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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 Iptegrity.com. You may re-publish it under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. 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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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

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