World Conference On International Telecom Kicks Off In Political Style

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The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) has affirmed the right to freedom of information online, the secretariat of the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said on day two in Dubai, Qatar, where over 160 country delegations since yesterday are talking about the future global telecommunications rules.

The WCIT is looking at updating the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR). The information behind the news announcement is that a broad majority of governments, including the United States, the European Union, China and Canada today rejected a proposal of the Tunisian delegation to make an explicit reference to the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration stands on its own, they said, and a high-level technical treaty aimed “to assure the interoperability of underlying telecommunications systems that enable communications, not the content of the communications that flow over them” (as the US and Inter-American Telecommunication Commission representatives said) has no need for such a reference. The Tunisian argument, on the other hand, was simply that “existing texts haven’t prevented some countries cutting off international telecommunications” and a stronger signal is needed, not the least to underline the good intents of the WCIT. Only Switzerland and Poland in the end supported the Tunisian move.

Conflicts on the scope of the future ITRs have characterised the start of the discussions in Dubai in many ways. Europe, Australia and others sided with the US and Canada in requesting a limitation to “recognised operating agencies” (meaning large telecom network providers) and not every internet provider. Exchanging the references to Comité Consultatif International Téléphonique et Télégraphique (CCITT – the predecessor to the ITU-Telecommunication sector) in the 1988 ITR text would broaden the scope too much, according to the camp of the ITR minimalists. And “ICT” should not be added to “telecommunication” in order to keep a narrow scope. Finally, and this is one of the big issues, the new “internet chapter” tabled by the Russian delegation this afternoon would be a fundamental change to the treaty, the western countries warn.

With the Russian proposal (on multi-stakeholderism and nationalisation of global and local internet polices) under discussion in the plenary today after informal talks led by WCIT Chair Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, director general of the United Arab Emirates Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, it seemed difficult to argue that WCIT is not about the internet. At least it does not appear to be about freedom of expression in telecommunication networks.

The WCIT website for daily updates, live videocasts and news conferences is here.

Follow .nxt for a good source on the conference, here.

Monika Ermert may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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