was never going to be easy, but like most U.N. agencies, the telecommunication union tries to operate by consensus.