World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012

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The World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12) is a conference organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to review and update update the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs)[1] - a mandatory set of rules and guidelines that provide a common framework for national telecommunications regulation. The ITRs mainly address issues such as how services between countries are paid for and issues of legal liability.[2]

The ITRs were drafted at the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference in Melbourn 1988 well before use of the internet became widespread and at a time when most telecommunications networks were run by state controlled monopolies. The regulations allowed interoperability between and access to different nations' telecommunications networks and set out some of the terms of such access and the remuneration arrangements involved and other necessary issues (such as the priority of emergency communications). Since the advent of the internet these regulations have become the an important legal underpinning of the way the internet operates.[2] According to the preamble of the regulations themselves their purpose is to:

"promote the development of telecommunication services and their most efficient operation while harmonizing the development of facilities for world-wide telecommunications"[3]

WCIT-12 has been convened in the light of the substantial changes to the global telecommunications infrastructure (and the usage thereof) that have occurred since 1988. According to the ITU the main changes are:

  • Time, distance and location are increasingly irrelevant
  • The growth of internet protocol (IP) based networks; leading to:
    • The growing importance of cybersecurity
    • The convergence of voice and data networks
    • Increased data volumes[4]

The ITU believes that the best way to address these changes is through updating the ITRs[4] - however organisations such as the Internet Society do not agree:

"in the rapidly changing, competitive and innovative IPbased communications environment, the Internet Society believes it is not advisable to resolve Internet-related technical, operational or commercial issues via a static, international treaty such as the ITRs."[2]

Among the changes proposed by the ITU are the following:

  • Measures to prevent "bill shock" for "roaming" mobile users
  • Measures to improve verification of the origin of a communication and prevent faking of caller ID etc.
  • Revision of rules regarding taxation of telecommunications (particularly for incoming international calls)
  • Changes to the way network operators are remunerated for the data that passes through their network (this is amongst the most controversial changes)[5]

Some of the strongest criticisms have stemmed from the closed process of the conference - specifically the exclusion of civil society organisations, academics and members of the public from participating in the conference (or though it is proposed that members of the public be allowed to observe[6]). Delegates will only be accepted from member governments. A collection of 30 civil society groups raised this issue in an open letter to the ITU[7] - notable signatories included:

Mozilla have also voiced concerns about this issue[14] and have released a set of resources to encourage and enable concerned individuals to engage with WCIT-12.

Access to documents related to the conference has been restricted, which prevents the public from holding their governments to account, however websites such as WCITLeaks have been publishing leaked documents where available.

The ITU responded to these concerns in a letter to the CDT and agreed to make the draft text of the new ITRs publicly available[15], to launch an online consultation and encouraged the signatories to engage with their national delegations.[16]

Many of the proposals at WCIT-12 have come under fire from a vast range of organisations and individuals including Google[17], Vint Cerf[18] and Sir Tim Berners-Lee[19]. Concerns focus primarily on potential threats to net neutrality (particularly driven by developing countries looking for fund to invest in their telecommunication infrastructure) and attempts by authoritarian countries and countries opposed to freedom of expression to exercise more control over the internet. Russia, for instance, has submitted a proposal for "equal rights to manage the internet", segmentation of the internet into "national segments" and "the sovereign right to establish and implement public policy, including international policy,on matters of Internet governance".[20] By the ITU's own admission some of the proposed changes to the ITRs fly in the face of net neutrality:

"At the same time, the wider financial implications must be considered. Revenues need to be generated to pay for the expansion of networks, which then contribute to general economic growth. But, according to some studies, operators are no longer likely to achieve the necessary revenues by simply providing core and access networks. Instead, more and more revenue is coming from OTT [over the top - a service that utilises the network but isn't part of it, e.g. Skype] services."[21]

Dr Hamadoun Toure, the secretary general of the ITU, has sought to allay these concerns by saying that "whatever one single country does not accept will not pass".[22] Several countries have set out their negotiating positions for WCIT-12 publicly; including the United States,[23] who are pushing only for minimal changes and are likely to oppose the Russian proposal[22]; and the European Union who have also opposed any changes to the high level nature of the current ITRs[24][25] and EU commissioner Neelie Kroes has expressed her oposition.[26]

External links

Current ITRs

Draft of the future ITRs

Mozilla Resources

Google Take Action


.nxt WCIT pages


  1. World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Internet Society Background Paper: International Telecommunication Regulations
  3. International Telecommunication Regulations - Melbourne - (WATTC-88)
  4. 4.0 4.1 WCIT Background Brief 1: What are the International Telecommunication Regulations - and why do they matter?
  5. WCIT 2012: Myths and Misinformation
  6. WCIT Background Brief: FAQs
  7. 7.0 7.1 Letter for Civil Society Involvement in WCIT | Center for Democracy & Technology
  8. Letter from Civil Society to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) raising concerns with the engagement process | Open Rights Group
  9. EFF Joins Coalition Denouncing Secretive WCIT Planning Process | Electronic Frontier Foundation
  10. Civil Society concerns over Internet regulation and ITU | EDRI
  11. Letter to Dr. Hamadoun Touré, Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) | Human Rights Watch
  12. Public interest groups demand a role in telecom treaty negotiations | IGP Blog
  13. The obscure threat to the internet you need to know about - Index on Censorship
  14. The ITU and You | The Mozilla Blog
  16. Your Open Letter dated 17 May 2012 addressed to Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-­General of the ITU on the subject of the WCIT process
  17. Take Action - Google
  18. Keep the Internet free and open | Official Google Blog
  19. BBC News - Sir Tim Berners-Lee flags UN net conference concerns
  20. Russian Federation - Proposals for the Work of the Conference (Document 27-E, Revision1)
  21. WCIT Background Brief 11: Quality of Service and "Net Neutrality"
  22. 22.0 22.1 BBC News - Google attacks UN's internet treaty conference
  23. Fast Facts on United States Submitting Initial Proposals to World Telecom Conference
  24. EUROPA - PRESS RELEASES - Press Release - Digital Agenda: EU defends open internet at Dubai international telecommunications conference
  25. Proposal for a COUNCIL DECISION Establishing the EU Position for the review of the International Telecommunications Regulations to be taken at the World Conference on International Telecommunications or its preparatory instances
  26. Twitter / NeelieKroesEu: The internet works, it doesn't...