The 1988 Melbourne World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference (WATTC) was greatly influenced by the increasingly strong trend towards privatization, liberalization and convergence of services. As a consequence, negotiations were difficult. However, a compromise text was finally agreed upon. The resulting text was called the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) and it replaced both the Telegraph Regulations and the Telephone Regulations, thus implicitly recognizing the decreased importance of telegraphy.
While the ITRs were a compromise at the time, they turn out, in retrospect, to have been instrumental in facilitating continuing privatization and liberalization of telecommunications markets. These trends were further facilitated by agreements made in the Global Agreement on Trade in Services in 1994 (Annex on Telecommunications) and in 1996 (Reference Paper on Basic Telecommunications Services).
The ITRs contained a key provision in Article 9, Special Arrangements. For the first time private operators were explicitly allowed to use leased lines to provide services, including data services. This provision facilitated the expansion of IP-based networks and the services popularly referred to as the Internet.
The Morris worm, or Internet worm of 2 November 1988, was one of the first computer worms distributed via the Internet and was certainly the first worm to gain significant mainstream media attention. When the WATTC was convened on 28 November, this worm was still a topic of concern. Although the worm itself was not explicitly mentioned in the ITRs, the “avoidance of technical harm” provision of Article 9 is generally considered to have been inspired by a desire to take steps that would prevent a reoccurrence of problems of this type. This is possibly the first cybersecurity treaty provision. A similar provision was subsequently added to what is now Article 42 of the ITU Convention.
The WATTC also adopted a number of Resolutions and Recommendations and one Opinion which complemented the provisions of the ITRs.
Text contributed by Richard Hill (ITU/TSB) and Tony Rutkowski (WATTC’88 participant)