ITU will convene the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 3-14 December 2012. This landmark conference will review the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which serve as the binding global treaty designed to facilitate international interconnection and interoperability of information and communication services, as well as ensuring their efficiency and widespread public usefulness and availability.
The treaty sets out general principles for assuring the free flow of information around the world, promoting affordable and equitable access for all and laying the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth.
Despite the fact that this is about facilitating "the free flow of information around the world", the whole conference is behind closed doors, in the best tradition of ACTA and TPP. Indeed, little people like you and me can't even access the Information for participants, since that's naturally Top Secret.
One important group of people also unimpressed by this lack of transparency is the European Parliament, which passed a "Joint Motion for a Resolution" on the subject, which includes the following:
1. Calls on the Council and the Commission to ensure that any changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations are compatible with the EU acquis and further the Union's objective of, and interest in, advancing the internet as a truly public place, where human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and assembly, are respected and the observance of free market principles, net neutrality and entrepreneurship are ensured;
2. Regrets the lack of transparency and inclusiveness surrounding the negotiations for WCIT€‘12, given that the outcomes of this meeting could substantially affect the public interest;
3. Believes that the ITU, or any other single, centralised international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either internet governance or internet traffic flows;
4. Stresses that some of the ITR reform proposals would negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations and governance, as well as the free flow of information online;
5. Believes that, as a consequence of some of the proposals presented, the ITU itself could become the ruling power over aspects of the internet, which could end the present bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model; expresses concern that, if adopted, these proposals may seriously affect the development of, and access to, online services for end users, as well as the digital economy as a whole; believes that internet governance and related regulatory issues should continue to be defined at a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder level;
6. Is concerned that the ITU reform proposals include the establishment of new profit mechanisms that could seriously threaten the open and competitive nature of the internet, driving up prices, hampering innovation and limiting access; recalls that the internet should remain free and open;
Amusingly, the ITU seems rather hurt by this accusation of lack of transparency. On the ITU blog we read the following in this context:
An example of this flawed understanding presented in the Resolution adopted by the EU Parliament states that the EU "Regrets the lack of transparency and inclusiveness surrounding the negotiations for WCIT-12, given that the outcomes of this meeting could substantially affect the public interest".
However, it is important to point out that WCIT is inclusive of 193 national delegations which are participating in WCIT-12. Private sector companies and civil society organizations have also registered to attend WCIT-12 in large numbers.
Everyone attending WCIT-12 is free to lobby for their specific positions.
Got that? Absolutely anyone can fly out to Dubai and stay there for a few days to lobby: isn't that just the pinnacle of fair and equitable transparency?
Many other organisations and companies have expressed their concern about what might happen at WCIT, but one of the most interesting names to appear is that of Mozilla, which has created a Web page entirely about the ITU's meeting in Dubai. Given the increasingly politicised nature of the meeting, that unusual step is an indication of just how concerned Mozilla is. A blog post explains further:
The Internet has always been guided forwards by collaborative, open approaches. We believe that these approaches are one of the reasons why the Web has become and remained the wonderful, powerful and empowering place we know today. In the coming weeks, this successful model of governing and shaping the future of the Web will be at risk.
That is, the key issue is openness:
Whether the Internet is regulated by governmental treaties via the ITU and to what extent, is a vitally critical question. In fact it is so critical it can't be done behind closed doors. The Internet as we know it today is just too fundamental to our lives to leave it to governments to decide its fate.
Mozilla's mission is to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web. We do this first and foremost by building great products. But, as any Mozillian knows — the story is much more than the latest release or coolest hack. The Internet depends critically on a human network of communities and relationships, and Mozilla builds movements that strengthen the Web.
A huge conference that is conducted behind closed doors cannot be trusted to safeguard the openness that lies at the heart of the Internet. If the ITU really wanted WCIT to have any credibility in the Internet world, it would have addressed this issue first. It hasn't, and its feeble attempts to claim some transparency based on the ability of the rich and powerful to swan around in Dubai pushing changes to the Internet that suit their personal agendas only confirm our worst fears: that the ITU will seek to impose its own ideas of how the Internet should be run, with little regard for the its incredibly successful history and approach, or its billions of ordinary (non-rich) users.
As reports seep out from under those closed doors, and we begin to learn what exactly is happening in Dubai, I shall report further. The good news is that many have raised their voices in support of the Internet and openness; the bad news is that we may need to shout much louder.