The open and free nature of the Internet has helped to fuel tremendous economic activity in developed and developing countries alike. The keys to ensuring its continued success as a driver of development and innovation lie in a multi-stakeholder approach to governance, and in liberalized telecommunications markets – not in government regulation.
This was the main message delivered by Ambassador Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation for the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), at a USCIB briefing today in Washington, D.C. Kramer discussed preparations for the WCIT, which will be held December 3-14 in Dubai, with USCIB members and other interested parties at the event, which was hosted by David Gross, a partner with Wiley Rein LLP and chair of USCIB’s Information, Technology and Communications Committee.
Kramer discussed the latest U.S. submission to WCIT, a treaty conference held under the auspices of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU). He also explored the state of play concerning proposals aimed at increasing ITU control over Internet governance.
Citing figures showing that, in recent years, the highest average annual growth rates for Internet use have been in Africa (30 percent) and Asia (17 percent), as compared to lower growth in Europe (10 percent) and the United States (4 percent), Kramer said U.S. negotiators will have a very compelling argument at WCIT that the Internet is not the sole province of the United States. In fact, emerging economies have benefited the most from their ability to freely access cyberspace.
Certain developed and developing economies have supported proposals aimed at generating revenue from content transmitted online from a sending party, as well as giving governments a greater hand in managing internet traffic. Kramer said the U.S. delegation will strongly oppose both proposals. The former, which amounts to a tax in the Internet, would have the effect of stifling Internet-generated economic activity in many developing countries, while the latter represents a very slippery slope toward online censorship, he said.
Kramer stressed that a treaty negotiation like WCIT, which potentially could result in revised, binding International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), is not the appropriate place to address the issues driving these proposals, which include financing broadband build outs and addressing spam, hacking, and other security-related challenges. Rather, these issues are best dealt with in appropriate global forums that enable dialogue and input from multiple stakeholders.
Kramer acknowledged that all parties concerned want a forward-looking successful outcome to WCIT – which may not be easy to realize given complexity and divergent nature of the proposals. He said he favors an approach aimed at identifying opportunities for success. Further discussion of problematic proposals would then be pursued in other non-treaty forums.