United Nations Development Group

The highlights and low points of WCIT

It was both very fast and painfully slow. The key moments


Iran forces a vote, and presages the end of WCIT. Credit: ITU

One thing that everyone could agree on in the build-up to the World Conference on International Telecommunications was that anything could happen during the two weeks in Dubai.

The logic of forcing the world's governments into a box to rewrite a global treaty that has stood for 24 years in just 14 days may be questionable, but it definitely creates an event and along with that moments that stand out and set the general tone and atmosphere of the meeting itself.

Here are that main ones from WCIT 2012:


Highlights

Opening ceremony

Internet humbles UN telecoms agency

ITU forced to face modern realities as WCIT conference implodes

Having turned industries and governments upside down, the Internet has claimed its first organizational scalp, subjecting the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to a humiliating failure at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai earlier today.

No sooner had applause run out after a vote on what to include in the preamble to an updated global telecoms treaty than the United States took the floor and announced it would not sign it.

"It's with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it's not able to sign the agreement in the current form," said Ambassador Terry Kramer. "The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN regulation. We candidly cannot support an ITU Treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance."

Internet power-grab looms large as world conference enters final day

Vote taboo broken at WCIT as chair asks for "feel of the room"


Moment of the non-vote vote at 1am. Credit: Dominique Lazanski

Fears that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will award itself a role in governance of the Internet, despite the promises of its Secretary-General, are looming large on the last day of the World Teleconference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).

At the end of a confusing and fast-paced day of discussions yesterday, the issue that has haunted for the conference for the past six months finally exploded into the open with discussion of a new proposed resolution that would see the ITU "play an active and constructive role" in deciding the evolution of the global communications network.

Ad hoc group of Committee 5

ADD COM5-AHG/50/1

DRAFT NEW RESOLUTION

Regular review of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs)

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (Dubai, 2012),

considering

a) that the Council Working Group to prepare the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) has held extensive discussions on the ITRs;

b) that there have been wide consultations in all ITU regions, involving ITU Member States, ITU Sector Members, Associates and Academia and Civil Society groups, showing great interest in the revision of the ITRs;

c) that many input documents have been submitted by the ITU membership;

d) the outcome of the WCIT-12,

recognizing

a) Article 25 of the ITU Constitution;

b) Provision 48 (Article 3) of the ITU Convention;

c) that the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) is one of the pillars supporting the ITU’s mission;

d) the 24 years passed between the approval of the ITRs and its review at this Conference;

WCIT goes dark: deadlock hits key telecoms conference

Chair leads even smaller group of regional representatives in crunch talks

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) is going dark with just one day left to rewrite the international telecommunication regulations (ITRs) and a number of significant issues remaining unresolved.

Despite 1,700 participants representing 189 different countries and organizations, large sections of the text will be decided by a group of 24 regional representatives this afternoon.

The decision to call the closed meeting, without many of the issues ever having been discussed in plenary sessions, has been a conscious strategy adopted by the chair and ITU throughout the meeting.

But while that approach has kept embarrassing public fights to a minimum, it also raises serious questions over the ITU's processes and ability to act a global convener and resolver of modern telecoms issues, particularly when it comes to the Internet.

The most troubling parts of leaked 'compromise text'

A leaked draft of a so-called "compromise text" to be introduced on the first day of the second week of the WCIT conference contains a number of proposed changes that will have some governments and most Internet organizations fuming.

Here are the most troublesome parts:


Article 3.3

MOD 3.3: A Member State has the right to know the international route of its traffic where technically feasible.

This was already a controversial proposal, with civil society groups claiming that it would allow for widespread online monitoring.

The addition of the word "international" is this text makes it plain that the intent is to track traffic not just within a country's own borders but outside as well.


Article 3A - The Internet

Leaked document confirms fears of UN Internet powergrab

A leaked document has confirmed fears that a world conference held by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will be used by some countries to expand government control over the Internet.

A draft of a document to be provided to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) on Monday morning and provided to website WCITleaks includes a number of proposals that have prompted fierce disagreement during the first week of the two-week conference in Dubai. The draft also includes a number of previously unseen additions.

In particular, the document proposes:

  • That governments be given a "right to know" what route has been taken by information over data networks - something that civil society groups have warned would enable widespread online monitoring.

WCIT splits over the issue of "operating agencies"

Telecoms conference can't move forward until it's agreed who the regulations will actually apply to


Conference chair Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim has put forward a compromise solution - but level of ambiguity means it is unlikely to be agreed to

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) has dramatically split and may grind to a halt until a key distinction over whom precisely the resulting international treaty apply to is decided.

At the heart of the issue is the term "operating agencies". Currently the international telecommunication regulations (ITRs) apply only to "recognized operating agencies" - and that means large telecoms operators in each country1.

Some countries want that term changed to just "operating agencies", which would mean the ITRs become applicable to a vastly larger number of groups - in fact, "any individual, company, corporation or governmental agency which operates a telecommunication installation".

Use of the terms recognized operating agencies / operating agencies

Summary: 

The conference is split over who exactly is impacted by the ITRs themselves. "Recognized operating agencies" are a much small subset of companies - mostly traditional telecoms company - are they are the ones currently impacted by the ITRs. Some countries want this changed to just "operating agencies" which would then incorporate a huge number of other companies, especially Internet companies like Google or Facebook.

This document outlines a suggested compromise by the chair of the meeting: one that is unlikely to pass given the current weight of opposition to it.

Implications: 

If adopted, this compromise would greatly expand the impact of the ITRs to all those companies that use data networks, rather than those that simply operate them i.e. Google will become included rather than just, say, British Telecom, Italia Telecom or AT&T.

That would have far-reaching implications for the ITRs, ITU and overall Internet economy.

1. As agreed in the opening plenary, the Chairman of the conference would conduct informal discussions regarding the issue of the use of the terms Operating Agency (OA) and Recognized Operating Agency (ROA). These informal discussions were subsequently extended to include the topic of “basic definitions”, in particular the proposed ADD of 14A (telecommunications/ICTs) and 15A (international telecommunication/ICT service).

I. ROAs/OAs

2. Relevant provisions found in the Constitution are as follows:

WCIT lowdown: it's all about Africa and Committee 5

Everything you need to know about how WCIT will pan out


ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure opens the conference. He has a lot on his plate. Credit: ITU

WCIT has got off to a quick and effective start.

Having spent much of the past year preparing for the conference and notwithstanding a number of last-minute contributions, the governments of the world are ready for what will be a contentious conference.

The first day saw the heads of delegations meet and thrash out agreements that their staff had already largely agreed. Then came the opening ceremony and a stage-managed but important display of support between the ITU and ICANN. The message was plain: WCIT will not be about Internet governance.

That's not to say there aren't important and contentious issues coming over the next two weeks. Most significant are:

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