WCIT WATCH: Analysis of the new ITRs Part I

6:26pm | 14 December 2012 | by Access Policy Team, English

The world’s governments have just concluded the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), where they updated the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), a binding international treaty on telecommunications provision and interoperability. While the ITRs were certainly in need of updating, the government-controlled conference produced a text that crossed the red lines of several states, who have either said that they will not sign or that they need to consult their capitals. Still, many of the most problematic proposals failed to make it into the final draft. In this post, we note the positive aspects of the revised ITRs, but also provide analysis on the problematic provisions, which we categorize as “bad” and “ugly” (the worst of the bad), described in Part II of our analysis.

The good

The definitions of the ITRs align with Access’ position that no key terms should be expanded to include the internet. “Internet” is not defined within the document, and the definitions of “international telecommunications service” and “international route” have not been changed. Further, the proposed new term “telecommunications/ICT” has not been adopted.

Article 3.3, on routing, does not include any of the potentially problematic language that some of the regional proposals had included. Specifically, the “right to know” how traffic is routed, which would have conflicted with the internet’s architecture and could have led to human rights violations, has been rejected.

The ETNO proposal’s language on “sending party pays” and “end-to-end quality of service,” which could lead to increased cost for internet services and threaten net neutrality, are also absent from the treaty text. A non-binding resolution (Resolution 5), however, was adopted, which invites member states to collaborate so that “their regulatory frameworks promote the establishment of commercial agreements between authorized operating agencies and the providers of international services in alignment with principles of fair competition and innovation.” This could hint at a future attempt to regulate peering and termination charges for data traffic, but avoids doing so for now. Other parts of the resolution are properly confined to the termination and exchange of telecommunications, and not internet, traffic.

Articles 3.7 and 3.8 of the Chairman’s compromise proposal were removed from the final ITRs. Article 3.7 would have required member states to “refrain from taking [unilateral and/or] discriminatory actions that could impede another Member State’s access to public [international telecommunications networks and services] [Internet sites and using resources].]” Removal ensured that the word internet would not appear in the ITRs and that no member state right of access to internet services would be established. However, a right of member states to access international telecommunications services was established in the preamble, which we address below. Further, as this provision was focused on the right of access by member states, it did little to ensure guaranteed access to these services by individuals.

Article 3.8, meanwhile, would have given member states the ability to “manage the naming, numbering, addressing, and identification resources used within their territories for international telecommunications.” The provision as originally contemplated by some member states would have regulated the naming, numbering, addressing, and identification resources of telecommunications/ICT services. This would have problematically interfered with the work of ICANN, which is already responsible for coordinating these resources. As ICANN is a multi-stakeholder entity, it is better suited to address these issues.

Positive language that has been included is a human rights-protecting proposal in the preamble. Specifically, it requires member states to “affirm their commitment to implement these Regulations in a manner that respects and upholds their human rights obligations.” This language is slightly softer than the language used in the proposal put forward by a broad coalition of governments, but it nonetheless seems to create a new obligation on member states to actively consider human rights when implementing the ITRs and is preferable to no mention of human rights at all.

A new provision (Article 8B) was also added to promote access for persons with disabilities to international telecommunication services. Finally, a resolution was adopted to establish special measures for landlocked developing countries and small island developing states for access to international optical fibre networks.

That said, some problematic proposals were accepted, which we break down into the “bad” and the “ugly.”

Part two of our analysis of the new ITRs, discussing the "bad" and the "ugly" proposals, can be found here.