Thursday, September 13, 2012

World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12)

In December of this year, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will convene the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai.

According to the ITU's WCIT-12 website, the purpose of the conference is to "review the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which serve as the binding global treaty outlining the principles which govern the way international voice, data and video traffic is handled, and which lay the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth. The ITRs were last negotiated in Melbourne, Australia in 1988, and there is broad consensus that the text now needs to be updated to reflect the dramatically different information and communication technology (ICT) landscape of the 21st century."

A publicly accessible draft of the proposed future ITRs is available here and a set of background briefs and FAQs is available here. From the first background briefing:
"There is consensus that the ITRs must be adapted to match our rapidly changing world. Differing proposals have been put forward on how best to do this, but all agree that there must be international cooperation. Governments and the private sector will play complementary but distinct roles. Governments establish sound regulatory frameworks, and the private sector provides the investment. Together this will ensure that infrastructure is built — to the benefit of consumers and the ICT sector as a whole."
The proposed changes or additions to the ITRs are summarized under the following headings:
  • Human right of access to communications
  • Security in the use of ICTs
  • Protection of critical national resources
  • International frameworks
  • Charging and accounting, including taxation
  • Interconnection and interoperability
  • Quality of service
  • Convergence
Some of the proposals for updating the ITRs have been met with concern. Analysys Mason this week published a report on the ITU's proposals (press release here and ISP Review coverage here), titled Internet global growth: lessons for the future. The report critiques the proposals in the light of the success and growth of the Internet under the current model, and suggests that applying rate models developed for an obsolete telecoms system would have a negative impact on the modern Internet. From the executive summary:
"...adapting the ITR treaty to the Internet is not only unnecessary, but could harm the growth of the Internet in developing countries. The Internet is governed under a multi-stakeholder model with no global regulation, but well accepted and efficient "rules of the road" allowing business arrangements to be based on commercial considerations. There is significant evidence that this model works – including in developing country regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America – and does not need a fundamental regulatory overhaul."
The report argues that "the Internet and the international voice network are fundamentally different" and that any attempt to adapt regulations that were originally developed for voice networks to the Internet will create problems, particularly for developing countries. Instead, Analysys Mason argue that policies should focus directly on developing a robust Internet ecosystem, by increasing investments throughout fixed and mobile networks, increasing competition via telecoms liberalisation and taking action to increase demand for broadband services.

Similar concerns are expressed in a position paper from Digital Europe, which "represents the digital technology industry in Europe", with members including "some of the world's largest IT, telecoms and consumer electronics companies and national associations from every part of Europe":
"DIGITALEUROPE believes it is critical to preserve the global multi-stakeholder, market-based and decentralized nature of internet governance. This will ensure that the substantial benefits already gained will be maintained and reinforced. The ITU will have a role to play in this context, together with individual governments, industry and civil society. We believe the ITRs should enshrine high-level principles of international telecommunications, which have underpinned the success of telecoms liberalization and expansion, and the development of the internet. They should not be revised in a way that grants the ITU authority over the internet or develops an international regulatory treaty for the internet. All of the proposals commented on above seek to impose inter-governmental treaty control over the internet and will forfeit the gains achieved today and fragment the internet. In short, the participants to the WCIT-12 should look at how to improve, not to expand, the ITRs. DIGITALEUROPE looks forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with the ITU Member states on the proposals to be considered in Dubai and their impact for Europe"
In summary, the main recommendation of both the Analsys Mason and Digital Europe reports to the ITU would seem to be "the Internet is working, so don't try and fix it". I'm sure there will be further commentaries and analyses in the run up to WCIT-12 in December.

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