Kramer: U.S. will emphasize market liberalization in WCIT-12

'Abolish the ITRs' said Milton Mueller during a Nov. 14 panel discussion

A second tranche of U.S. proposals for the planned December treaty-writing conference of the International Telecommunication Union in Dubai emphasizes "the criticality of liberalized markets," said Amb. Terry Kramer,  head of the U.S. conference delegation.

Kramer spoke Nov. 14 in Washington, D.C., during an symposium on the conference held by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The conference, known as the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012, will revise International Telecommunications Regulations, which govern the international exchange of telecommunications traffic. They were last revised in 1988.

"If you want to drive broadband access, there is only one model that has been proven today to work," he said. "Liberalized markets have accelerated broadband development."

Other countries have proposed ITR changes such as shifting Internet traffic billing to a sender-pays model, something that the United States and groups such as the Internet Society oppose.

Recent new proposals from India introduced a new concept of "equinet," Kramer said, which amounts to a transfer pricing mechanism "where developed markets need to fund developing markets."

"No question about the need for funding for building out in developing markets. But how you do that, so you don't create a bigger problem with loss of traffic, is a big issue," Kramer said.

Going into the conference, the United States' negotiating position will not permit flexibility on attempts to expand the scope of the ITRs to information processing or to go beyond "recognized operating agencies." Were the ITRs to pertain to any operating agency, "anybody that's got cloud-based computing, and private Internet networks, potentially" would be suddenly covered, and "we're not comfortable with that," Kramer said.

Proposals that would permit countries to impose restrictions on Internet traffic routing would have negative consequences for freedom of expression, Kramer also said. "You make it very easy for governments or any one organization to censor traffic, to look at who is doing what, who is saying what to whom."

Articulating that position will require shrewdness, Kramer said. "We don't want to come across like we're preaching to others."

An area of flexibility in the U.S. position, he said, would be on language regarding mobile roaming, generally a greater problem in in other parts of the world apart from North America, where countries come in continent-spanning sizes. The United States will oppose proposals for regulatory rate caps on roaming, but would accept ITR language regarding rate and usage transparency, he said.

During a panel discussion after Kramer's speech, Milton Mueller, an Internet governance academic at Syracuse University, said the best thing to do would be to abolish the ITRs.

"What do the ITRs do with respect to interconnection of Internet or information services that the [World Trade Organization] agreement doesn't do?" he said.

Since telecommunications and information services are a form of trade already governed by the WTO, "It's not clear to me that the ITRs can do much good, if we were willing to make that jump. On the other hand, it's clear they could do a lot of mischief," he said.

A number of countries have forum-shopped the ITU as a place where they can achieve Internet-governance goals that they otherwise lack standing or power to affect.

The outcome of WCIT-12 will likely not be that damaging, Mueller said, "but I'm still questioning why we need them at all."

The larger issue playing out at WCIT-12 is one of intergovernmentalism versus multi-stakeholder rule of the Internet, he added, saying that the latter should triumph since "there's no way the demands and needs of government can be adequately reconciled with a completely free and open Internet."

For more:
- listen to Kramer's talk

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