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On Maintaining an Open and Free Internet

The Internet Society comments on pending international proposals that could affect the Internet

The Internet and International Telecommunications Regulation - the ITRs

Preparations are underway to review the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), a 1988 treaty that currently governs international telecommunications between counties. The United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will hold the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December 2012 and enable the 193 Member States from across the globe to review the ITRs and modify the treaty between Member States. This amended version of the ITRs could redefine as well as impact the existing principles of an open and free Internet.

The facts at a glance:

  • The decisions made by governments at WCIT could redefine the international regulatory environment for the Internet and telecoms in the 21st century and beyond – impacting the continued growth of the Internet worldwide.
  • The Internet Society is concerned that some government proposals would be inconsistent with the existing global, multistakeholder model for standards-setting and Internet policy development.
  • This multistakeholder approach has proven to be nimble and effective in ensuring the stability, security, and availability of the global Internet infrastructure, while still giving sovereign nations the flexibility to enact and enforce relevant legislation within their borders. This model has been a key contributor to the breathtaking evolution and expansion of the Internet worldwide.
  • Some proposed changes to the ITRs treaty could fundamentally affect the architecture, operation, access, content and security of the Internet in a negative way. The following issues are particularly contentious:
    • Government approval of peering arrangements and the establishment of costs for international Internet traffic termination, which may change the way users pay for Internet services today and result in fragmentation of networks and traffic that flows on the network
    • “New technologies” regulation, which aspires to transfer the traditional telecom regulatory framework to also cover all new networks and technologies like the Internet;
    • Data privacy, including access by governments to what is considered private data today and owned by citizens or organizations
    • Cybersecurity, to give states more control over content and who has access to networks;
    • Internet addresses, which may lead to changing the regional address registry process administered by the Regional Internet Registry’s (RIRs)
    • Mandated application of ITU-T Recommendations (Standards), which slow down innovation, divert technical resources from organizations, and fundamentally alter the open multi-stakeholder process responsible for developing the Internet today

Some examples of the proposed changes and the impacts these might have:

  • Proposal to MOD Art 1.4 and 3.5 IRT: Together these would have the effect of making it compulsory for states to impose ITU-T standards on telecom/Internet service providers in their countries. This approach would be counterproductive for global communications and is counter to the international collaborative standards development process that is place today.
  • Proposed MODs to Art. 2 IRT: The Internet Society notes several proposals to add definitions to the ITRs. It seems likely the inclusion of a definition implies that there will be subsequent proposals to have the Treaty impose responsibilities or actions pertaining to the word or concept defined.  The proposals to add a new Article 2.19 are particular cause for concern, because they would greatly expand the ITRs’ coverage into areas that would negatively affect the Internet, and broaden the scope of the ITRs into controlling the content of communications, specifically on the Internet. The Internet Society highlights the potential for harm arising from such significant expansion of the scope of the Treaty.
  • Proposed MOD to Art 2.2: The Internet is not a telecommunication service.  NOC to Art 2.2.

Quotes from Sally Shipman Wentworth, Public Policy, Internet Society
(for photo please see Related Media on the right)

“The Internet is different from the traditional telecommunication systems governed by the ITRs. This difference must be understood and respected if the Internet’s benefits are ever to reach all of the world’s people.”

“Any expanded regulation at the infrastructure level is likely to have an impact on growth and innovation and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. In the rare case where a regulatory framework is needed, Member States should commit to ensuring that these are justified, and consist of high-level principles. Regulation should not interfere in commercial decisions, be based on specific technologies or business-models, or seek to substitute government action for the private sector.”

“The ITRs should reflect what has been learned about what works best for telecommunication regulation in the 24 years since the WATTC. In particular, its text should seek Member States’ commitment that their regulatory regimes be non-discriminatory, technology neutral, and encourage competition.”

“To continue to benefit from what we know about the Internet, the ITRs should strive to be permissive, not restrictive. The text could be improved by committing to develop “soft” regulatory practices such as “codes of practice” and “guidelines” wherever possible, and always in an open and transparent manner, consistent with current practices and with the outcomes of the WSIS.”

About the Internet Society


The Internet Society is the world’s trusted independent source of leadership for Internet policy, technology standards and future development. Based on its principled vision and substantial technological foundation, the Internet Society works with its members and Chapters around the world to promote the continued evolution and growth of the open Internet through dialog among companies, governments, and other organizations around the world. For more information, see: http://www.internetsociety.org

Media contact: Wende Cover, cover@isoc.org