Telecoms accused of ambushing internet through rule change


This article is part of our special report ICT: Fuelling the economy.

Telecommunications regulations, set for an overhaul later this year, could be expanded to give the mobile sector sweeping new powers over the internet, international leading players representing the web have claimed.

In December, the World Conference of International Telecommunication (WCIT) – a United Nations-baked international regulator for the industry – is set to propose amendments to international telecoms regulations.

Representatives of the internet, including one of its architects, Vint Cerf , told EURACTIV that the telecoms sector is trying to make a land grab to regulate the online space.

Sally Wentworth, public policy analyst at the Internet Society – a US organisation that defends an open internet model – said that the proposals could cause major limitations in the field of international communication and in some cases restrictions on how the Internet works.

“They would like to treat the internet as a telecommunications service,” Wentworth said, adding: “Clearly, the internet is different and we do not think that the old telecommunications regulatory model can or should be applied to the internet.”

Cerf, who works for Google, told EURACTIV in an interview that imposing telephony models onto the internet could “create huge potential for consumers to stop using the internet because they do not know what costs might arise.”

Only governments negotiate the UN-backed telecom rules

Such a move would “undermine the free environment that has allowed the internet easily to explore new applications,” Cerf said.

He believes one motivation for drawing internet into new regulation is to enable telecommunications companies “to preserve their old business models,” and to charge for the internet as they do for mobile telephony.

He warned that since only governments have the power to make representations at the WCIT conference, they should seek input from industry stakeholders before deciding strategy in advance.

“The result [of the WCIT conference] could be fragmentation of the global internet, higher prices for end users, more centralised control by governments, and, in the end, less innovation overall,” Wentworth said.

“If you are going to make policy on the internet you need to know about the affected parties in this case civil society, governments, industry. That means a multi-stakeholder approach should be preserved. That is not happening in the ITU negotiations,” said Vint Cerf, a so-called “father of the internet”, who works as Google’s "chief internet evangelist".

“Static regulation could threaten the growth of the Internet, the Internet economy and Internet innovation,” said Sally Wentworth of the Internet Society, an NGO seeking to retain an open internet.

Wentworth went on to explain why there are fears over the Dubai negotiations: “Only governments ultimately get to negotiate. If you want to be involved, the first thing to do is to call on your government to offer an open and participatory national process to prepare for this treaty negotiation.”

The World Conference on International Telecommunications – or WCIT – is working to revise and update a 1988 treaty, the International Telecommunications Regulations.

The 1988 treaty governs the exchange of international telecommunications traffic.  It helps to make sure that the traffic is delivered efficiently around the world. The treaty also established the global regulatory framework for international telecommunications.

The conference is important because some countries want to include aspects of the internet – technical, security and content-related topics – into the telecommunications treaty.

  • 3-14 Dec. 2012: WCIT in Dubai

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