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International mobile roaming
New provisions to benefit consumers
The conference has approved new provisions on “roaming” that should enable us to “roam” on our mobile devices from country to country, simply, easily and without experiencing “bill shock”. Four new provisions were added to the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) during the plenary on Tuesday morning (11 December) and confirmed in a night session on Wednesday (12 December). They are intended to ensure transparency of end-user prices for international mobile services, and should allow users to receive full information promptly whenever they cross a border, as detailed below:
- Member States shall foster measures to ensure that authorized operating agencies provide free-of-charge, transparent, up-to-date and accurate information to end users on international telecommunication services including international roaming prices and the associated relevant conditions in a timely manner.
- Member States shall foster measures to ensure that telecommunication services in international roaming of satisfactory quality are provided to visiting users.
- Member States should foster cooperation among authorized operating agencies in order to avoid and mitigate against inadvertent roaming charges in border zones.
- Member States shall endeavour to promote competition in the provision of international roaming services and are encouraged to develop policies that foster competitive roaming prices for the benefit of end users.
These provisions were initially considered under Article 6 (Charging and Accounting) before being moved to Article 4 on “International Telecommunication Services”.
The transparency foreseen in these provisions could lead to greater competition, with potential benefits for consumers. Lower prices for data or international mobile calls (as for fixed-line calls) would lead to more use of roaming services.
Should or shall... what does it matter?
There was a long debate on “should” or “shall” when the discussion opened on the provisions that talk about competition and the promotion of policies that foster competitive roaming prices for the benefit of end users. The two words were in square brackets up until the Tuesday morning plenary.
As the Chairman of the hoc group put it to that plenary, “We have two groups. One wants to use the word ‘should’ as a softer language, since with this, we are telling the Member States to promote competition and help to lower prices on roaming for the benefit of the end users.”
The others wanted to use a stronger language, preferring the word "shall." In the plenary itself, there was also a long list of speakers almost split evenly for and against.
When opting for the use of “shall”, “one country said that the matter goes beyond national policies,” adding that it was an economical issue. “Competition is important to foster the development of the sector and to benefit end users. And if the States have a role in the market, maybe it is to promote competition. We think competition is important to lower the price of enrollment, even though it's not only competition that will lower the prices. But it is essential. So we don’t see a problem in the economic sense of telling Member States to promote competition.”
Another country commented: “We are of the opinion that ‘shall’ is more appropriate, because promoting competition is a reasonable neutral thing to do. We are not talking about a strong worded obligation. If you put ‘should’, the provision will be weakened and watered down. At the end of the day, we want users to be able to take advantage of lower prices. So ‘shall promote’ isn’t lethal to anyone. We feel it is acceptable, and it would send a positive signal to both users and the market.”
Charging and accounting
Accounting rates are still used in some parts of the world, but they are no longer widely used, and most traffic today is billed on the basis of bilateral commercial agreements. There were various proposals on accounting matters for the conference to consider under Article 6 (Charging and accounting). These ranged from leaving the current provisions unchanged to deleting them on the grounds that they were no longer appropriate in a world of liberalized telecommunications.
The conference has approved new provisions that cater for the different situations around the world, as the two examples below serve to highlight:
- Subject to applicable national law, the terms and conditions for international telecommunication service arrangements may be established through commercial agreements or through accounting rate principles established pursuant to national regulation.
- Member States shall endeavour to encourage investments in international telecommunication networks and promote competitive wholesale pricing for traffic carried on such telecommunication networks.
Accounting rate principles, collection charges, taxation and service telecommunications are other areas for which new provisions were developed and approved.
The provisions were first discussed in plenary on Tuesday morning and confirmed in a second plenary on Wednesday (12 December).
Fostering an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet
A new Resolution passed on Wednesday night recognizes the Internet as a central element of the infrastructure of the information society, saying that it has evolved from a research and academic facility into a global facility available to the public.
The Resolution also recognizes the importance of broadband capacity to facilitate the delivery of a broader range of services and applications, promote investment and provide Internet access at affordable prices to both existing and new users.
All stakeholder groups make a valuable contribution to the evolution, functioning and development of the Internet. They do so in their respective roles, as recognized in paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society.
According to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (Genera 2003, Tunis 2005), all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the existing as well as future Internet and its development. The need for the development of public policy by governments in consultation with all stakeholders is also recognized.
The new Resolution then goes on to recognize Resolutions 101, 102, and 133 of the Plenipotentiary Conference (Rev.Guadalajara, 2010).
Member States are invited to elaborate on their positions on international Internet-related technical, development and public policy issues within the mandate of the ITU at various ITU forums. These include the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and ITU study groups. Member States are also to engage with all their stakeholders in this regard.
The Secretary-General is instructed to continue taking the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the development of broadband and in the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet as expressed in the Tunis Agenda (paragraph 35). Under the terms of the Resolution, he is also to support the participation of Member States and all other stakeholders (as applicable) in ITU activities.
Globally harmonized national number for access to emergency services
A new Resolution underlines the importance for travellers to be aware of a single well-known number to access local emergency services. The resolution instructs the Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau to take the necessary action in order that ITU-T Study Group 2 can continue exploring the option of introducing a single globally harmonized national number for access to emergency services in the future.
It invites Member States to introduce, in addition to their existing national emergency numbers, a globally harmonized national number for access to emergency services, taking into consideration the relevant ITU-T Recommendations.
When the preliminary draft was tabled on Tuesday night, the Vice-Chairman of Study Group 2 of ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) explained: “In the discussions that we had in both the ad hoc group and in the Working Group and that we have had in ITU-T Study Group 2, it is not currently possible to harmonize national numbers globally for access to emergency services. With 193 Member States, each managing their own numbering space in their own way, these emergency access numbers have been allocated in different ways in the countries. And it is not currently possible and it probably will take, if it can be done at all, many, many years to identify one such number.
Recommendation ITU-T E.161.1, on guidelines to select emergency number for public telecommunication networks specifies two globally harmonized emergency numbers.
Towards a periodic review of the ITRs
A new Resolution recognizes the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) as one of the pillars supporting ITU’s mission.
The adoption of this Resolution follows a proposal that drew the attention of the conference to the need to review the ITRs on a more regular basis than hitherto.
The ITRs are high-level guiding principles that should not require frequent amendment, but in the fast-moving sector may need to be periodically reviewed. The ITRs establish general principles on the provision and operation of international telecommunications. They facilitate global interconnection and interoperability.
The Plenipotentiary Conference of 2014 (PP-14) is “to consider this Resolution and to decide to take necessary action, as appropriate, to convene periodically (for example every eight years) a World Conference on International Telecommunications to revise the ITRs, taking into account the financial implications to the Union.”
The Secretary-General is to bring the Resolution to the attention of the Plenipotentiary Conference and to provide it with information enabling it to consider the financial implications of convening WCIT. Member States are invited to contribute to the work outlined in the Resolution.
When the initial draft was presented to the plenary on Tuesday (11 December), there had been arguments back and forth on two options – with one option giving a specific time-frame and a second option leaving it to the discretion of PP-14.
The Republic of Korea, indicating support for the Resolution, gave two reasons. Firstly, it had encountered difficulties in finding competent experts who were involved in work relating to the ITRs back in 1988. Some of them have already passed away, while others have retired. This makes it hard to find people who are familiar with all of the issues. And secondly, “national legislation requires a kind of milestone not only taking into account domestic and international technology, evolving environments, but also general principles and guidelines embedded in the ITRs.”
Credential Committee 2 (Committee 2)
Committee 2 held two meetings, on 5 and 11 December 2012. At its first meeting, a working group was set up chaired by R.N. Jha (India). Mr Jha is also Chairman of Committee 2, along with Vice-Chairmen Bruno Ramos (Brazil) and Sameera Mohammad (Kuwait). The working group met twice (on 6 and 10 December 2012) and verified the credentials, transfers of powers and proxies of delegations, in accordance with Article 31 of the ITU Convention.
Credentials received by fax (or scanned copies by e-mail) were considered, pending receipt of the original documents.
Presenting the Committee’s conclusions to plenary for approval on Wednesday, Mr Jha said a total of 138 credentials were found to be in order. Credentials received by fax (or scanned copies by e-mail) were considered, pending receipt of the original documents.
The report is structured in five parts. The first part provides a list of countries with the right to vote, and for which credentials are found in order. Delegations of those countries are entitled to vote and to sign the Final Acts.
Part 2 contains the list of delegations of countries without the right to vote for which the credentials are found in order. Delegations of countries listed under paragraph 2 are entitled to sign the Final Acts.
Part 3 reflects the transfer of powers found to be in order. And, finally, part 4 and part 5 provide the list of delegations of countries with or without the right to vote, who have not shown credentials or whose credentials are not in order. No proxies have been submitted to Committee 3 to date.
The Chairman informed the plenary that since the publication of Committee 2's report, three countries had presented credentials which were found in order and would be moved to Part I of the report when updated.
On Committee 2’s recommendation, the plenary authorized its Chairman, assisted by its secretariat, to verify credentials, transfers of powers and proxies received after 12 December. Chairman Jha will then submit the Committee’s conclusions to a future plenary.
Budget control Committee 3
The third and final meeting of Committee 3 took place on Wednesday 12 December.
The Draft Report of Committee 3 to the Plenary was presented by the Chairman, Bruce Gracie.
With regard to the Terms of Reference of Committee 3, whereby the Committee must estimate the costs entailed by the execution of decisions of the conference, the Chairman confirmed that, to date, no information concerning decisions and resolutions that may have financial implications had been provided.
The Chairman thanked the participants of the meetings, the Vice-Chairmen and the ITU secretariat for their support during the conference.
The Final Report of the Budget Control Committee shall be presented to the plenary on Thursday 13 December.