Internet Power Grab at World Conference on Telecommunications
|Written by Carol Permentier
Posted: December 26, 2012 @ 6:00 am
In reading this article, I invite you to continually ask yourself if domination, by any governmental authority is ever for the good of the people – or just for the power structures they serve?
To begin, maybe you kept up with the crescendo of increasing anticipation and the ultimate climax of the WCIT held this December in Dubai. But, just in case you haven’t, it was somewhat of a bomb-threat that fizzled out, instead of exploding. At least for now.
From December 3 – 14, delegates from national governments around the world met in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). The event was hosted by a United Nations agency, called the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The purpose was to revise and modernize a 1988 treaty known as the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). This treaty is governed by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
For the sake of clarity, let’s look at the scope of authority the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has over international radio-communication issues – and then we’ll look at the treaty’s authority. And, finally, what happened at the recent conference in Dubai.
I apologize for all the dizzying acronyms, as they may give you a headache, by trying to keep up with who’s doing what to whom – It sure gave me one.
International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Scope and Authority Over International Radio-Communications Issues:
- Allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits.
- Develops standards to promote interconnection and technical interoperability.
- Works to improve telecommunications access for underserved communities.
- Does not claim any authority to regulate domestic telecommunications and, clearly, states this in the ITU Constitution: “… the sovereign right of each state (sovereign nations) to regulate its telecommunication.”
Well, that’s what it says … but what does it really intend to do? If you’re like me, I don’t believe much of what I read, especially if it comes from anything remotely resembling ‘big government.’ So, I’m either a cynic or just smart. As they say back home in Texas, “I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”
OK, so now let’s take a look at the 1988 treaty — the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) and see what it sets out to do for the good of the world.
Purpose and Scope of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) – the 1988 Treaty:
- The ITRs are a binding 1988 treaty that established general principles relating to international telecommunications services and transport.
- It also covers the interconnection and interoperability of telecommunications facilities.
- It covers accounting and settlement of international voice traffic between administrations.
- Items 1 – 3 provide important, but very general, framework for mutual agreements between countries regarding the exchange of telecommunications traffic. And the ITRs also allow for private agreements between non-governmental organizations, such as telecommunications carriers).
As is often the case, a little regulation just isn’t enough, especially for an agency of a behemoth International organization like the United Nations.
So the prevailing wisdom is that because the telecommunications market place has undergone such rapid technological changes and seen competitive and liberalized markets, along with the privatization of national telecommunication service providers – it’s time to revise and modernize the treaty for the first time since its adoption in 1988.
Enter the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) that was just held in Dubai in December, 2012.
This long-awaited conference was met with enormous controversy. Some governments, especially underdeveloped ones, object to the current situation, saying the system doesn’t give sufficient regard to their economic and other needs. They believe it favors major international telecom and technology companies, for example, and they also think the United States government has too much direct influence in decision-making.
The thinking of these smaller, developing governments, is that the WCIT could provide them an opportunity to have a louder voice and to play a more prominent role, by expanding the role of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which (they believe) would greatly benefit their positions and needs.
In fact, some of the proposed changes to the ITRs would position the ITU as a ‘uber-national’ regulator and would require signatory nations to also enact conforming domestic laws.
The way it works now is that international telecommunications issues, such as mobile roaming, Internet peering and Internet governance are handled through a combination of negotiated agreements between private parties, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements – and non-governmental technical or civil society organizations, such as the Internet Society and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
The idea from the outset, in my view, was to keep huge government honest, by leaving as much to the private sector as possible. And I concur with this sentiment.
To cut to the chase, a number of countries, including the United States, UK and Canada refused to sign the revised treaty in its current form. Also delegates from Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Costa Rica and Kenya also have reservations.
The US Ambassador, Terry Kramer, had this to say from the floor of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) on December 13, 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“… I do need to say that it is with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the US must communicate that it is not able to sign the agreement in the current form.
The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefits, during the past 24 years – all without UN regulation. We candidly cannot support a ITU treaty that is inconsistent with a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.”
(Read the official press release). Ambassador Kramer went on to say the conference NEVER meant to focus on Internet issues.
“We came to this conference with a hope for finding ways to advance our cooperation in the telecommunications arena and continue to believe that’s an important goal. We are disappointed that this conference did not fully provide that opportunity ….”
“Our delegation’s resolve should be commended,” said And the Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell. ”By agreeing to broaden the scope of the ITU’s rules to include the internet, encompassing its operations and content, these nations have radically undermined the highly successful, private sector, non-governmental, multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance,” McDowell continued. He warned the U.S. to “immediately prepare for an even more treacherous ITU treaty negotiation that will take place in 2014 in Korea.”
To conclude … many countries came to the WCIT to genuinely solve problems with access, infrastructure, security issues related to phishing and other challenges. And some countries wanted to maintain a close relationship with the ITU in hopes they would support the telecommunications infrastructure in their less developed countries, such as Africa. In fact, most African countries signed the treaty, except for Kenya. But it would be incorrect, I believe, to think their motivations included a desire for greater control over the Internet.
While advocates often focus on more extreme cases like China, Iran or Syria, it appears glaringly apparent that nearly all the world’s governments are looking for ways to control the Internet – including the US. Under the auspices of addressing issues such as copyright infringement, pornography, and cybercrime, they often go far beyond legitimate safeguards and pursue policies that infringe on citizens’ rights. Limitations on expression and privacy in any country can reverberate throughout the global network and hinder access in other nations and diminish the infinitely rich cornucopia of ideas, creativity and social action that the global Internet supports.
For freedom lovers, who want to preserve the open Internet, we must keep a watchful eye on the Internet governance debates that will persist on an international level. And we must also strengthen our resolve to achieve human rights laws and policies at the national level. For me, whether a cynic or just using good, ole commonsense … I say the more we keep government on any level out of our lives, the better our lives will be.
About the Author
Carolyn Permentier is a professional marketing and advertising copywriter, specializing in direct response copy for financial, real estate and health markets. She is also a strong believer in branding. Her own brand is KickAssCopywriter … words that inspire action. She believes marketers must rise above the clamoring voices and genuinely connect with their audience to be extremely successful. Carolyn works with B2B and B2C clients everywhere in the world, providing strategic direction, killer concepts and kick-ass copywriting that connects and sells. She’s also the author of two books, both on Amazon: The Wacko From Waco, in Kindle and print versions. And Dig it Or Ditch It … Only Do What Makes You Happier Than a Pig in Mudin a Kindle version. Carolyn can be reached via e-mail at thekickasscopywriter@gmail.