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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
by Thomas O'Toole
An editor on our staff, David McAuley, was fortunate to obtain an interview last week with International Telecommunication Union Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré. The U.S. government has hammered away at Touré and the ITU all this year, accusing the international telecom body of using the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) talks in Dubai as a forum to wrest key internet governance functions away from the private sector (and the U.S. government). The accusations clearly rankled Touré, who spoke at length about what WCIT is and is not about.
By David McAuley
The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12)
“has nothing to do with [internet] Governance,”
International Telecommunication Union Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun
I. Touré told BNA Sept. 5 during email and telephone
Touré reiterated and expanded upon previously voiced
criticisms of what he called “over-dramatic”
characterizations of the WCIT-12 process as a push by some governments
to wrest control over the internet and place it in the ITU.
Touré also took the opportunity to try to refocus the debate
surrounding WCIT-12 onto what he argued were serious issues that
require urgent attention by ITU member states--such as data security
and exorbitant roaming charges.
The ITU, the United Nations's agency for information and
communication technologies, is hosting WCIT-12 in Dubai, United Arab
Emirates, from Dec. 3-14. The aim of the event is to revise the
“International Telecommunication Regulations,” established
by treaty in 1988 and widely credited with liberalizing the
international telecom market, and enabling the growth that followed.
The ITRs did not address the internet, however, which did not generate
such a huge global impact until years later.
WCIT-12 has garnered increasing criticism on substantive claims
that it involves overreach by implicating the internet (17 ECLR 805,
5/2/12), and on transparency claims that the process is shrouded in
Touré has challenged the notion that either the United Nations
or the ITU has designs on internet control, and
has attempted, with some limited success, to pry the WCIT-12 process
open for all stakeholders rather than just for ITU members.
Touré told BNA, “Internet Governance as we know it
today” is about “Domain Names and addresses.”
Internet governance, according to Touré, consists of:
“These are issues that we're not talking about at all,”
he said. “We're not pushing that, we don't need to.”
Discussions on those internet governance topics are addressed by
the Internet Governance Forum and the World Summit on the Information
Society, Touré said. “WCIT is not going to duplicate
Touré stressed that the concern over internet governance
should not drown out the opportunity for WCIT to take on matters of
real import. “Why don't we talk about security, you cannot have
freedom or privacy without security. If anyone can steal your identity
you are not a free person.”
There's so much on our plate. Why
[would] I have to take over internet governance?Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary General,
International Telecommunication Union
Roaming, the application of sometimes steep charges to maintain
mobile device network-connectivity while the user travels from one
country to another, is another WCIT topic that he said needs
attention, calling it a very real issue for developing countries.
There are others, he added, “We cannot talk about energy
efficiency, we cannot talk about accessibility, we cannot talk about
security for children?”
“These are real issues we are talking about,”
Touré said. “There's so much on our plate. Why [would] I
have to take over internet
ITR Article 3 deals with international telecommunications networks.
A summary of the existing proposals made public by the ITU, known as
the “Draft of the Future ITRs,” shows a number of
proposals for a new Article 3.5 that would touch upon naming,
numbering, addressing, and identification.
Touré disagreed with the suggestion that numerous proposals to
add a new section 3.5 to the ITRs might have the effect of expanding
the treaty to internet governance.
“That is telecommunication numbering,” he said,
something that preceded the internet. Some people, Touré added,
will hijack a country code and open a phone line for pornography.
“These are the types of things we are talking about, and they
came before the internet.”
Some have argued that proposals to revise certain treaty
definitions might nevertheless have the effect of bringing internet
naming and numbering into treaty coverage. For example, there are
proposals to change the term “Telecommunication” to
“Telecommunication/ICT,” and to change the definition of
that term from covering “Any transmission, emission, or
reception” of signals of any nature, to covering “Any
transmission, emission, or reception, including processing” of
Touré, in an email to BNA, challenged the idea that the
proposed changes made a difference:
is important to note that transmission and reception of communications
over IP-based networks is included in the present ITU definition of
“telecommunications,” in the view of a number of ITU
Member States. In fact, although there have been many discussions
in the past regarding whether to change the formal wording of the
definition, an argument advanced in favour of not doing so was
precisely because technologies such as the Internet are already
included, so there is no reason to change the
Touré, expanding on his emailed remarks, told BNA that the
proposals that appear to involve the ITU in internet numbering and
addressing were preliminary and subject to change.
“These are preliminary proposals,” he said, “and
I suspect that someone else will bring another counterproposal to
this, we will analyze it and say yes, this is going beyond, and we'll
There is a misunderstanding in the
debate, I am trying to refocus it, but some people don't want to
listen to it.Hamadoun Touré
What is important, Touré said, is that people are bringing up
problems and proposing solutions, there is nothing behind the scene
beyond that. “At the end of the day, we'll find the solution
that is … workable for everybody … in the true tradition
of the ITU.”
Touré also expressed confidence that the WCIT meeting will
successfully resolve controversy around another proposal that might
implicate internet governance, this one involving a suggested change
to Article 3.3 that would allow a member state to know how its traffic
is routed, and to impose routing regulations for purposes of security
and countering fraud.
“Issues like that may have a real implication [leading
possibly to] some impasse on the perception of freedom or
privacy,” Touré said. But there will be counterproposals
and we will find a middle ground, he
What WCIT-12 will do, Touré said, is “open up new
opportunities for more investment in Broadband infrastructure to match
… exponential growth in Data traffic.”
Broadband capability must be made available for every community
around the world, he said. That will take investment, and member
states will discuss that in good faith and reach creative solutions to
enable every person to exercise “his or her right to access,
use, create and share information in an affordable and safe
manner,” Touré said.
The key, he added, will be to do this with “a sound
regulatory system that is not heavy handed,” leaving the ICT
sector with the right environment to flourish and
“This is like roads and cars,” Touré said. Traffic
is growing exponentially, so governments need to make sure that
highway infrastructure keeps pace with increased traffic on the roads.
The highway engineer needs to make sure that the roads and bridges are
correctly built. The highway engineer should be able to ask for
details about the height and weight of cars and trucks without facing
an objection that what the engineer really wants is to own the
vehicles, Touré said. That makes no sense, Touré said, that
is not what the engineer is asking for, and we should all instead work
together for sound traffic management.
“There is a misunderstanding in the debate, I am trying to
refocus it, but some people don't want to listen to it,”
Touré said. “When you buy a car you're not buying a
Touré said that WCIT will also focus on the settlement
mechanism for the future of broadband traffic. “The old WCIT was
based on simple voice telephony back in 1988 and that set the stage
for the information society,” he said. Measurement metrics for
international settlements were the time and location of the call, now
the traffic is in bits and bytes, and time is irrelevant. There is a
need to change the settlement process for combined voice, video, and
data today, Touré said.
He also said that “the flow of funds for Internet
traffic” will be addressed at WCIT-12, but that cannot be
considered to be a part of internet governance:
is nothing new about ITU discussing such flow of funds: it has been
the topic of much discussion in ITU since 1998 and is the subject of
Recommendation ITU-T D.50, which has been unanimously approved by all
ITU Member States. … The Recommendation says that the value of
traffic flow is one element, among others, to be taken into account in
bilateral commercial arrangements by parties that provide
international Internet connections.
One suggestion for tackling funding has been put forward by the
European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO), a
Brussels-based group representing companies in 35 countries. It calls
for “fair compensation for carried traffic,” and floated
the idea of “the principle of sending party network pays”.
“It is easy to criticize, but ETNO has the merit of putting
its view on the table,” Touré said. Others should come up
with counter proposals, debate will ensue, he added. “I am
convinced we will find a common
Details about how WCIT is arranged and who will participate are
available on the ITU's WCIT Background Briefs website, Touré told
BNA. Basically, he said, it will be members states that participate as
WCIT is a treaty-making conference.
Sector members, whom Touré described as “mainly private
companies in the industry and other relevant organizations,” can
participate as observers, and may be invited to speak.
He said it is a common practice among member states to include
individuals from sector members and private companies in their WCIT
Each member state will have one vote, Touré said. But a vote
is unlikely, he quickly added. “I believe it is not necessary,
this is not what our Members want, it can and should be avoided in the
true tradition of ITU.”
ITU member states have come through two world wars and a cold war
without a vote, and WCIT-12 should be no exception, Touré said.
The organization has been particularly adept at achieving consensus,
Touré said that no decision has yet been made regarding press
coverage of WCIT. The decision regarding press attendance will be
formally made by the WCIT conference itself at the opening, which is
normal ITU practice, he added.
Touré appeared to support greater press access to the WCIT
talks. “By giving opportunity to Press to attend and report we
will improve understanding and reduce speculation.”
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