At WCIT-12, UAE submits surprise 'multi-regional' proposal on ITRs

While talks at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) continued Friday, indications are that week two could be a good deal more controversial than the event's troubled first week, as the United Arab Emirates announced it will submit a surprise "multi-regional" proposal regarding the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) backed by other Arab states and Russia.

WCIT delegates

Delegates attend Day 5 meetings at WCIT-12 in Dubai. (Image source: ITU)

UPDATE 2: The new document proposes that "Internet governance shall be effected through the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet," according to a Broadcasting & Cable report. Of particular note, according to ZDNet, is the idea that member states would have "the sovereign right to establish and implement public policy, including international policy, on matters of Internet governance."

UPDATE: ZDNet has obtained a leaked copy of the proposal via WCITLeaks.

According to a source describing Friday's meetings, the document is a compilation of proposals pertaining to the full ITRs. The proposal won't be available to delegates at the conference until Monday.

Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Portugal and Mexico, immediately expressed concern with this development in Friday's plenary session.

"In terms of the general rules of procedure, Rule 40 … there is a very clear statement that … the Secretary‑General shall ask Member States to submit at least four months before the start of the conference their proposals for the work of the conference," said the U.S. delegate. "This sounds like a substantive proposal to the conference."

Portugal's delegate was also cool to the new proposal. "Last‑minute contributions that were, I guess, prepared in closed groups between I don't know which Member States can somehow, in my opinion, be negative for the whole flow of the conference," said the delegate.

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré attempted to cool debate about the new proposal by saying that it was "really premature" to discuss the document or "prejudge what would happen."

Also on the table is a proposal to create a new article, 3A, to discuss Internet issues. Informal discussions may take place regarding this proposal during the conference.

While the WCIT-12 conference has been the subject of hot debate over Internet freedoms, the pace of the conference led some countries to complain that discussions are moving too slowly. Friday's plenary discussion was the first one since Tuesday, and much of the continuing discussions at the conference will take place at both planned and ad-hoc working groups beginning next week.

"We are halfway through the conference and still we are getting questions and concerns raised to the basic principles of what this conference is trying to achieve," said Bahrain's delegate.

Much of the problem has to do with wording. This week, discussions swung between support for ROAs versus OAs: "The heart of the current debate is over scope and definition: whether the treaty should apply to "operating agencies" or "recognized operating agencies," a Forbes article explained. "The latter refers to established telecom services providers like AT&T and MCI … But take out the word 'recognized' and it can refer to a whole lot more." Meaning, Internet companies both large and small, from enterprise to startup, could be seen as "OAs."

The worry that countries like the United States, Canada and Japan have is that broadening the definition of an operating agency will allow ITRs to apply to more companies—and enable some countries to justify censorship or other control of online content. They would prefer that the language stick with "ROAs" and that talks center around telecoms, and away from the Internet itself.

Touré again tried to calm delegates' worries over whether the conference would be able to achieve any objectives. "We have a full week ahead of us," he told delegates in the plenary session. "So how come you're worried?  We have plenty of time."

FierceTelecom will update readers on the UAE proposal as details become available.

For more:
- visit the WCIT-12 page
- Forbes has this article

Commentary: At ITU's Dubai conference, what's not being said about Internet freedom rings loudest

Related articles:
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Senate panel unanimously opposes giving U.N. more Internet control
Walking the walk on Internet regulation
Int'l proposals for U.N. Internet regulations draws bipartisan rebuke

Updates: Corrected and replaced "inter-regional" with "multi-regional" based on newly released transcripts of the plenary sessions; added quotes directly from Friday's plenary session.