WCIT Archives — Page 2 of 3


The Gulf News, a leading publication in Dubai, interviewed both Hamadoun Toure, the Secretary General of the ITU and me on December 4th, on the second day of the WCIT conference. One of the resulting articles very clearly sets out the causes of divergence between the Geneva-based UN specialized agency and the Colombo-based regional think tank that I head. First, let us look at the ITU’s position. The objective is that of getting broadband to the next billions. No disagreement on our part.
When I gave a talk a few months back at RMIT in Melbourne about how we engaged governments with policy-relevant research, a senior person in the audience said that we seemed to be having greater success in getting the government of Bangladesh to pay heed to evidence than they did in Australia. Proving him half right, the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission has convened a stakeholder meeting to obtain input for the country’s position at WCIT in Dubai. Now if the government actually votes against the ill-thought out proposals by the Arab and African states to impose access charges for Internet content, my Australian colleague will be proven 100% right. A recent report on the subject in Daily Star. Abu Saeed Khan, a senior policy fellow of Colombo-based think tank LIRNEasia, said the Bangladesh government has ignored the ITU’s directive that instructed it to consult the ITR issues with its citizens.
From months back LIRNEasia’s focus was on the economic aspects of the WCIT proposals, specifically the mad proposal floated by ETNO to impose access charges on data flowing into a network, the sending-party-network-pays principle. This is the real debate in Dubai according to even early apologists for the ITU. More energy is expected to be spent on how companies make money off the Internet. In one submission to the conference, the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, a lobbying group based in Brussels that represents companies like France Télécom, Deutsche Telekom and Telecom Italia, proposed that network operators be permitted to assess charges for content providers like Internet video companies that use a lot of bandwidth. Analysts say the proposal is an acknowledgment by European telecommunications companies that they cannot hope to provide digital content.
Just a sample: The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), which represents the $100-billion IT and BPO industry, has strong views against the Internet governance model of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), but favours self-regulation. Its president Som Mittal says: “NASSCOM does not favour oversight by an existing U.N. organisation like ITU. Internet and infrastructure have to be in the hands of expert organisations with proven experience.
I had treated the claims by the Secretary General of the ITU that the ITU had facilitated the telecom boom with mild amusement. But in the context of the upcoming Dubai WCIT, amusement is not perhaps the best reaction. Let us begin with the actual claim on the ITU website, more nuanced than that of the Secretary General: While the ITRs were a compromise at the time, they turn out, in retrospect, to have been instrumental in facilitating continuing privatization and liberalization of telecommunications markets. These trends were further facilitated by agreements made in the Global Agreement on Trade in Services in 1994 (Annex on Telecommunications) and in 1996 (Reference Paper on Basic Telecommunications Services). The ITRs contained a key provision in Article 9, Special Arrangements.
My comments at the Main Panel session at IGF 2012. Question 1: What does it take to attract investment in infrastructure and encourage innovation and growth of ICT services, including mobile technology and how can these technologies best be employed to address development challenges? Indonesia is a success story in Internet use. In a six-country, representative-sample survey we conducted in 2011, we found the highest use of the Internet among the poor among the six in Java, where the most of the Indonesian population lives. Indonesia is one of the heaviest users of Facebook, in the top five.
John Kay cites interesting Q&A with a Russian planner who visited the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union: A perhaps apocryphal story tells of a Russian visitor, impressed by the laden shelves in US supermarkets. He asked: “So who is in charge of the supply of bread to New York?” The market economy’s answer – that not only is no one in charge, but it is a criminal offence for anyone to seek that position – is surprising. The essential things like milk, bread and eggs get supplied through obliquity rather than direct central planning. And so has been the Internet, worldwide.
The Center for Democracy and Technology has been in the trenches of Internet policy from the 1990s. They played a leading role in expanding the debate over the various proposals to extend the ITU’s scope to include the Internet at the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) in December 2012. Here in their latest paper, they draw on work including mine, to argue that many of the proposed revisions to the International Telecom Regulations are likely to do more harm than good.
The termination of voice calls is a form of trade in services which is in many countries, including Pakistan, governed by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The buyer of the service is the company abroad that wishes to terminate voice calls in Pakistan. The seller is the international long distance operator in Pakistan who receives the calls and terminated them on various Pakistan telephone numbers. Under GATS, the sellers in Pakistan are free to enter into any kind of commercial arrangement with foreign operators. What cannot be done is for the government to get involved.
We’re irregular visitors to IGF (Helani went to Rio and Hyderabad; I went to Sharm el Sheikh, . . . ). But this year is kinda exciting, with the WCIT sword hanging over the multi-stakeholder model.

Facebook users and Facebook servers

Posted on October 11, 2012  /  0 Comments

Something to think about. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it had 1 billion active users. Of that, 81 percent were said to be outside the US and Canada. The top-five countries in ranked order at this time are US; Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico. Last year, there were lots of reports about Facebook building a server farm in Northern Sweden.
Sri Lanka Telecom Growth 1992-2010 The validity of the proposition that extending the existing accounting-rate regime for international voice to Internet traffic in order to provide additional revenues to increase the build-out of broadband infrastructure in developing countries rests on the claim that the accounting-rate regime contributed to the extraordinary increase in voice connectivity over the past years by providing funds for building out the infrastructure. As can be seen from the Figure above, the rapid growth that led to the elimination of the persistent waiting lists in Sri Lanka commenced in 2002-03. It was in this same period that the government liberalized the international telecommunications market, issuing multiple external gateway licenses. The inflow of revenues from the accounting-rate regime fell sharply. Yet connectivity exploded.
If the ETNO and related African group proposals to charge the networks sending information to Africa go through, those who will suffer will be users in Africa, particularly those with limited budgets and no internationally accepted credit cards. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), representing European telecommunication companies, is proposing that the “sending party network pays” principle be written into an international treaty. This proposal would force content providers to pay local telecom operators for the delivery of user-requested data. Users from countries not seen as having large revenue potential could even find themselves cut off from some content. Alternatively, attractive content may have to be moved behind paywalls, making them inaccessible for those without credit cards.
For two days, I’ve been immersed in debates around WCIT, here in Accra at the African preparatory meeting. The delegate from Egypt, who had control of the text, was the most committed advocate of imposing a form of accounting-rate regime on data flows. According to him, the data are a burden on the network, they cause harm to the network, and the access network operators are subsidizing them. His views extend to content: he believes that the content is in some cases inappropriate. I could understand this attitude from an executive of an old style unreformed voice telephony company, longing for the good old monopoly days when the network was operated for the benefit of the managers and employees and the customers were an annoyance to be tolerated.
I just completed a paper that summarizes the key arguments I have been making against the ETNO proposals to impose sending party network pays principle on the Internet. Here is an excerpt from the paper: ETNO wants the ITU to designate Internet content providers as “call originators” and subject them to a “sending party network pays” rule that would allow telecommunications operators to charge them rates they believe are commensurate with the bandwidth their content consumes. Such a change would have enormous implications for the expansion of the digital economy in the developing world. • Access to content would become more expensive if content providers must pass along costs. • Content providers may respond by terminating connections with operators, especially in countries with populations that have limited buying power and access to payment mechanisms.
Having voted on behalf of the government at ITU forums, I can imagine the discomfiture of Indian officials when their decisions to go along with proposals to bring the Internet under the authority of the ITU are questioned by powerful domestic stakeholders. Opposing the government’s decision of having a global body to regulate Internet content, India Inc as well civil society groups today said that India should withdraw its consent to such a proposal. Besides, they argued that the government had taken a unilateral decision on Internet governance, without discussing it with the civil society members, industry or academicians. India had favoured an international proposal to regulate Internet content through a United Nations Committee on Internet Related Policies (CIRP) comprising 50 bureaucrats from the UN Member countries. India concurred with the CIRP on October 26, 2011 by making a statement at the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.