A 100-strong US delegation will be 'reaching out' to persuade participating country delegates not to push for new international internet regulations at this year's ITU conference in Dubai. If the effort fails and objectionable new International Telecoms Regulations (ITRs) are passed, the US won't ratify, says its ambassador. By I. D. Scales.
In case you haven't noticed, a major war has been in slow-motion eruption between what some are calling the 'old cartel' of ex-state-owned (or in some cases still state owned) telcos - represented in Europe by ETNO (European Telecommunications Network Operators) but also including many emerging country telcos - and what is usually termed the OTTs. The internet players who have built their business models on the open internet.
As usual this is essentially about money and control. The telcos think the new OTTs are winning far more than their fair share of revenue as the Internet develops and more and more business runs across it. They argue that the success of the World Wide Web means that the network operator role in the access network is diminished as applications are increasingly separated from infrastructure. VoIP, messaging via social networks, OTT video and so on are become increasingly capable and, therefore, popular, thanks to ever-faster and cheaper fixed and mobile broadband access.
The telcos believe that a range of regulatory adjustments should be made to somehow redress the balance so they get, not only more money, but so that they can play a more immersed role in the access process - ideally they would like to gradually rework the internet so that they 'partner' with information and apps providers to deliver bandwidth at the appropriate quality and bill customers on behalf of the service provider. In other words they want a new 'value added' business model in which they (from a content or applications provider point of view) become a gatekeeper on their own network, charging both the user, for access to the network, and the Internet provider for access to what the telco/ISPs regard as access to 'their ' customers.
This general diagnosis and the associated telco solutions pop up on a regular basis - whether it's ending or attenuating net neutrality, changing the peering regime through collective action, pushing for differentiated services and so on.
The latest such attempt is being pushed via the ITU as a proposal by ETNO (and apparently supported by other telcos as well as the ITU hierarchy itself) that the old telco principle of 'sending network pays' be applied to the exchange of traffic between networks on the Internet - especially for emerging country networks.
The upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a global treaty conference hosted by the ITU, will discuss a proposal to entrench a 'sending network pays' option (as a platform for commercial negotiations, says ETNO) in the updated International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) which are being hammered out at the meeting. Other equally objectionable (from a US point of view) new regulations on security, censorship and cyber-crime are also to be discussed.
But it's the sender pays idea that has attracted the most ire (the others look too ridiculous to pass).
Sender pays isn't a new idea and it's usually justified on the basis that the principle has always underpinned telco traffic exchange. In fact, apart from its application to SMS texts and perhaps some data services, it hasn't.
As far as voice is concerned, for instance, the abiding principle has surely been "call originator pays" which is a different use case since a voice conversation is completely symmetrical (traffic flowing in both directions) and in terms of the originating party part, works against the sending network pays principle since an originating party on the Web would be the one that clicked a page or initiated a video download, not the party that sent it.
Be that as it may, sender pays is up for discussion and possible crowning as an ITR and the entire US political and business establishment (and the US delegation) is determined to prevent it (and a collection of other mooted Internet ITRs) from passing into telecoms law.
According to the ITU there is very rarely a majority vote at these meetings - the idea is to seek consensus so that all the parties can agree a compromise. If that doesn't happen nothing passes. On the other hand there have been instances in the past when contentious rules have been passed - contentious this certainly is.
So what if sender pays gets through on a majority? Then, says the US Ambassador to the WCIT and leader of the US delegateion, Terry Kramer, the US will not ratify the objectionable parts of the treaty.
In it Kramer says: "We in the US can always 'tick a reservation' that we won't comply, that we have a different view."
But, he says, we would like to influence others [to adopt our position], not just withdraw.
"At the end of the day if there are strongly objectionable proposals: payment models on the internet that we are wholly going to disagree with; means to control content and censor traffic; [then] we will not agree to those and we can basically say we take a reservation and that we're not going to participate."
What a breath of fresh air! Kramer is a man who knows the Internet and telecoms and expresses his position clearly - without the usual diplomatic waffle and obfuscation that we here in Europe just accept as the norm where technology, business and politics intersect.
In Europe trying to understand a policy position is often like wading through treacle, but listening to Kramer is almost an aesthetic pleasure... I've listened to it several times just for the sheer enjoyment of it. Watch the video below.
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