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Could there be a poison pill for the Internet in a 20-year review of the technical rules that govern international telecoms networks?

 The international  telecoms industry  is working on a new set of rules that govern the entire world’s telecoms infrastructure. The rules will be debated and voted on at a meeting in Dubai this  December (WCIT-12), as part of a long-scheduled review. A ‘poison pill’ proposal from the European telecoms industry association known as ETNO, threatens to introduce  proposals that would kill off net neutrality  and create an Internet ‘slow lane’ via differentiated charging of content providers.

 These rules are devised  and overseen by a non-governmental body, affiliated to the United Nations, and  known as the International Telecommunications Unions (ITU). The ITU’s role it is to oversee  technical matters, such as  standards for the equipment that ensure that we can communicate between one country, or network, and another. The ITU has lobbied to get a role in the governance of the Internet, with mixed success –  that role still resides primarily with ICANN in the United States. Its lack of power over Internet governance has long been a chip on the ITU’s shoulder.

 In general, the ITU performs a non-political, but useful role in establishing the technical parameters for  the telecoms industry. The problem  is that  the ETNO proposals for WCIT-12 theaten to introduce politics into the technical standards-setting process.

 The task for the ITU meeting in December (WCIT-12)  is to thrash out a review of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). It is in that context that Europe’s telcos – via ETNO -  have submitted a proposal to permit commercial agreements for delivering the so-called ‘over the top’ Internet content and services.  It wants to be able to charge web services for delivering their content faster to users, leaving everyone else’s content in the slow lane. Net neutrality would be demolished.  It would mean that the large, and established players would get their content delivered faster and with a higher quality connection. Small blogs and start-ups, who could not afford the charges, would suffer.

 ETNO says in its official submission:

operators should not be prevented from developing differentiated offers based on customer needs, in addition to the best effort Internet.

 The clause that ETNO would like to see, includes the following text:

 “Nothing shall preclude commercial agreements with differentiated quality of service delivery to develop.

 ETNO’s official explanation is:

 “The current interconnection model has some shortcomings that need to be addressed. Today there is a huge disproportion amongst revenues and a clear shift of value towards players (Over the Top players) who are not contributing to network investment. Traffic and revenue flows need to be realigned in order to assure the economic viability of infrastructure investment and the sustainability of the whole ecosystem. The revision of the ITRs offers a unique opportunity to propose high level principles for IP interconnection.

ETNO adds a plea for no regulation. This is a perverse way of saying that   it does not want  the law to specify  net neutrality.

 In the EU, the ETNO proposals would seek to move the  law on to the next stage from the position established in the EU Telecoms Package.

There is a real  danger is when technical standards become politicised. The best thing the  ITU   could do at the WCIT-12 meeting, is to throw out the ETNO provisions, so that they can be publicly scrutinised and debated in democratic fora.

La Quadrature du Net has analysed the ETNO proposals.

 For more information on the EU  Telecoms Package and net neutrality, see Will EU net neutrality policy throw away civil rights?

 More information on WCIT-12

Interesting comment piece from Rick Falkvinge on net neutrality

 This is an original article from You may re-publish it under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to  Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, ITU 2012 - Europe’s telcos slip poison pill in new Internet  rules  , 20 September  2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.


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In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

Don't miss Iptegrity!  RSS/ Bookmark is the website of Dr Monica Horten. She is a policy analyst specialising in Internet governance & European policy, including platform accountability. She is a published author & Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on  Internet Freedom. She has worked on CoE, EU and UNDP funded projects in eastern Europe and the Caucasus. In a voluntary capacity, she has led UK citizen delegations to the European Parliament. She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012.

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