24 Oct 2012 Reports/ Presentations
Contested Boundaries: The International Telecommunication Regulations and Internet Governance?
Brown Bag Seminar by William J. Drake, University of Zurich
The International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) are a binding treaty that was negotiated at an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in 1988. The ITRs combined and updated the treaties regulating the international telegraph and telephone services, which dated back to 1865. For 123 years, the predecessor agreements had codified foundational principles for the evolutionary development and interconnection of networksas well as the management of charging and settlements payments for traffic flows subject to the mutual agreement of states. After a contentious negotiation over the proper balance between monopoly and competition and the pending establishment of international trade agreements for telecommunications services, the 1988 conference agreed on new ITRs that eased the transition to a liberalized, multi-provider environment (which, in turn, helped spur the global development and commercialization of the Internet).
In the late 1990s, ITU members began to debate whether and how the ITRs should be revised to better reflect the contemporary global marketplace, including the burgeoning growth of Internet services. Expert groups, working groups, and discussions in various ITU bodies ensued, and it was ultimately decided that a World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) would be convened in Dubai, 3–14 December 2012, to review the ITRs (http://www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Pages/default.aspx).
During the preparatory process, some member governments made a number of troubling proposals pertaining to the definition of telecommunications services and providers, name and number resources, traffic management and interconnection, costs and accounting, settlements, quality of service, spam and malware, security, and other issues that, if adopted, could directly impact the internet. In short, the ITRs may become a broad multilateral treaty designed to reinforce the power of national governments and their preferred telecommunications carriers, including strong and restrictive elements of global internet governance.
To date, the debate over the ITRs has largely been conducted as an internal ITU matter. A great many internet stakeholders, civil society one of them, are effectively unable to participate in the ITU, do not have access to the documents under discussion, and may not fully understand how the ITRs work, or affect them. And while there has recently been a spate of news articles on the matter in the popular press and blogosphere, generally these have been too substantively thin and stylistically alarmist to advance sober evaluation and public understanding.
Hence, this presentation has three objectives: (1) to provide an historical overview of the evolution and function of the ITRs and their role in the international telecommunications regime; (2) to assess what is being proposed now, and why by the proponents of regulating the Internet under the ITU, including the potential implications at the national and global levels; and (3) to assess the politics and competing narratives that will shape the outcome of the Dubai negotiation.
Biography of the speaker
William J. Drake is an International Fellow and Lecturer in the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich, as well as a consultant, based in Geneva. Current activities include serving as co-editor of the MIT Press book series, The Information Revolution and Global Politics; an elected representative of noncommercial users on the Council of the Generic Names Supporting Organization, and on the Board of Directors of the European At Large Organization, in the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN); a member of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF); a member of the Civil Society Information Society Advisory Council of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); a member of the Group of High-Level Advisors of the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development; a core faculty member in the European and South Schools on Internet Governance; a founding member of Global Internet Governance Academic Network and the civil society Internet Governance Caucus; and an Affiliated Researcher of the Institute for Tele-Information at Columbia University. In December 2012, he will serve on the US delegation to ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications treaty negotiation.
Some previous positions held include, Senior Associate of the Centre for International Governance at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva; President of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility; Senior Associate and Director of the Project on the Information Revolution and World Politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; founding Associate Director of the Communication, Culture and Technology Program at Georgetown University; and Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. Some previous activities have included serving as a member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance; Working Group 1 of the UN Information and Communication Technologies Task Force; and the World Economic Forum Task Force on the Global Digital Divide.
Drake received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University. Some of his publications include: Editor, Internet Governance: Creating Opportunities for All---The Fourth Internet Governance Forum (United Nations, 2010); Co-Editor, Governing Global Electronic Networks: International Perspectives on Policy and Power (MIT Press, 2008); Editor, Reforming Internet Governance: Perspectives from the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (United Nations, 2005); and Editor, The New Information Infrastructure: Strategies for US Policy (Century Foundation, 1995).