WCIT-12

A World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) took place from 3-14 December 2012, with the goal of revising the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).

The ITU website describes the ITRs as:

  • Establish general principles relating to the provision and operation of international telecoms;
  • Facilitate global interconnection and interoperability;
  • Underpin harmonious development and efficient operation of technical facilities;
  • Promote efficiency, usefulness, and availability of international telecommunication services, and
  • Treaty-level provisions are required with respect to international telecommunication networks and services.

 

The RIPE NCC took an active role in discussions leading up to WCIT, in coordination with colleagues in the Internet technical community (including the other RIRs) and ITU Member States in the RIPE NCC service region. Various members of the RIPE community and RIPE NCC staff took part in the WCIT meeting itself, both as Sector Members (observers only) and as part of Member State delegations.

The RIPE NCC's goals in relation to WCIT were the promotion and defense of the open, bottom-up policy development model that has underpinned the technical evolution of the Internet to date.

The WCIT runs from 3-14 December 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

APNIC Chief Scientist Geoff Huston has produced several articles that examine specific topics raised in discussion of the ITRs:

 

The January 2013 RIPE NCC Member Update contained the following report on all of the discussions which took place in Dubai during the WCIT and during the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-12) which took place in the weeks before:

External Relations Update: ITU Season

Over the second half of 2012, it was hard to avoid discussing the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and as December rolled around, all eyes were on Dubai. Stealing most of the spotlight was the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), convened to negotiate an update of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), a treaty last revised in 1988. But this meeting was preceded by the World Telecommunication Standards Assembly (WTSA), held every four years to direct the work of the ITU. The RIPE NCC participated in both events, and each produced some interesting outcomes, as well as some indications of what we can expect to see in 2013.

WTSA-12

The WTSA was held on 20-29 of November. Over that period, the ITU membership (including Member States and Sector Members) discussed and agreed on various Resolutions, Recommendations and Opinions, reviewed the work areas of the ITU Study Groups, and elected the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of those Study Groups. One item of interest was the passage of Recommendation ITU-T Y.2770, “Requirements for Deep Packet Inspection in Next Generation Networks”. Noted with concern by various civil society and technical community actors, the Recommendation was adopted by the meeting with the addition of a chapeau (or short preamble) to the effect that anyone implementing the practices detailed in the Recommendation “shall comply with all applicable national and regional laws, regulations and policies.”

The item of most concern to many in the technical community was Resolution 64, which discusses IPv6 issues. First drafted at the 2008 WTSA in Johannesburg, the original Resolution was instrumental in the establishment of the ITU IPv6 Group, which concluded its work in June 2012 with the optimistic finding that current IP address allocation arrangements were meeting the needs of all stakeholders. Discussion of the Resolution at WTSA-12 focused on revising and updating the text based on developments in the industry and the ITU itself, and the final draft notes that “many developing countries want ITU-T to become a registry of IP addresses.” Numerous other proposals were put forward by Member States during the meeting, however, including:

  • That the ITU-T be instructed to begin the application process to become an IP address registry, and
  • That the ITU-T conduct a feasibility study to investigate becoming an IP address registry

That neither of these proposals was included in the final text was the result of the very strong position taken by a number of Member States, including the USA, UK and Australia. Issues surrounding the allocation of IP addresses (both IPv4 and IPv6) will continue to be discussed in an ITU context in Study Groups 2 and 3, and given the strong feelings on these issues still held by ITU stakeholders, we see this as the best possible outcome. The RIPE NCC, in coordination with the other RIRs, will be closely following the discussions in these Study Groups – contributing where appropriate, and encouraging those with policy-related concerns to raise them in the appropriate RIR forums. 

 

WCIT-12

No previous ITU conference has had the kind of broad, public attention that WCIT received. In recent months, especially, concerns about the extension of the ITRs into areas of Internet governance and the process by which this might occur have been the basis of stories across a range of media. As the meeting drew to a somewhat confused close, it seems that while Internet governance concerns have been largely averted, events exposed the ITU’s claims to be a “multi-stakeholder” organisation as hollow. While Sector Members and other members of the public (including civil society representatives) were allowed to attend, participation was restricted to Member State delegations. While many of the major plenary sessions were made available via webcast and live transcription, much of the significant negotiation took place in closed meetings with only Member States in attendance.

Some of the most controversial proposals going into the meeting (including the proposal from the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, or ETNO, regarding charging Internet content producers) did not feature heavily in discussions. Other issues, such as the use of “(Recognised) Operating Agencies” (essentially identifying those subject to the regulations) were resolved through on-site negotiations (resulting in the use of “Authorized Operating Agencies” in the final text). The most wide-ranging proposal concerning the Internet came from the Russian Federation, which initially included the addition of an article relating to the Internet and Member States’ rights to manage naming and numbering within their jurisdictions. In the final draft, however, the only explicit reference to the Internet is contained in an attached Resolution, entitled “To foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet”. While agreed on by meeting participants, such Resolutions are not part of the ITRs and do not have the same standing as an international treaty.

As noted in many reports, the final days of the event became somewhat chaotic, with many Member States (around one third of those attending) refusing to sign the new treaty. Some of these States will seek further direction from their governments before signing, while others (notably the US) indicated that they were unlikely to sign the treaty (and associated Resolutions) in its current form. Much of the unhappiness stemmed from disagreements over the conduct of the meeting and whether consensus had actually been reached on specific items. Nonetheless, a final version of the 2012 ITRs has been published.

The long-term ramifications of WCIT and its outcomes are unclear, though it is obvious that the world’s governments are divided on questions of Internet governance and the role of the ITU. The World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF) will be convened in May 2013 to look specifically at “International Internet- related public policy matters”. The divisions that became more evident at WCIT have not been resolved, and the input of the Internet technical community to ongoing discussions in ITU forums is more important than ever.

At the RIPE NCC, we are expecting that 2013 will continue to present many challenges in this area, and we look forward to working with our fellow RIRs and industry partners to ensure that the views and concerns of our community are represented in the ITU.