Google has warned the event threatened the “open internet”, while the EU said the current system worked, adding: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But the agency said action was needed to ensure investment in infrastructure to help more people access the net.
“The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely the rich world’s privilege, ” said Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) , ahead of the meeting.
The ITU traces its roots back to 1865, pre-dating the United Nations. Back then the focus was on telegrams but over ensuing decades governments have extended its remit to other communications technologies.
It helped develop the standards that made sure different countries’ telephone networks could talk to each other, and continues to allocate global radio spectrum and communication satellite orbits.
The current event – the World Conference on International Telecommunications (Wcit) – marks the first time it has overseen a major overhaul of telecommunication regulations since 1988.
The ITU highlights proposals to block spam messages, cut mobile roaming fees and prioritise emergency calls as some of the event’s key topics.
There have been accusations of “secrecy” because the ITU had left it to individual countries to publish proposals rather than release them itself.
The resulting treaty will become part of international law, however the ITU itself recognises that there is no legal mechanism to force countries to comply.
The ITU says there is a need to reflect the “dramatically different” technologies that have become commonplace over the past 24 years.
But the US has said some of the proposals being put forward by other countries are “alarming”.
“There have been proposals that have suggested that the ITU should enter the internet governance business,” said Terry Kramer, the US’s ambassador to Wcit, last week.
“There have been active recommendations that there be an invasive approach of governments in managing the internet, in managing the content that goes via the internet, what people are looking at, what they’re saying.
“These fundamentally violate everything that we believe in in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we’re going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature.”
He added that he was specifically concerned by a proposal by Russia which said member states should have “equal rights to manage the internet” – a move he suggested would open the door to more censorship.