EU Parliament Resolution on WCIT flawed

As a citizen of Italy and as a person who is familiar with the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) and the proposals presented to that body, I must express my deep disappointment at parts of the Resolution on this topic that was adopted by the European Parliament.

The EU Resolution seems to be based on a flawed understanding of WCIT and of ITU.

I personally don’t understand why European parliamentarians did not obtain correct information – either directly from the ITU Secretariat – or from their Member State representatives, who are familiar with WCIT-12 and ITU.

An example of this flawed understanding presented in the Resolution adopted by the EU Parliament states that the EU “Regrets the lack of transparency and inclusiveness surrounding the negotiations for WCIT-12, given that the outcomes of this meeting could substantially affect the public interest”.

However, it is important to point out that WCIT is inclusive of 193 national delegations which are participating in WCIT-12. Private sector companies and civil society organizations have also registered to attend WCIT-12 in large numbers.

Everyone attending WCIT-12 is free to lobby for their specific positions.

Added to this, in the run-up to the conference, the ITU Secretariat created a platform to allow any individual, civil society player or company to make its views known.

The very thorough and inclusive preparatory process leading up to the WCIT-12 has been completely transparent. Every European parliamentarian could have obtained all the documents from their own government, or from the European Commission.

At ITU, transparency is achieved at the national level, through national consultations in national languages. Surely this process is far more inclusive than just posting an English language text on a web page?

The Resolution also states that the EU “believes that ITU, or any other single, centralized international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either Internet governance or Internet traffic flow” and “believes that, as a consequence of some of the proposals presented, ITU itself could become the ruling power over aspects of the internet which could end the present bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model”.

In response to this claim by the EU, it is important to note that ITU’s mandate in the Internet is laid down by the Plenipotentiary Conference Resolutions which were agreed to by consensus in 2010.

Nothing can be agreed at WCIT-12 to change or negate this mandate.

In addition to this point, no proposals exist to give more power to ITU as an institution, which does not have any regulatory authority over any networks whatsoever.

Networks are regulated by national governments, not by ITU – which is a multi-stakeholder, bottom-up organization.

The Resolution claims that “some ITR reform proposals being presented by ITU member states would negatively impact … the free flow of information online”.

However, freedom of expression and the right to communicate are already enshrined in many UN and international treaties that ITU has taken into account in the establishment of its Constitution and Convention, and also its mandate by the Plenipotentiary Conference, which is the Supreme Governing Body of ITU.

These treaties include Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These Articles – as well as Article 33 and 34 of the ITU Constitution – clearly establish the right to communication and the limits that governments can impose on those rights.

Since the ITU Constitution prevails over the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), nothing in the ITRs has the power to result in a reduction of freedom to communicate.

The Resolution also indicates concern that “ITU reform proposals include the establishment of new profit mechanisms that could seriously threaten the open and competitive nature of the Internet, driving up prices, hampering innovation and limiting access; recalls that the internet should remain free and open”.

But in reality, there is a common goal of fostering innovation and driving down prices, in particular for users in developing countries. A revised treaty can help harness the power of ICTs to deliver social and economic benefits in every nation on earth, including across every sector.

ITU’s goal is to continue enabling the Internet, as it has done since 1988.

It is imperative that the Internet is open for all people, in order to continue to leverage the social and economic benefits of access to information and knowledge.

Therefore it is unfortunate and disappointing to see that the European Parliament appears to base its Resolution on misleading and erroneous conjecture put forth by certain companies who are defending their commercial interests, in particular when those companies are not even European companies.

By: Richard Hill

Richard Hill was born and partly raised in Italy.  He has been working on the WCIT preparatory process since 2004. Prior to joining ITU in 2001, Richard managed IT and network infrastructure for a mobile telecommunications operator, IT systems for the University of Geneva, and performed various functions at Hewlett-Packard, including being part of the team that rolled out the internal Internet network. He holds a BS in Mathematics from MIT and a PhD in Statistics from Harvard.

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15 comments

  1. I completely agree with what Richard Hill has written.

    The EU parliament’s statement, based on misleading information about the ITU purpose, mission and operation methods, puts into question not only the ITU, but the whole body of work done until now by the family of United Nations.

    It is to be regretted, as it will delay the progress.

  2. James Waterworth · · Reply

    We live in changing times with regard to international agreements of all kinds. Organisations like the ITU may believe they are sufficiently open, but that does not mean they are. You might not agree, you might be annoyed, but democracy is an imprecise science that must be respected, so please respect it.

  3. Interesting piece on this issue just published in the Register: reg.cx/1Z7g

  4. European Citizen · · Reply

    The EU-Commission has just recognized, that european investors are not willing to invest into EU-infrastructure for broadband services. All FTTX initiatives have suffered from poor regulatory farsight. Via frequency sales, a lot of money is taken from the industry, which is desperately needed to build up infrastructure. Bad enough.

    But now, the EU does not even recognize, that the so called network neutrality is nothing but a way to have EU citizens pay for the infrastructure which is needed to make big and easy profits of Google, Apple and the likes in the US. While network companies in the EU all suffer from fierce competition and shrinking margins, US content companies are sucsessfully defending patent laws, demanding new copyright laws in the EU and their “free lunch data highway” towards the european market…

    How can we all be so blind?

  5. “free lunch data highway”? Really? I am paying to be on this highway and I demand to be able to use it to go where I want. My destination does not need to pay for me being able to visit them.

    There is no US conspiracy here. It;s just EU companies being lazy and ineffective. Yes, I know we in EU love bureaucracy, love to be in control and Ineffectiveness is the result of it.
    Stop using this stupid analogy to justify our telco-s laziness that want to have thier hands in two honeypots at once.

  6. “The very thorough and inclusive preparatory process leading up to the WCIT-12 has been completely transparent. ”

    It doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it’s still not true.

  7. Lets debunk you directly.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121127/18051121165/dear-itu-complex-process-where-delegates-who-fly-to-dubai-can-lobby-is-not-transparency.shtml

    “Note the key false equivalency here: that transparency means that you can have your voice heard (if, that is, you’re willing to sign up to fly to Dubai and take part as a delegate). First of all, being heard is not transparency. Transparency is about sharing information in the other direction. It’s about making the discussions and details public so everyone knows what’s going on. Hearing what people are saying is listening and it’s important — but it’s not transparency.

    Second, the fact that parliamentarians could obtain the documents is not transparency either. It does not involve the public.

    It’s this kind of misleading rhetoric that makes people so concerned about the ITU. The fact that it pretends transparency is something other than it is seems like a real problem.”

  8. Kevin St John · · Reply

    If I understand you correctly, the rules for how the internet should be run/managed/regulated are something the ITU should take on. And it should be that way because the ITU itself decided that.

    Hubris is an ugly thing.

    If the ITU had been at all involved in internet governance in the early days we would likely all still be using 9600bps modems and arguing over whether 14400bps modems should be approved for use.

  9. As an amateur radio operator I’m quite familiar with the mechanisms that the ITU operates by. Blue helmets are not going to parachute into your ISP and force them to censor a web site. Sorry, the ITU just doesn’t work that way. National representatives, appointed by (in general) the Communications regulator of their respective country (the FCC in the case of the USA), arrive at a consensus of what regulations they want to have in common between countries to make it easier to communicate between countries. No single nation can force any other nation to do anything. Furthermore, the regulations then agreed upon via ITU proceedings must then be promulgated by the national body. For example, here in the USA the FCC has to issue notices of proposed rule making, hold hearings, listen to public input, and otherwise conduct normal national rule-making proceedings, and if the results of that disagree with the regulations agreed upon via ITU proceedings, the national regulations take precedence. Thus why we here in the USA can use 220Mhz for amateur radio despite the fact that it is not an official ITU frequency for amateur radio (though we must not operate within 50 miles of the Canadian border to avoid interfering with their use of the band).

    Once again, the ITU can NOT override national regulators. It is just a mechanism for national regulators and major stakeholders such as telecommunications cable owners and communications satellite owners to talk amongst each other to make it easier to communicate between one country and others and to help avoid interference in communications between countries. For example, the ITU mechanism was used to agree upon what frequencies communications satellites would use so that nations wouldn’t inadvertently jam satellite communications. But blue helmets are not going to parachute down on my house if I use 220Mhz and make me stop using it. The ITU simply doesn’t work that way — the FCC is my national regulator, the FCC says I can use it, so I can use it.

  10. Ian Robertson · · Reply

    From a Unix and university background, I was an early Internet Protocol user, even before it became wide-area and globally accessible. But in the early and mid 90s the ITU and OSI tried to duplicate the functionality with the OSI standards. Good academics and engineers designed IP to be simple, easily implemented and reliable. I could carry most of the RFC standards in my head, or the lot in a manilla folder. The OSI – ITU exercise went on for years of ever increasing complexity from elitist empire building, vast optionality to resolve egos and politics, and dysfunctional profile subsets to try to get something implemented, tested and working. My telco employer had an entire room full of shelves for the standards.
    I wasted years of my professional life, and my employers, vendors, taxpayers wasted billions before the success of the IP internet caused the OSI-ITU efforts to be junked.
    Never again, let the ITU regulate the users of it’s OSI networks (where are they?)

  11. The ITU is now a vessel for some Internet Providers and censor-eager countries to get the power and money they want.

    It’s nothing more, really.

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