WCIT 2012


An advocacy group called “De-fund the ITU” demands the US government stops funding the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In a signature campaign they have accused ITU of leading several countries to seize the control of the Internet during WCIT 2012 in Dubai. Their goal was a coup: to overthrow the open and transparent system of internet governance that ensures the internet’s freedom and accessibility, and replace it with their own central point of absolute control, through which policies of censorship and repression could be enacted. The group claims that Germany, France, Spain, and Finland have already de-funded the ITU. American technology giants like the IBM, Cingular, Microsoft, Fox, Agilent, Sprint, Harris, Loral, and Xerox have allegedly withdrawn their private-sector contributions from the ITU.
The Bangladesh delegation flew to WCIT 2012 without necessary homework. Members had, however, informally said they would “follow the crowd” in the conference at Dubai. And they kept their word while voting in favor of the new ITR. After coming home, the team leader is triumphant: Least developed countries like Bangladesh will be benefitted from the recent amendment to international telecom regulations, said an official. Subscribers in Bangladesh will enjoy reduced international roaming charges, better internet security, freedom from junk mails, and wider access to international communication.
Yesterday the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have been updated behind the closed door after fortnight-long extensive intergovernmental debates in Dubai. Dubbing it the possible “Digital cold war” the Economist said: The most important result of the conference has been to demonstrate that the world now splits into two camps when it comes to the internet: one is comprised of more authoritarian countries, which would like to turn back the clock and regain sovereignty over their own national bits of the internet; the other wants to keep the internet and its governance as it is (bearing in mind that some of its members’ motives may not always be as pure as they pretend). This sounds much like a digital version of the cold war. The funny thing is that the leading countries in the two camps are the same two that were at loggerheads until the iron curtain parted. One must hope that the failure of the WCIT is not a first step towards raising a digital one.
Born free Internet will breathe its last once the authoritarian governments-led ITU-members sign a revised ITR at 1330 GMT today at the end of fortnight-long WCIT 2012 in Dubai. United States and its West European allies along with Australia, Japan, Philippines, Poland, Egypt, Kenya and Czech Republic are, predictably, not signing this controversial treaty. It will give the ailing ITU a monstrous power to regulate Internet the way it governs international phone calls. This phenomenon is feared to damage the digital economy. Yet the control-freak governments are tightening their grips over the net in the name of national interest.
The civil society advocates attending the WCIT 2012 in Dubai have jointly protested the lack of opportunity to effectively participate in the conference process. In a letter addressed to the ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré, they have identified three urgent matters: the lack of any official standing to the public comments solicited prior to WCIT at the ITU’s invitation; the lack of access to and transparency of working groups, particularly the working groups of Committee 5; and the absence of mechanisms to encourage independent civil society participation. The letter, which is co-signed by nearly 20 other organizations, says: Unfortunately, the ITU has provided no mechanism for inclusion of the public comments in the WCIT working papers. They are not made accessible through the document management system (TIES) in the same manner as proposals submitted by members, nor are any of the comments reflected in the numerous working drafts reviewed by WCIT delegates. As a consequence, delegates appear entirely unaware of these comments, and the diligent work of civil society organisations that accepted the ITU’s invitation to participate through the public comment process is in danger of being lost.
Moscow has claimed Cairo’s partnership in its plan to command and control the Internet. Nashwa Gad, a department manager at Egypt’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology (MCIT), has, however, flatly denied: Our name was associated to this proposal by mere misunderstanding.  Egypt has always been supporting the basic Internet principles that … the Internet should remain free, open, liberal. We do not see that the ITU mandate deals with the Internet. If the veil of diplomacy is removed, Egypt has officially accused Russia of cheating in the global stage.
Bangladesh delegate, led by BTRC chairman Mr. Sunil Kanti Bose, left for Dubai on December 2, 2012 late afternoon to attend WCIT 2012. On that very morning the telcos and ISPs were invited to “Consult” the stance Bangladesh would take on the revision of ITRs. Different links pertaining to the conference were emailed but nothing related to the government’s standpoint was shared. LIRNEasia was also invited to this meeting.
I have been studying how to make Internet affordable and resilient across the developing Asia. Excessive reliance on submarine cable is the bottleneck. My study shows how to overcome it by deploying fiber across the continent, exploiting the transcontinental highways. But the control-freak governments, attending WCIT 2012 conference at Dubai, have deepened the crises of Internet. James Cowie of Renesys Corporation has categorized the countries being vulnerable to different levels of Internet shutdown risk (Click on the map).
Syria has plunged into cyber darkness, as the Asad regime has pulled the plug on Internet gateways. Yet, the regime blames the “terrorists” for sabotaging the connectivity. Three submarine cables have landed in Syria (Click on the picture). The country is also plugged with Turkey through a terrestrial link. Therefore, even a drunken vagabond would not believe the Syrian minister of (mis)information.
Vinton Cerf is credited with developing the protocols and structure of the Internet and the first commercial email system. He has been loud against the shifting of Internet’s control to ITU and effectively nationalizing it. He wrote an op-ed in New York Times and passionately testified before the U.S. lawmakers.
Ian Scales of Telecom TV has dubbed the WTO rules as the final nail in the coffin of ITU occupying Internet and ETNO’s demand of SPNP. Praising Rohan Samarajiva and Hosuk Lee-Makiyama for detonating “The well-timed blast” with their joint publication – Whither global rules for the Internet? The implications of the World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) for international trade – Ian said: It points out that as part of the WTO agreement 82 countries unilaterally agreed to “open up and refrain from discriminatory measures in a so-called reference paper on basic telecommunications.” Most countries also agreed not to restrict the most common forms of Internet services and signed up to a moratorium on tariffs and fees on data transmissions (known as the WTO e-commerce moratorium). Those undertakings therefore run smack-bang into proposals such as ETNO’s, as well as Arab and African states’ proposals for re-establishing a version of the old accounting rate regime (designed for telephone call revenue sharing) for Internet applications.
Internet sprouts innovation and steers growth. Mankind has never been so passionately generous and caring for any technology. Vinton Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Linus Torvalds, Salman Khan and others gave away their precious achievements to enrich Internet for universal good. Primarily a cheaper option to communicate has now become the unmatched driver of prosperity worldwide. Internet is the oxygen of global trade and commerce.
The ITU hobnobbing with ETNO in a joint Twitter-storm during early October had been a mystery until the WCITLeaks’ recent disclosure of a “confidential” document. It reveals that ITU’s senior management went for a two-day “retreat” at the pristine Domaine du Château de Penthes in Geneva during early September. That was exactly one month before staging the Twitter-storm. Besides assembling its entire hierarchy from worldwide, the jumpy ITU also invited (of course on hefty payments) professional public relations heavyweights to strategize its counteroffensive against the defenders of Internet. The leaked document, with typographic error in the second question bellow, nicely captures ITU’s high-speed of heartbeat: On the basis of the outputs of the preparatory process, which includes preliminary inputs from the regions, we can address the following questions: Where do we stand regarding the substance?
There were lots of political fireworks when Bangladesh got elected as one of the Council Members in ITU two years back. I welcomed it cautiously. Because, I am aware of the institutional incompetence of Bangladesh in contributing as a Council Member in the ITU. I kept asking the officials in BTRC and MOPT about their activities. All I heard was the travel plans of attending various meetings and workshops across the globe.
The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has condemned ETNO’s proposal to implement a mechanism for online content providers paying the cost of carrying their traffic over telecom networks. Based on its own market analysis in terms of net neutrality, BEREC said it would be inappropriate to include such rules in the ITR. Strictly speaking ETNO is advocating an “interconnection philosophy” based on transmission services being provided across the Internet all along a defined path between endpoints, much like the connection-oriented circuit switched “old generation” PSTN networks and voice services on which ETNO members built their businesses. This is fundamentally at odds with the principles of connection-less packet switched networks underlying the success of the Internet to date, based on decentralisation and simplicity. BEREC believes that the benefits of a connection-less network risk being unravelled by the widespread adoption of connection-based practices on the global Internet.
Rebecca MacKinnon was CNN’s Bureau Chief in Beijing and Tokyo for more than a decade. She has cofounded Global Voices Online, an international citizen media network. Her first book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom,” was published in January 2012. Rebecca fears the proposed revision of ITR by ITU threatens the freedom of press. Take, for example, a basic requirement for media organisations: the ability to reach and grow their audiences.
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