CCIA, digital rights group blast ITU control of Internet ahead of WCIT negotiations

An industry body said the plans violate trade agreements and the EDRi says the ITU is unreliable

As governments, telcos and industry players prepare to converge in Dubai next month for talks to revise international telecommunication regulations, two groups have gone on record opposing proposals that would give the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) more power over the Internet.

According to a report commissioned by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), many of the proposals, largely put forward by Arab states ahead of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), could violate existing international trade obligations.

Meanwhile European digital rights group EDRi said that the ITU is not trustworthy enough to have more control over the Internet. This echoes the European Parliament, which said in a resolution last week that the ITU is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over the Internet.

The CCIA report, carried out by the European Center for International Political Economy (ECIPE), says that many of the proposals run contrary to member states' commitments under the World Trade Organization's General Agreement on Trade in Services. This agreement, so far ratified by 99 members, ensures WTO members are given open access to and use of public telecommunications networks on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

"There is an inherent ideological conflict between the ITU and the market competition-centric WTO," says the report. It said that "progress in limiting discriminatory practices in telecommunications markets under the WTO may be rolled back" as some parties try to use the renegotiation of telecom regulations to impose conditions from the monopoly era of voice telephony onto all forms of telecommunication.

The CCIA, which represents the interests of computer and communications industry firms worldwide, is most concerned about plans that would redefine Internet services as telecommunications so that they would fall within the scope of ITRs. "As a consequence, an Internet banking service or a blog could be forced to apply for a telecom operator license... clearly an attempt to circumvent WTO rules," said the report.

Meanwhile EDRi said that it had gained access to the ITU's newslog following a tip-off from German news site Golem. It revealed that the ITU had left access to its newslog as good as unprotected with the user name "admin" and the password "admin".

"We tried it out and could theoretically have changed all the settings of the ITU blog -- including the visibility of blog posts and email address for notifications. Complete takeover of the blog, posting links to malware sites or the installation of malicious code would have been possible," said the organization in a statement.

"Only the most inexperienced users do not change the default settings for the administrative access of a blog. Is this really the institution that should be regulating the Internet and be in charge of cybersecurity for the entire world?" asked EDRi.

The ITU changed its password on Tuesday night.

The ITU is the United Nations' industry body for telecommunications operators. Its original mission was to allocate global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, and to develop technical interoperability standards. However the Internet did not exist when the first regulations were drawn up.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
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