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Internet Power Grab at World Conference on Telecommunications


Written by Carol Permentier
Posted: December 26, 2012 @ 6:00 am
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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:

  1. Allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits.
  2. Develops standards to promote interconnection and technical interoperability.
  3. Works to improve telecommunications access for underserved communities.
  4. 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:

  1. The ITRs are a binding 1988 treaty that established general principles relating to international telecommunications services and transport.
  2. It also covers the interconnection and interoperability of telecommunications facilities.
  3. It covers accounting and settlement of international voice traffic between administrations.
  4. 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.com.

 


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15 comments
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  1. Can we agree that, in this blog, the conversation is not inter rusticos?

    Yet, above, I read the hackneyed, stale and simplistic words

    “…the more we keep government on any level out of our lives, the better our lives will be….”?

    and wonder how any sane and rational patent attorney, dependent for his or her income on international trade, can possibly agree with them. Would anybody reading this care to explain to me iIn what sense clients would do “better” without the Paris Convention?

  2. Max-

    First, I did not write this article.

    Second, the article is not about the Paris Convention or sensible regulation. The article is about a capricious power grab by ambush in an attempt to control the Internet.

    Third, perhaps what you quote is over broad, but there are many that believe that to be a very true statement, including me. There is a difference between regulation to keep things working and enable private agreement through commerce and a power-hungry government that wants to dictate to the masses. An enabling government is fine. A disabling government that doesn’t think its citizens have enough sense so need to be dictated to is not fine.

    Fourth, none other than the great Thomas Jefferson would agree with the quote you take issue with. He famously wrote that the government that governs least governs best. That seems to me to be a self-evident truth.

    Finally, the role of government should be extremely limited. Also a Jeffersonian principle— government is justified only to the extent that is provides that which could not individually be provided by individuals or groups. So the federal government has no reason to be involved with local police and fire because that can be handed most competently on the local level. The role of the federal government should be limited to military and ensuring commerce by and between the states be regulated, as well as by and between countries.

    -Gene

  3. So Gene how about the principle of “subsidiarity” that runs within the European Union: regulation should always be pushed downwards, as local as it will go.

    BTW, why do we need public servant local police, fire services and teachers? What’s wrong with gated communities? Can’t good honest citizens instead pay protection money to adequately armed private enterprise and employ private tutors?

    The internet is so new that, still, we have difficulty seeing clearly enough how to manage it. Why, even the UK Government’s 2012 Leveson enquiry into the freedom of the press, prompted by industrial scale phone-tapping by Rupert Murdoch’s journalists, ducked out of assessing the problems of regulating the internet. We will see in the end what’s needed but by then it will be too late to do it right. One just has to do the best one can. Politics is the art of the possible.

  4. A very disappointing article. Lots of commentators have used the “Internet Power Grab at World Conference on Telecommunications” sound-bite but likewise have failed to back it up with any substantive discussion of the actual issues that were under consideration at the Dubai conference.

    I think the author should of spent a little time actually going through the proceedings of the Dubai WCIT before they wrote this article.

  5. Max-

    You say: “BTW, why do we need public servant local police, fire services and teachers? What’s wrong with gated communities? Can’t good honest citizens instead pay protection money to adequately armed private enterprise and employ private tutors?”

    If you want to have a serious discussion then let’s have it. If you want to mock then I’m not interested and you should go elsewhere to get your fill.

    Obviously, good honest citizens cannot pay protection money to armies and employ private tutors unless they are rich. You know that, I know that and everyone with half a brain knows that to be true. So either you are suggesting that those who are not rich be left to their own devices or you are mocking the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson that I explained. Either is asinine.

    -Gene

  6. Gene, you write: “Obviously, good honest citizens cannot pay protection money to armies and employ private tutors unless they are rich. You know that, I know that and everyone with half a brain knows that to be true” and in response I would like to say that I do very much agree.

    Thank you taking the time to revealingly inform me in your usual uncompromising way what you think in my remarks I was “suggesting” to you. As far as I am concerned, with my mention of subsidiarity I was supporting rather than mocking Jefferson’s philosophy. In my mention of gated communities I was trying to expose the consequences of suggesting that what national and local government does can be done better by your private “groups” of people. But never mind. This is an IPR blog rather than one on politics, and the theme of this thread is international relations between sovereign States yet it was you who got us into the politics of the local police and fire services.

  7. Max-

    We can have that discussion here certainly. While this is an IPR blog this post was tangential to the focus to start, about the Internet and regulation. Such a discussion would seem appropriate.

    I apologize if I jumped to the wrong conclusion about your comments, or unnecessarily cut short what could be an interesting debate. I also apologize for “everyone with half a brain…” Shouldn’t have gone there.

    Cheers.

    -Gene

  8. Really Gene, no need to apologize to an anonymity, but thanks anyway. As you know, I post anonymously so I can be forthright, even provocative, and thereby get a more vigorous and revealing reaction. From these responses I often learn something. You will understand, my responses are addressed to the readership in general rather than you in particular.

    At least here in Europe, some of the nicest people, face to face, change character when safely anonymous behind the wheel of a car on the freeway, becoming uncharacteristically aggressive. I wonder whether we see the same phenomenon with anonymous postings to blogs.

    When you Gene put so much effort into maintaining a stream of interesting new items, it would be such a shame to see the comment stream fizzle out. Dennis Crouch has the liveliest readership but after him there is nothing going on except what happens on your pages.

    So, Happy New Year, cheers, and let’s both hope for many lively comment streams to come.

    To tell the truth, what I was hoping for, and still miss, is a reaction from the writer, Carol Permentier.

  9. >To tell the truth, what I was hoping for, and still miss, is a reaction from the writer, Carol Permentier.

    Same here

  10. Gene,

    I implore you to not aim for a “lively” comment stream like that of Patently-O. If having something “going on” is the aim, then critical thinking is the casualty, judging from what happens at Patently-O.

    The “liveliness” there stems from points of law and fact too often being ignored by one side, resulting in a perpetual repetitious rehash of positions. Here, with your control of posting that must conform to actual law and the elimination (or at least several orders of magnitude reduction) of junk posts, those that want to be lively can be without the liveliness of trying to combat the same false positions taken against patents. Don’t confuse flurry of activity with worthwhile comments. The “anything goes” at Patently-O too often reminds me of a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

    I would be interested in replies to points made though, but that would include not only the authors of the articles but the authors of the posts as well. MaxDrei, for example, has left several of my posts unanswered (for recent examples, see the threads: http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2012/12/14/no-one-is-patenting-your-genes-the-ripple-effect-if-isolated-dna-claims-are-made-patent-ineligible/ [my posts at 20, 35 and 42] and the follow-up article at
    http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2012/12/20/cafc-sanity-on-permanent-injunctions-a-twisted-sister-moment/ ).

    Let’s let Patently-O be Patently-O and let IPWatchdog be IPWatchdog.

  11. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    So, in quoting from Macbeth, anon ends up telling us that Patently-O reminds him of “it” that is to say “Life”. Just so. The Crouch blog is indeed lively, as I said above. Thanks for confirming my assessment, anon.

    I reply when it pleases me to reply, and that’s when, in my absolute judgment, I think my reply will interest the readership and when I’m not getting bored by it. As I explain above, in reply to Gene, this is an advantage of posting anonymously. If I choose to abandon a conversation with you, anon, take it how you please. Feel free.

    PS I do agree with you though, that there is dross on the Crouch blog. Readers have no choice but to take the rough with the smooth. That’s life.

  12. MaxDrei,

    You have a penchant for misconstruing what I tell you and misunderstanding my points.

    In no way should what I said confirm your assessment, as I clearly do not think that the type of “liveliness” that is found at Patently-O is anything worthwhile to aim for.

    Thing is, this is not the first time that I end up correcting your re-statements of my posts and it is something that I have a rather low tolerance for. It is a form of gamesmanship running rampant at Patently-O and that Gene (rightfully) does not tolerate too much here.

    Additionally, I fully understand when you choose to reply – but “when it pleases you” is also when it least serves the dialogue that is trying to be established. This is the “run away and re-post the same message later” syndrome. This is not developing a topic and it certainly is not recognizing what should be recognized as points of law or fact. This, too, is typical of ‘conversations’ at Patently-O and is a primary reason why my colleagues don’t bother with the comments section at Patently-O.

    As far as choice goes I do not agree with you that all must be accepted. Gene has made a difference in his blog that has not happened at Patently-O. Gene polices his blog to minimize “the rough” and, to me, is the better blog for that reason. I reject your view that that is life. That is the point I am making, and the point that you are missing.

    To me, you seem to be missing this on purpose.

  13. Anon-

    Thanks for your comment.

    I have no intention of letting IPWatchdog change in terms of comment policy. I think we have excellent discussions here and I can tell you for certain that there are many in the industry who notice. I’m not interested in volume of comments. I think our quality is high. We invest time in making sure the comments are free of nonsense (i.e., spam and advertising) and that comments are not coming from members of the flat earth society.

    There were a couple things running through my mind when I said that. First, at times over the last week or 10 days I have been particularly cantankerous. The holidays have been a difficult time this year.

    Second, I did with Max what I don’t appreciate others doing to me, which is putting words in my mouth. I thought I knew what he meant, and maybe I was right, but maybe I was wrong. I didn’t give any latitude to develop. The rules have always been that regulars get latitude, and that has to be whether I agree or not. Maybe we could have had an interesting discussion. I don’t know.

    Finally, and probably most importantly, this article is already a bit out of our normal mainstream. I may try and write a bit more about Internet issues since IP can also stand for “Internet protocol” in some circles, which if done right won’t be far afield from an intellectual property, tech/innovation policy blog. But since it was already a bit out of the mainstream when Max said something about not wanting to take the discussion off topic I wanted to specifically address that. I know I try and keep things on topic, but that is hopefully the topic or tangentially related subjects brought up by the article. This article could lead to an intellectual, ideological and/or philosophical discussion in many avenues.

    I greatly appreciate the comments from regulars and passers-by. As always, if you see something inappropriate that I miss please let me know. I think we all want to keep the forum vibrant but not dominated by folks who wallpaper their bedrooms with aluminum foil.

    Cheers.

    -Gene

  14. Gene, stop being hard on yourself. Your readiness to mix it with your correspondents is evidently cherished by your regular correspondents. Keep it up, because it adds to the fun.

    May your blog flourish in 2013. I just replied to Paul Cole on a new thread of yours and i hope we see some further activity in that thread.

    As to putting words in my mouth, I see it all the time. But not from you. They do it to get some lively dialogue going. That’s understandable, isn’t it?

  15. >and probably most importantly, this article is already a bit out of our normal mainstream. I may try and write a bit more about Internet issues

    Yes the topic of this article was a bit out of the normal mainstream for IPwatchdog, however the various (misguided or otherwise) attempts to change the way the Internet, our primary distribution and consumption medium for digital IP is controlled is of interest where such changes could impact the way in which digital IPR is enforced. I therefore began reading this article, expecting an IP angle to events.

    To me it is a great shame that many sound bites were seemed to imply that it was the ‘ITU’ that was making a power grab to take over the Internet rather than some ITU member states attempting to subvert the ITU for various domestic reasons. Also contrary to some observe opinions, it was right and proper for the ITU/WCIT to discuss the Internet in the context of it’s pre-existing terms of reference (scope of authority and ITR’s), which would include it’s contribution to the development of the protocols used by the Internet and the underlying infrastructure of telecommuncation services; but such topics are a long way from content monitoring and inspection.