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.
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.