APC input on the WCIT

Chronological Thread 
  • From: Anriette Esterhuysen <anriette@xxx>
  • To: WCIT public <wcit-public@xxx>
  • Subject: APC input on the WCIT
  • Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2012 13:18:00 +0000

3 November 2012

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international
network of civil society organisations concerned with ICTs, the internet,
development and rights.
APC welcomes the ITU’s invitation to the broad community of stakeholders in
communications to contribute to discussions on the International
Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) ahead of the World Conference on
International Telecommunications (WCIT). We hope that the ITU will continue
with and build on this important step to make its decision-making processes
more inclusive and transparent. Major changes have taken place in the nature
of telecommunications since the present ITRs were agreed in 1988.
Telecommunications services which were once provided by government agencies
are now almost entirely provided by private sector enterprises.
Telecommunications now enable very many new services of importance to social
and economic development. The value of multistakeholder dialogue on
communications was recognised by the World Summit on the Information Society,
and multistakeholder fora have become commonplace in discussion of
telecommunications, ICTs and the internet. The ITRs are important instruments
in international communications and it is critically important that all
stakeholders should be able to contribute to discussions about how they are
The purpose of the ITRs
Many proposals have been put forward to the World Conference on International
Telecommunications (WCIT) for changes in the ITRs. Rather than commenting in
detail on individual proposals, APC sets out in this document an overall
approach to the ITRs which it believes is consistent with the purpose of the
Regulations, as described in 1988, with the development of communications
since that time, and with the needs of a rapidly changing communications
market and the citizens and users of telecommunications services.
The ITRs that were agreed in 1988 were concerned with basic
telecommunications services and sought to achieve three objectives:
· to facilitate global interconnection and interoperability of
telecommunications facilities;
· to promote the harmonious development and efficient operation of
those facilities; and
· to promote the efficiency, usefulness and availability to the
public of international telecommunication services.
They were agreed at a time of great change in the telecommunications sector,
as control of networks and services shifted from governments to the private
sector, and arrangements for international traffic moved from negotiated
reciprocity to commercial agreements. They consolidated and simplified prior
regulations into concise statements of principle which allowed the
development of new business models. These enabling principles have
facilitated connectivity and innovation which might well have been stifled by
more rigid and prescriptive rules.
APC recognises the important role which the ITRs have played in the
development of telecommunications over the two and a half decades since 1988.
That period has, as noted above, been one of enormous change in
telecommunications, in particular the massive development and uptake of
mobile telephony, the advent and spread of the internet, the general adoption
of IP networks, and continuing advances in technology, markets, and user
behaviour which have proved difficult for governments and even businesses to
anticipate. It is not surprising, therefore, that aspects of the ITRs are now
out of date. The central question before WCIT concerns how, how far and in
what ways they need to be updated.

APC's proposed principles for revision of the ITRs
APC suggests that the best way to respond on this question is to consider
proposals for revision on the basis of two key principles.
· The first is that the ITRs should remain concise statements of
principle, as they were agreed in 1988, and should not become prescriptive or
restrictive regulations. The more tightly rules are drawn, the more quickly
they will become outdated and constrain innovation, enterprise and consumer
and user welfare.
· The second is that they should always seek to facilitate and never
to restrict the development of telecommunications and the availability of
communications services.
All proposals before WCIT should, in APC’s view, be judged against these two
key principles. If these are followed, then the ITRs should continue to
facilitate and not restrict the future development of telecommunications.

Two further points stem from these basic principles.
The first is that the ITRs should continue to be concerned with basic
telecommunications and should not extend to services that make use of
telecommunications networks such as ICTs in general or the internet in
particular. The relationship between telecommunications, ICTs and the
internet varies from region to region and is highly complex and
unpredictable. Rules and regulations that restrict how it evolves will stifle
innovation and reduce the value of information and communications to
development. The ITRs should make no assumptions about how that relationship
will or should evolve. They should be concerned only with underlying
telecommunications networks, not with the services and content that run over
them. The definition of ‘telecommunications’ in the ITRs, in particular,
should remain as it is in the ITU constitution.
There has been concern in some quarters about proposed changes in the
terminology used to describe telecommunications operators in the ITRs, from
the historic term ‘administrations’, which referred to government
departments, to ‘operating agencies’, which includes private sector
businesses. While this terminological updating follows from the privatisation
of telecommunications which has occurred since 1988, it should be clear in
the revised ITRs that the revised Regulations’ coverage only extends to those
areas of basic telecommunications that were addressed by the 1988
Regulations, and that the ITRs do not extend to other business activities of
operating agencies such as their role as ISPs.

Scope of the ITRs
The second point is that the ITRs should not reach beyond telecommunications
to include public policy objectives and areas of governance which are beyond
their current remit or the telecommunications sector. A number of proposals
have been made to WCIT which suggest, for example, that the ITRs should
address issues such as spam, fraud, security and cybercrime. These are
important issues and we do believe that the ITU has a role to play in
addressing them, alongside other international agencies and other
stakeholders. But they are not basic telecommunications issues, and cannot
properly or appropriately be addressed by establishing rules concerning them
within an ITU treaty and any such effort should proceed with great caution.
These proposals should therefore be rejected. The ITU should consider those
that are within its remit in other, more suitable ITU fora, and work with
other stakeholders in other fora to develop responses which can achieve
international and multistakeholder consensus.

Human rights and the ITRs
For the same reasons, APC does not believe that it would be appropriate to
include text concerning aspects of human rights within the ITRs. The
international human rights regime is well-established, through the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Conventions on Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Economic and Social Rights (ICESR) and other
internationally agreed instruments. As a body constituted by governments ITU
decisions necessarily fall within this framework. Governments are as
responsible for upholding human rights agreements in the ITU as they are, for
example, in the General Assembly. It would therefore be appropriate to draw
attention to these overarching rights instruments in a preamble to the ITRs,
noting that they apply to the Regulations and how they are implemented as
they do to all other international agreements, but it would not be
appropriate to use telecommunications regulations themselves as rights
instruments. What is important is that any impact assessment of the ITRs
include careful evaluation of their impact on fundamental human rights,
including rights to freedom of expression and association online, and on
internet access as an enabler of rights.

Looking to the future
The future of communications is not simply a matter of technology. It is of
vital importance to human development. Changes in communications technology
and markets are immensely complex and challenging. They offer tremendous
opportunities for enabling economic growth and advancing human welfare, but
bring with them new threats, from loss of privacy to electronic waste, from
criminality to cyberwarfare. As the seven years since WSIS have shown, they
are also highly unpredictable: as recently as 2005, hardly anyone predicted
the growth that has since taken place in mobile internet, social networking
or cloud computing. Such great opportunities and such great challenges
require cooperation between stakeholders and across public policy domains.
They need multistakeholder dialogue that brings together all of those
concerned with technological and human development, and enabling policy and
regulatory environments that encourage innovation and responsiveness to
citizens’ and consumers’ needs. The ITRs can contribute to this, as they have
done since 1988, as principles for basic telecommunications that foster
connectivity and use of international networks and services, but they should
not reach beyond their existing mandate.
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international
network and non-profit organisation founded in 1990 that wants everyone to
have access to a free and open internet to improve lives and create a more
just world.