WHAT FOLLOWS FROM THE
WORLD CONFERENCE ON INTERNATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS?
The conduct and conclusion of the World Conference of International Telecommunications (WCIT) changes the international regulatory environment. This is less because only some of the international community have signed up to a new set of International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). More importantly, the politics of the UN General Assembly, where Member States’ philosophical and commercial differences break down readily into blocs, have spilled over into the consensus-based working of one of the UN’s technical agencies, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Moreover, the ITU is now, in the eyes of a majority of governments, legitimately charged with addressing key matters such as network security and Internet governance.
The WCIT and its Final Acts has created friction between governments of (broadly) the G8 and the G77. This may incline both blocs to try to restore some equilibrium. Such efforts could lead to inter-governmental compromises on matters that are important to individual commercial stakeholders, but which are sacrificed at the altar of international comity. Alternatively, continued refusal of the “G8” and others to address certain policy matters in the ITU will leave a space for the G77 to develop a more aggressive, prescriptive direction to the UN’s approach to communications networks. It is a near certainty that national regulations in the G77 will begin to diverge from those in countries that will not sign the WCIT’s Final Acts (among the G77, such treaties are held in high regard, and remain the basis for development of national regulations). This may drive international markets towards less, rather than more, harmonisation and diminish the pursuit of truly international best practice.
It is unlikely that radio communications will be greatly affected by the current discord. This is because of the imbalance of trade in wireless services and equipment that gives developed economies a disproportionately strong hand, and because of the need for technical-level cooperation to ensure regular network operations. By contrast, development of regulatory policies and standards are likely to be most affected in the medium term.
NECESSARY NEXT STEPS
- Stakeholders must take a longer view, and try to shape outcomes of multilateral meetings that will implement the decisions of the WCIT, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Second Committee, and the World Telecommunications Standards Assembly.
- Stakeholders must redouble efforts to ensure that they are able to affect positions among the G77; an environment in which governments more than the private sector hold sway.
- Stakeholders must develop a view of, and approach to, the agglomeration of UN and multistakeholder groups that treat matters of Internet access and network security.