The first EIF event after the summer break was a heated dinner debate with EIF members and friends on the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) (scheduled to take place this December in Dubai). The proposed revisions of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have elicited a good deal of public debate and controversy. Sabine Verheyen, MEP and EIF Political Member, chaired this timely and important discussion.
First to take the floor was Megan Richards, Director Coordination at DG CONNECT, European Commission. She acknowledged that there have been dramatic changes in communication systems since the current ITRs were adopted in 1988. As a representative of the European Commission she underlined how important is to ensure that the ITR revisions modernize but in a forward-looking manner whereby they can perhaps last for another 25 years. To achieve this, ITR changes should be based on high-level strategic principles and be technologically-neutral, so as not to limit the potential for future innovation. Ms Richards emphasized that anything that would limit the future ability to adjust or amend the acquis communautaire would not be acceptable.
She also announced that the European Commission has adopted a proposal (based on these principles) for a Council Decision on establishing the EU position for the review of the ITRs to be taken at the WCIT.
Ms Richards also stressed that WCIT 2012 offers an opportunity to put into place the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. As this will be an international negotiation, the European Commission should speak for the European Union; this has also been included in the proposal to the Council. The Dubai conference will also give a chance to show the importance and usefulness of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a multi–stakeholder platform, as it will take place in Baku shortly before the WCIT 2012.
Ms Richards concluded that this EIF dinner debate was one of the many occasions where discussions with different stakeholders are taking place on the development of a clear European position on ITRs revisions.
Luigi Gambardella, the Executive Board Chair at ETNO - The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, took the floor next. He presented a widely-debated ETNO proposal.
He reviewed the situation in Europe, where, despite rapidly-growing internet traffic, telecoms operators are seeing their revenues decline for the fourth year in a row, putting at risk their long term investment capacity and hence their ability to meet the challenging EU Digital Agenda objectives. This situation has created the need to re‐establish the balance between market forces in the internet ecosystem so as to ensure the continued availability of innovative services for consumers and future-proof telecom operators’ business models.
The ETNO proposal therefore aims to establish a reference for commercial negotiations to foster fair compensation for carried traffic and to ensure that operator’s revenues are not disconnected from the investment needs caused by rapid internet traffic growth.
Mr Gambardella stressed that ETNO is not asking for any regulatory intervention or change to the current model of internet governance. On the contrary, ETNO wants to avoid new regulatory measures that might prevent new business models from emerging, hamper differentiated offers, or limit consumer choice.
Although ETNO’s proposal is receiving a lot of criticism, Mr Gambardella believes that this is natural because innovative proposals sometimes produce sudden opposition rather than a full understanding of the long-term benefits.
The third speaker was Jim Dempsey, Vice President for Public Policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology. He opened with a warning about the global struggle for the future of the internet. He quoted the Estonian president Toomas Hendrik’s speech from the International Conference of Cyber Conflict: “Like it or not, we have now entered a new period of struggle between competing systems of government and economic organization. What is at stake in this struggle is the liberal-democratic model of an open society and market economies that are transparent and rule-bound. This time the struggle will play itself out in cyberspace.” Mr Dempsey pointed out that we are seeing this struggle playing out now at the ITU through proposed amendments to the ITRs. He observed that all is not well in internet governance, as challenges such as cyber security, the continuing digital divide and intellectual property enforcement continue to grow. Mr Demspey stressed that the ITRs – a binding treaty – are not the proper instrument with which to address these and other internet governance challenges.
Mr Dempsey likewise observed that ETNO has chosen to promote contract negotiations through this binding treaty, which could set a very dangerous precedent. He stressed the need to consider the proposal’s broader implications as they would impose greater burdens on developing countries.
In closing, Mr Dempsey called on stakeholders to continue to strive to make internet policy-making more open, transparent and participatory. He finished by again quoting the Estonian president: “Between the US, the EU and like-minded nations at one end of the spectrum, and authoritarian countries at the other extreme, a large number of countries sit on the fence on the issue of the future architecture of the internet. They have legitimate concerns about internet governance, so we must focus our attention on their needs.” Mr Dempsey invited guests of the event to work together through their national delegations and through the national delegations of those countries that sit on that fence and are wondering which way to go. He emphasized the need to stick with the policy framework that has worked so far and built the internet of today.
The last speaker was Richard Hill, counselor at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Mr Hill stressed that, “WCIT is about very powerful industrial groups and their revenue flows”. The telecommunications sector accounts for 3 percent of GDP in developed countries and even more in developing countries so it is only normal that industrial groups are very concerned about what their governments may or may not do to affect those revenues.
Mr Hill said that none of the proposals for the change of ITRs are about the governance of domain names, IP addresses, or the role of ICANN, but rather drew attention to the specific issues that will come up in WCIT, including control of mobile roaming prices, the sharing of wholesale revenues, free speech, and the use of ICT to improve energy efficiency.
Mr Hill also highlighted a few misunderstandings about the ITU. It is a myth that the scope of the ITU does not include internet and that the ITU and ITRs have nothing to do with the internet. Here Mr Hill referred to article 9 of the ITRs. Mr Hill also stressed that ITU is a bottom–up organization; ITU members have full access to ITU documents and members are free to make them available to their citizens and organisations. ITU has been the central player fostering the development of telecommunication since 1965. It was the 1988 ITR revisions that opened the way to today’s telecommunication environment.
Mr Hill reported that ITU members are confident that the 2012 ITRs will pave the way for tomorrow’s telecommunication environment by encouraging continuing investment in innovation. He encouraged guests of the debate to leave defending the interests of developing countries to those states themselves. As they form the majority of contracting parties within the ITU there is no way that revised ITRs will not reflect their interests.See event