Monthly Archives: December 2012

CommsDay publishing break

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the staff at CommDay and Decisive Publishing.
We are on a publishing hiatus until Monday January 14 2013. Our Sydney office re-opens the same day.


WCIT collapses: US, UK, allies refuse to sign treaty after Africa wins floor vote

The International Telecommunications Union and World Conference on International Telecommunications was in crisis as we went to press at 6am AEST, with the United States, the United Kingdom and several of their allies declaring that they would refuse to sign the proposed International Telecommunications Regulations.

After working for 12 days to reach a compromise text described by the conference chairman as “95% there” the crisis erupted last night when the African bloc attempted to have its preferred form of words over the rights of member states to access telecommunications networks accepted in the treaty. The US and other allies saw the language as an unambiguous attempt to open the ITRs up to governance and content regulation.

Iran took the unprecedented step of calling for a vote, against the oft-stated intentions of the ITU to forge a consensus on the ITRs. The vote was won 77-33 by the African bloc with 6 abstentions. This caused instant backlash from the US and its allies.

The US then immediately declared it would not sign the treaty. Ambassador Terry Kramer said “It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the US must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form.”

“The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN Regulation.”

“We candidly cannot support an ITU Treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. As the ITU has stated, this conference was never meant to focus on Internet issues. However, today, we’re in a situation where we still have text and resolutions that cover issues on spam and also provisions on Internet governance … the United States continues to believe that Internet policy must be multi-stakeholder driven. Internet policy should not be determined by Member States, but by citizen, communities, and broader society. And such consultation from the private sector and civil society is paramount. This has not happened here.”

Then, UK head of delegation Simon Towle backed the US position. “My delegation came to work for revised ITRs. But not at any cost. We’re not able to sign a bad agreement that does nobody any favors and makes nobody happy.”

“We all agreed that content was not intended to be part of the ITRs, but content issues keep coming up. We preferred no text on security but in the interest of compromise we worked towards language we could accept. Unfortunately, the language that we proposed and the various alternatives we proposed were constantly rejected and the compromise that we have before us we could only possibly accept in the context of a treaty that was acceptable in all other respects. On the Internet itself, our position is clear. We do not see the ITRs as the place to address Internet issues. The proper place is multistakeholder fora, the IGF, the ICANN GAC.”

Other countries including Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Denmark also said they would not sign the treaty. Poland, Kenya, Costa Rica and New Zealand said they would need to consult their governments. Australia did not declare a position before the plenary was suspended.

The WCIT chair immediately went into damage control, calling for a break and hoping to reconvene the event at 11.30pm Dubai time (6.30am AEST) but all signs were that the event had collapsed.

Grahame Lynch and Dave Burstein


WCIT: Debate continues on last night of ITR talks

DUBAI 9.30PM: Discussions were continuing well into the Dubai night as we went to press as 190 countries attempted to agree to the first revision to the International Telecommunications Regulations since 1988.

Although procedures called for the final treaty to be signed off at 5.30pm Thursday afternoon Dubai time (12.30am this morning AEST), World Conference on International Telecommunications plenary discussions continued on towards midnight and delegates were informed that a Friday morning plenary was scheduled if required.

At an early evening media conference, ITU press officers admitted that there were still several items of contention. This was despite the release of a so-called “Chairman’s compromise” text in the afternoon that attempted to reconcile many of the concerns, in part by simply eliminating entire items that were subject to dispute over their wording. One new proposed article explicitly stated that the ITRs exclude coverage over content.

Australian delegate Dr Bob Horton, who has played a key role at this event in helping to negotiate draft articles for the ITRs, said at 6pm Dubai time that he anticipated “brutal discussions” that could go all night.

Nearly every proposal designed to extend state jurisdiction over Internet governance, regulation and content was effectively vetoed by the US and its allies under the guise of the compromise culture of the ITU. Arab and Russian bloc delegates were seething that they had agreed to withdraw some of their proposals in working groups in the spirit of compromise, only to find their remaining ideas also contested on the plenary floor.

As late as Wednesday afternoon, the Russians thought they has stitched up a compromise deal with the Americans only to find American ally Czech Republic moving to amend the agreed text at the subsequent plenary.

As reported in our last issue, this caused complaints from Russia and several Arab states and led to a late night provocative act by the host nation.

The UAE chair Mohamed Al Ghanim decided to gauge the “temperature of the room” by asking for a show of hands—or specifically, yellow paddles—on whether a resolution encouraging ITU participation in Internet governance should be adopted. With the resolution gaining a majority in a half empty room, Al Ghanim declared the resolution adopted.

This prompted immediate protest from Spain, who’s delegate said: “as a point of order, I would like you to clarify whether the temperature you were taking was simply a taking of the temperature. Has it now been interpreted as a vote and had we known that it was a vote, we might very well have acted differently.”

Despite having just declared the resolution adopted, the chair replied: “No, it was not a vote, and I was clear about it.” The meeting shortly after broke for the night, but upon reconvening the next day, the New Zealand delegation asked that it be placed on the record that it opposed the resolution.

Later yesterday Italy said that much of the room was silent during the “non vote” and had not backed the resolution.

Australia’s delegation came under some heat yesterday from Sharan Burrows, the Australian head of the International Trade Union Confederation, who accused them on Twitter of “abstaining from the vote.” The ITUC is one of several civil society organisations who backs the US position supporting current Internet governance. While Australia did not apparently raise a yellow paddle to either of the offered propositions, given the so-called vote was not actually a formal vote it was apparent Australia had not formally abstained.

However, the Arab and African bloc faced its own pressures yesterday morning when discussions turned to the inclusion of a preamble concerning human rights obligations, a controversial position for many. Again there was talk of putting matters to a “non-vote” show of hands, but the chair this time elected to suspend plenary proceedings in favour of private regional meetings to decide the matter.

Australia’s Bob Horton played a key role in morning proceedings, having chaired a key ad hoc committee meeting of delegates that decided on draft text for parts of the proposed ITRs. He was kept busy answering queries from the chair and delegates on the intentions behind the draft text.

Later he claimed success for a resolution he shepherded through to final draft form that would help developing country telcos negotiate with global service providers to form commercial agreements on international telecommunication service traffic termination and exchange, which he said was requested by African countries and supported by the US and Russia. There was some talk, however, that one of the key clauses might allow a back-handed way to introduce the controversial mooted tax on content providers.

Despite the controversies, the ITU was already claiming success for the final draft ITRs, which adopted some significant new articles with almost unanimous support. These included:

  • Encouragement of measures to promote price transparency, information and competition in global mobile roaming services;
  • A globally harmonised emergency number, likely 911 or 112;
  • Support for landlocked countries and small island states to get access to international telecommunications infrastructure such as submarine cables;
  • Encouragement for international co-operation between countries to combat spam;
  • Promotion of telecommunications access for the disabled and also measures to promote energy efficiency and combat e-waste.

Grahame Lynch and Dave Burstein


WCIT Update: Impasse continues at Dubai

1.30PM DUBAI TIME: An impasse over the final form of proposed International Telecommunication Regulations continued at the World Conference on International Telecommunications today. With the United States and allies refusing to budge on key positions regarding Internet freedom and regulation, several Arab, African and Russian allied states said they would reconsider compromises they had made on the draft text and revert to their original policy positions. These call for a much greater government involvement in the Internet process than the US and allies are prepared to accept.

The impasse threatened the success of the talks, scheduled to conclude tonight. A plenary session this morning was suspended so key regional blocs could meet privately to attempt to reach a consensus on the text. Sources told CommsDay that a circuit breaker was needed to break the impasse.

UPDATE: ITU SG promising to present the final draft version of ITRs at 5pm Dubai time

With Arab states believing they were doing all the compromising and the United States refusing to budge on Internet issues, the UAE chair Mohamed Al Ghanim decided to gauge the “temperature of the room” late Tuesday night by asking for a show of hands — or specifically, yellow paddles — on whether a resolution encouraging ITU participation in Internet governance should be adopted. With the resolution gaining a majority in a half empty room, Al Ghanim declared the resolution adopted.

This prompted immediate protest from Spain, who’s delegate said: “as a point of order, I would like you to clarify whether the temperature you were taking was simply a taking of the temperature. Has it now been interpreted as a vote and had we known that it was a vote, we might very well have acted differently.”

Despite having just declared the resolution adopted, the chair replied: “No, it was not a vote, and I was clear about it.” The meeting shortly after broke for the evening, but upon reconvening this morning, the New Zealand delegation asked that it be placed on the record that it opposed the resolution.

Australia’s delegation came under some heat today from Sharan Burrow, the Australian-born chief of the International Trade Union Confederation, who accused them on Twitter of “abstaining from the vote”. The ITUC is one of several civil society organisations who backs the US position supporting current Internet governance. While Australia did not visibly raise a yellow paddle to either of the offered propositions, given that the so-called vote was not actually a vote it is not clear Australia formally abstained from anything.

However, the Arab and African blocs along with China faced their own pressures yesterday morning when discussions turned to the inclusion of a preamble concerning human rights obligations, a controversial position for many. Again there was talk of putting matters to a “non-vote” show of hands, but the chair this time elected to suspend plenary proceedings in favour of private regional meetings to decide the matter. Reports from the African bloc received by CommsDay suggested that they found a consensus position during the lunch break.

Australian delegate Dr Bob Horton played a key role in morning proceedings, having chaired a key ad hoc committee meeting of delegates that decided on draft text for much of the proposed ITRs. He was kept busy answering queries from the chair and delegates on the intentions behind the draft text.

More details as the day proceeds….

Grahame Lynch & Dave Burstein


WCIT dramas: Arab states outraged at last minute US attempts to change draft ITRs

Draft forms of proposed new International Telecommunications Regulations suggest that the United States and allies have largely won their case for minimal change, with many of the more extreme proposals to expand government ambit over the Internet from Russia, China and the Arab States denied a look-in.

Delegates to the World Conference on International Telecommunications spoke of a “gentleman’s agreement” they believed had been reached that would move things along yet, as drafts reached the main plenary session, disputes broke out that are not resolved as we go to press. At the same time, US FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell told a lunchtime meeting in Washington DC last night Australasian time that the US saw WCIT as “in a state of flux.”

24 delegates representing the six major regions of the world—Africa, Asia Pacific, Russia and former Soviet states, Europe, the Americas and the Arab States—worked through the day and evening hours to come up with a form of words acceptable to all, even meeting on the conference stage during the lunch break to make progress.

Head of the Australian delegation, Keith Besgrove, expressed confidence to CommsDay that enough consensus would be found to prevent a late night session tonight (Thursday) but the disputes have slowed progress. Most have been provoked by the United States’ refusal to countenance compromise text, even to the point where some Western allies were expressing frustrations with its actions in the conference venue.

NAMING POWERS OPPOSED: The long-brewing conflict over Internet governance broke out in the open last night when the United States and supporters Australia, Poland, Sweden, the Czech Republic opposed draft text which would hand powers over “naming” management to national governments, seen as a de facto way to nationalise Internet governance that is currently outside the remit of the ITU.

The draft looked worse in other languages, with Mexico reporting that the translated Spanish draft would hand “control” to national governments. The event is now moving so fast that interpreters and translators are struggling with the demands.

This fuelled frustrations among the Arab states, whose own proposals to expand the ITR remit to the Internet have largely been ignored. Saudi Arabia’s delegate said: “we are tempted to go back to our initial demands. What we said we wanted at the beginning of the conference, it is unacceptable that one party to the conference gets everything they want and everybody else must make concessions and after having made many concessions, we are then asked to suppress the language which was agreed to. I think that that is dangerous. We are on a slippery slope, Mr. Chairman.”

Sensing a major storm, the plenary then convened for an afternoon coffee break, where representative delegates negotiated new wording which would specify the clause pertained to telecommunications naming only, for example in the case of X.25 networks and other signal and non-Internet data protocols. CommsDay observed American delegates dotted throughout the venue working hard on lobbying African nations to their side.

The plenary reconvened at 5pm Dubai time (midnight AEST) only for hostilities against the US and allies to re-emerge. Russia said the treaty “seems to be falling apart in front of our eyes,” sentiments backed by Bahrain and Algeria.

Later Russia said the proposed ITR text would limit the right of states to exercise sovereign control over their own territories: “We can’t stick our hands in the sand like an ostrich and say we don’t know what the Internet is because that just isn’t going to go down at all.”

Sentiments that the US had largely won the battle through use of a de facto veto became apparent in morning plenary sessions yesterday when Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran raised arguments over the inclusion of human rights clauses and a preferred American definition of how to define the term “operating agencies” to who the regulations would apply. The US was keen to make a last minute amendment to emphasise that the regulations applied only to “public correspondent” agencies, or telcos as are commonly recognised, wanting to avoid a more general definition that may capture private networks. This caused considerable consternation with some African and Arab states who were confused by the implications of the “correspondent” term.

ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure pleaded for acceptance of the draft text in comments made before the plenary lunch break yesterday. He said the informal overnight meetings with regional representatives “did a lot of massaging of these documents. And we came to compromises — and we came to (Dubai to) compromise. And compromise is not of course a glass full for anybody. I think it’s a win/win compromises that are throughout the text that we see here. We gained some and won some and lost some. That was the spirit of the compromise. So I would urge you to make sure that you don’t reopen those agreed texts, so that we can go along in a balanced way that is not hurting anyone.”

SECURITY CONCERN: Nevertheless, the disputes flared again late last night as Australia, US and Europe attempted to change the wording of draft text on network security by adding the term “technical infrastructure” in order to avoid potential coverage of content under state remit.

This prompted the host nation, the United Arab Emirates, to spit the dummy, with its delegate stating “It seems to be that all the effort that you (the chair) and the Secretary General have been doing for the last few days, it seems to be gone. It’s useless now. Sorry to say, because whatever that we have agreed on that one, we have compromised a lot, and now this is not a compromise. It’s a compromise of a compromise. If it is like this, Mr. Chairman, it seems to be that we don’t agree to change any single word in this one, any single word.” The UAE called for its Internet regulation proposals, lodged Friday with China, Russia and other Arab states only to be withdrawn Monday, to be formally restored for consideration.

China, which previously had acted in concert with the Asia Pacific Tele-community on security, was also unimpressed saying a lot of discussion and compromise had resulted in the draft security article. It agreed with the UAE that no further amendments should be made.

The imbroglio was such that the plenary was again suspended at around 7.30pm local time to allow ad hoc meetings of regional representatives to take place to find a solution. The chair was forced to extend the meeting session until 1.30am in order to make up for time.

ROAMING MEASURES APPROVED: Meanwhile there was progress last night on measures creating international telecom regulations over mobile roaming for the first time. The articles approved by the plenary provide for measures to ensure transparency and competition in international roaming prices.

Grahame Lynch & Dave Burstein


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WCIT bombshell: Russia withdraws Internet regulation push, apparently under ITU pressure

In an extraordinary development late last night, Russia and its allies China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates withdrew a radical proposal to overhaul international telecommunications regulations which would have given national governments sweeping new powers to regulate global ICT service providers such as Facebook and Twitter as well as Internet governance.

CommsDay was told by sources that International Telecommunications Union secretary-general Hamadoun Toure personally intervened to persuade the Russians to withdraw their proposal following American threats to walk out of the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai if the revisions were considered for ratification.

In a fast moving night:

  • United States delegation chief Ambassador Terry Kramer denied comments attributed to him by Dow Jones that his country would walk out of the conference if it sought to regulate Internet content. CommsDay has confirmed with Dow Jones that it stands by its reporting.
  • Russia withdrew, without explanation, a proposal with China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates that would massively increase the ambit of international telecommunications regulations to cover almost all telecommunications and Internet activities. The proposal, leaked on Saturday, was disowned by a member of the Egyptian delegation which last night made a strong statement in favour of Internet freedom. This hinted at serious dysfunction behind the Russian-led co-ordination efforts.
  • A steering committee was immediately convened to get the conference, in danger of collapse, back on track. There was reportedly applause in the committee room as progress was made, especially on the detail of who the revised regulations might apply to. However access to the room was blocked by guards. Previously there were concerns that loose wording could extend the ambit of the regulations as far as users of virtual private networks and ham radio operators. The secretive machinations of a working group—the so-called Committee 5—will now apparently give way to open plenary sessions.

Observers tell CommsDay that the radical Russian proposals had the effect of galvanising the conference into action. Although Russia and allies have formally withdrawn their proposed treaty revision, other countries may still attempt to advance some of the main points. Australian delegate Dr Bob Horton is believed to have played a major role last night, chairing an ad hoc meeting attempting to resolve the argument over how Internet traffic is charged. African states and their supporters seek to restore the old voice traffic settlements regime for Internet traffic to provide a revenue source. The result of these efforts was unclear as we went to press 5AM Australian Eastern Summer Time.

CommsDay was told last night that secretary general Toure personally called top Russians and asked them to back off because this would split the conference unproductively. “The head of delegation, considered a young tyro, apparently acted on his own and they shot him down. Partial confirmation is that Toure personally delivered the news to regional meetings before it was announced,” our source said, emphasising this was not officially confirmed.

CommsDay sources say that the US delegation’s hundred-plus members fanned out to meet with almost every participating country in a last ditch effort to block the Russia-led move over the weekend. On sheer numbers, the Russia-led proposal would probably win a majority vote but there is an overriding preference by the ITU to forge a consensus on the eventual outcome.

The alternative was a walkout by the US delegation and potentially some of its core allies. According to the .nxt website, Poland had also threatened to walk from the event. Australia generally supports the US position backing the status quo on Internet governance.

CIVIL SOCIETY OBJECTS: Meanwhile, a group of civil society organisations from the US, Europe, India and Africa has slammed the ITU and WCIT process for a lack of transparency and input from outside groups.

In a letter to the ITU, they state “Now that the conference is in session, we wish to call your attention to three immediate and pressing matters: the lack of any official standing to the public comments solicited prior to WCIT at the ITU’s invitation; the lack of access to and transparency of working groups, particularly the working groups of Committee 5; and the absence of mechanisms to encourage independent civil society participation.”

Dave Burstein & Grahame Lynch 


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