World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules may be the final nail in the coffin for many of the controversial proposals being introduced at next week's ITU rule-making conference, including ETNO's 'sending network pays' proposals, a new report claims. I.D. Scales reports.
The well-timed blast comes from a think tank called European Centre for International Political Economy (ecipe) which styles itself as a "policy research think tank dedicated to trade policy". The paper, Whither global rules for the Internet? The implications of the World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) for international trade' has been penned by a former Sri Lankan Director General of Telecoms, Rohan Samarajiva and Hosuk Lee-Makiyama who is a former Swedish representative to the WTO.
Its gist is that any national implementation of some of the proposals put up for discussion and inclusion in a new set of ITRs (International Telecommunications Regulations) at the WCIT being held next week in Dubai look likely to run foul of existing WTO undertakings on services.
In law, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) trumps any provisions that might be introduced by new ITRs, says the report.
It points out that as part of the WTO agreement 82 countries unilaterally agreed to "open up and refrain from discriminatory measures in a so-called reference paper on basic telecommunications." Most countries also agreed not to restrict the most common forms of Internet services and signed up to a moratorium on tariffs and fees on data transmissions (known as the WTO e-commerce moratorium).
Those undertakings therefore run smack-bang into proposals such as ETNO's, as well as Arab and African states' proposals for re-establishing a version of the old accounting rate regime (designed for telephone call revenue sharing) for Internet applications.
"Imposition of charges on online services providers or applications (otherwise known as “over the top”, or OTT players) could be the start of a slippery slope that will end in the member state becoming a cartel manager that mandates the use of a limited number of gateways for all data traffic... ..There is no justification for a member state, on its own or backed up by an international treaty, further enhancing the negotiating power of operating agencies (locally operating telcos and ISPs) supplying access network services. Specifically, there is no justification for the member state to actually determine access charges," says the report.
How much weight these legal arguments might have on the deliberations undertaken next week in Dubai is uncertain. But what the run-up to WCIT has shown is the policy and intellectual power inherent in the Internet's "multi-stakeholder" governance regime. Like the Internet itself it can look messy and disunited when represented on a powerpoint or diagram, but its advantage is not only in there being no single point of failure, but that all of those stakeholders can bring their own particular strengths and perspectives to the table to make a compelling argument when required.
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