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Telecommunications with an amazing wealth of enhancing productivity, contributing to social development and opening up new economical horizons have been evolving since their commercial inception in early 20th century. In recent years, convergence of the telecommunications, media and information technology sectors is in full pace especially with the emergence of the Internet and with the increasing capacity of existing networks to carry both telecommunications and broadcasting services. Developments in digital technologies and software are creating large innovative technological potential for the production, distribution and consumption of information services. The big wiggle question is how to differentiate between Telecommunications and the Internet? Probably answer would be:

 

‘The digital future of economies lead by telecommunications is being drafted by Internet Protocol and services.  The Internet is the prime driver of convergence by displacing isolated computer networks and providing an alternative mean for offering telecommunication services.  Internet is a telecommunications network of telecommunications networks whereas each network is physically located within a state boundary explicitly owned by someone. At an elementary level, the Internet is a harmony between networks over a packed-switching mechanism to exchange data in a certain standard way, where each of the networks they interconnect is subject to some legal authority or ownership.’

As the Internet continues to evolve, it will bring many more technological innovations and enabling capabilities such as payment platforms. From the obscure network of researchers and technology experts two decades ago, the Internet has now became a day-to-day reality for near 2.2 Billion (32%) of the world population. These 2 Billion connected individuals share almost USD 8 trillion each year through Internet commerce. Across a range of large and developed nations, the Internet exerts a strong power on economical transformation. Global researches show that if Internet consumption and expenditures were a sector, its weight in GDP would be bigger than the energy or agriculture industry. The Internet’s total contribution to global GDP is bigger than the GDP of Spain or Canada, growing faster than the GDP of Brazil. Current projections show that the number of Internet users worldwide will increase from 2.2 billion today to 3.5 billion in 2020.

Underpinning another labyrinth of who controls the Internet? Probable answer would be:

‘No individual, company or government controls the Internet on a whole. Internet is a global network scattered over land, sea, air, and space with its underlying content and communications crossing nations and regions. The technical resources of the Internet i.e. Internet Protocol addresses and Internet Domain Name System are being coordinated by Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers originally performed under U.S. Government contract by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). ICANN now performs the IANA function.’

With respect to global Telecommunications, ITU (International Telecommunication Union) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs. ITU allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develop the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies interconnect seamlessly. ITU also prepares the International Regulations for Telecommunications; a legal bind on all the ITU’s Member States.

If you want to witness one of the most heated debate of this decade, just Google ‘World Conference on International Telecommunications’. The event has kicked International deliberations over Future of the Internet. The debate features Governments, Internet Companies and Civil Society where one can observe an undercover matter of gripping the most rich information and communication innovation of all times.

World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) is scheduled to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 3-14 December 2012. This conference is will 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. The ITRs were last negotiated in Melbourne, Australia in 1988, 24 years ago, quite before the radically different information and communication technology (ICT) landscape of present.

The present established ITRs treaty defined in 1988 is widely credited for liberalizing the international telecom market, and enabling the amazing growth of Telecommunications. However, the 1988’s ITRs do not address the Internet. It is a 27 pages document with a total number of 10 definitions given in Article 2 with no word ‘Internet’ in it. By the way Internet and 1988 don’t represent a strong friendship as far usage and availability of the Internet in general is concerned.    

Probably, the inclusion of word ‘Internet’ in the draft future ITRs is the key reason behind these global talks and outcry. If we see the present draft of the future ITRs to be renegotiated by 193 members’ states at WCIT, the word ‘Internet’ is part of the definitions (Article 2).

The proposed revised definition of ‘International telecommunication service / ICT states 

“International telecommunication service/ICTs: The offering of a telecommunication capability including, but not limited to: offering of a telecommunication capability in roaming, international public telegram service, telex, traffic termination services (including Internet traffic termination), any kind of circuit provision services, other services integral to provision of international telecommunication services between telecommunication offices or stations of any nature that are in or belong to different countries.”

The future ITRs under the draft Article 4 (International Telecommunication Service) ask the  Members States to ensure that administrations/operating agencies cooperate within the framework of these Regulations to provide by mutual agreement, a wide range of international telecommunication services including services for carrying Internet traffic and data transmission.

Under the same draft Article the ITRs calls Members States shall endeavor to ensure that operating agencies provide and maintain a minimum an agreed quality of service with respect to access to the international network by users using terminals which are permitted to be connected to the network and which do not cause harm to technical facilities and personnel; harm to technical facilities and personnel shall be construed to include spam, malware, etc. as defined in relevant ITU-T Recommendations (as the case may be), as well as malicious code transmitted by any telecommunication facility or technology, including Internet and Internet Protocol.

 

Draft Article 4 also asks Member States to take measures to ensure Internet stability and security, to fight [cybercrime] and to counter spam, while protecting and respecting the provisions for privacy and freedom of expression as contained in the relevant parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Future ITRs calls Member States to ensure that each party in a negotiation or agreement related to or arising out of international connectivity matters including those for the Internet will have standing to have recourse to the competition authorities of the other party's country; and also to ensure that each party in a negotiation or agreement related to or arising out of international connectivity matters, including those for the Internet, will have access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and will have standing to have recourse to the relevant regulatory or competition authorities of the other party's country.

 

The opponents of ITRs revision mainly composed of technology companies like Google Inc and civil society groups believe that the future ITRs (if renegotiated) will corrode the open and free nature of the Internet. They think that ITU members states are seeking to raise core issues of Internet governance and policy in the WCIT process - including but going far beyond mere technical matters. According to them issues of cyber security, limitations on access to infrastructure, spam, child protection, and data protection squarely raise concerns about their impact on the right to freedom of expression and access to information, among other human rights. A serious concern being shown is the access to preparatory reports, as well as proposed modifications to the ITRs that presently are limited to ITU member states only. Probably this is why http://www.wcitleaks.org was launched in June 2012 by Eli Dourado, policy analysts for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The website is calling on those with access to the ITU proposal documents to anonymously share the information with the world.

On August 15 2012, ITU announced a public consultation process for WCIT-12 with interested parties able to make their written contributions to the WCIT-12 discussions via ITU’s website in any of the six official UN languages. Till date, a total number of 6 comments have been posted.

In the run-up to the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a persistent point of contention has been whether the WCIT will be taking up the topic of "Internet governance" as Member States renegotiate the ITU's underlying treaty.

So is the WCIT about control over the Internet?

Probably the answer will be no, as Internet on a global scale cannot be controlled, neither a single kill switch for global Internet nor a single or uniform governance policy for the Internet exists. However, the WCIT is going to suggest each member state to have a look on matters such as Internet security, spam and connectivity. Sketching the exact line of impact to be brought by these subjects through ITRs is not possible at present.

We may also keep in mind that Internet Governance has already been defined by UN's World Summit on Information Society as "Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet."

ITU Secretary General Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré recently gave an interview to BNA, during the interview he said that WCIT-12 “has nothing to do with Internet Governance. He expanded upon previously voiced criticisms of what he called “over-dramatic” characterizations of the WCIT-12 process as a push by some governments to wrest control over the Internet and place it in the ITU. He also argued that member states require urgent attention on issues such as data security and roaming charges.

The secretary general stressed that the concern over Internet governance should not drown out the opportunity for WCIT to take on matters of real import. “Why don't we talk about security, you cannot have freedom or privacy without security. If anyone can steal your identity you are not a free person.”

He also expressed confidence that the WCIT meeting will successfully resolve controversy around other proposals that might implicate Internet governance. “Issues like that may have a real implication some impasse on the perception of freedom or privacy,” Touré said. But there will be counterproposals and we will find a middle ground, he said.

It may be kept in consideration that some member states have also proposed suggestions to be included in Articles of the future ITRs. Some of these proposals clearly raise a debate over Internet command and control such as:

  • Charging and Interconnection - The European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO), a Sector Member at the ITU, has proposed a series of radical changes to the system of peering and interconnection between IP network providers.
  • Regulation of traffic routing - Egypt and the Arab States regional group have proposed that "A Member State shall have the right to know through where its traffic has been routed, and should have the right to impose any routing regulations in this regard, for purposes of security and countering fraud." A similar proposal has been made by the Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications (RCC) and is also supported by Russia.
  • IPv6 address allocation - Russia and Côte d'Ivoire support a proposal for the ITU to have some role in allocating some portion of IPv6 addresses.
  • Allowable limitations on public access and use of telecommunications - Russia and the RCC have put forward a proposal that requires Member States to ensure access to telecom infrastructure except when it is used "for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other States, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature."

 

 

Who is going to approve the ITRs?

ITU Member States (193) will use their voting power on the proposed revisions or in simple words Governments are going to renegotiate on future ITRs.

We may not be able to find the stance of each member state on ITRs; however world's largest economies have shown their reaction on ITRs revision.  

The United States ambassador to the conference, Terry Kramer, has given the following statement published by the country's Department of State. "The US is concerned that proposals by some other governments could lead to greater regulatory burdens being placed on the international telecom sector, or perhaps even extended to the Internet sector."

On the other side, Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that the ITRs should be established. This suggestion is also believed to be backed by India and China.

It may also be noted that ITU has made it clear that any changes to the treaty must have unanimous support, and it would block members trying to put any matter to a vote.

"We never vote because voting means winners and losers and you can't afford that," Dr Hamadoun Toure, the ITU's secretary-general told the BBC. Whatever one single country does not accept will not pass."

As the time for WCIT is coming close, more blistering discussion and deliberations are expected to take place at the global forums. The revision of ITRs would in some extent will expand the regulatory regime for telecommunication / ICT regulators and policy makers. They would have to come up with regulations addressing Internet issues in particular spam, security and International connectivity. 

Today, kids are born in a world offering whole new dimensions and connecting opportunities with each other ‘anywhere, anytime’. This era of digital age or information-based societies is bringing a fundamental transformation of relationships among societies, cultures, individuals, businesses, agencies and governments. This phenomenon is expected to continue while we may experience playing with even more saturated interconnected devices with convergence.

Internet is truly a virtual world of its own with billions of inhabitants residing in it, at the same time it has also emerged as one the biggest technological innovation of all times. The core value of this amazing channel exists in its open and inclusive nature. However, it has also brought some dark challenges along requiring attention at regulatory and policy grounds. 

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