ITU Addresses Misconceptions About WCIT, ITRs
18 September 2012

From Communications Daily, published by Warren Communications,

Common misconceptions and "paranoia" on how the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications could affect the scope of Internet governance and censorship have distracted from important telecom issues that delegates to the WCIT will deal with when it meets in December, ITU officials said Monday. They called a news conference in Geneva with accompanying videoconference to "dispel the myths" about WCIT and proposed revisions to the treaty-level International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).

The ITU hasn't received any proposals that would create new international regulatory agencies or give the ITU control of the Internet, said Malcolm Johnson, director of ITU's Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. "As for the suggestion of increased censorship, [Article 34 of] ITU's Constitution gives member states the right to block any private telecommunications which appear dangerous to the security of the state or contrary to its laws, to public order or to decency," he said. "The ITRs cannot override the constitution, in this or any other respect. And, as we all know, many countries around the world already intervene in communications for various reasons, be it to stop access to gambling sites or sites promoting politically extremist views, or the circulation of child abuse photographs."

Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation to WCIT, said in an interview Monday he disagrees with the ITU officials' assessment. "We have seen proposals that have come in and have been intimated that paint a different picture," he said. There may not be a proposal that explicitly asks to transfer Internet governance power to the ITU, but the general theme and direction of some proposed revisions suggest some member nations want to change the Internet governance structure. "That concerns us quite a bit," he said.

The U.S. government has been a prominent critic of proposals from China, Russia and other ITU member nations that it claims would adversely change Internet governance. It has criticized a proposal from the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, that would allow operators to impose a "sender-party-pays" rule that could require the sender of Internet data to pay for data transmission (CD Sept 12 p5), and the U.S. House passed a resolution in early August supporting U.S. attempts to save "the multistakeholder governance model under which the Internet has thrived" (CD Aug 3 p10). ITU officials declined to say whether they thought the U.S. response was excessive, saying it's not their place to comment on any member state's position.

Stakeholders define the scope of Internet governance in different ways, David Gross, a former State Department international communications and information coordinator, told us. Gross is now chair of the Ad Hoc World Conference on International Telecommunications Working Group, which represents 15 major multinational telecom and Internet companies. ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure has said he believes Internet governance centers solely on issues involving the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), while other stakeholders believe the definition expands to broader issues like regulation of Internet economics, Gross said. "If you define Internet governance as only being about ICANN, then WCIT will not address those issues," Gross said. "If you believe Internet governance is broader than ICANN ... then WCIT will certainly address those issues."

The original ITRs adopted in 1988 advocated for market liberalization, leading to the development of the Internet as it currently exists, Johnson said. "But since the treaty is 24 years old, it clearly needs to be updated to address a number of concerns that did not exist in 1988." Proposed ITRs tackle many issues that deal with things related to telephony, rather than the Internet, Johnson said, including reducing international bill shock, fraud prevention and dealing with misuse of the telephone numbering system. "The current ITRs provided the foundations for the so-called 'mobile miracle' and the growth of the Internet," he said. "A revised treaty can create the right conditions for a new 'broadband miracle' and growth of the knowledge society."

None of the proposed ITR revisions has been adopted yet. Stakeholders will decide on those when WCIT convenes in Dubai Dec. 3, Johnson said. Any decisions coming out of WCIT will be decided by a consensus, and member nations will individually need to decide whether to put the revised ITRs into legal practice, said ITU counselor Richard Hill. "The governments choose to do something or not to do something."

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