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Friday, 23 November 2012 07:47

.NXT puts all WCIT-12 documents online

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There has been a great furore surrounding both the agenda for and the secrecy surrounding the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU's) upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12). The .NXT organisation is to be congratulated for dealing with the latter by making all WCIT-12 documents available online.

.NXT has done what I suggested last week that the ITU should have done itself when I pointed out that  the documents - primarily contributions to WCIT-12 from the ITU's member nations - are available to any associate member of the ITU and that associate membership is available to any organisation willing to fork you about $A4000.

This still does not address concerns that WCIT-12 will take place behind closed doors with the only participants being member governments, but it should at least enable more informed analysis and commentary of the proposals and might in turn level the playing field in the PR battle that has pitted the ITU - with all its constraints as an international organisation - against the might of Google.

WCIT-12 will be staged in Dubai to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) that define the general principles for the provision and operation of international telecommunications. The current regulations - agreed to by 178 nations - were finalised in 1988 at the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference, in Melbourne.

There are two principle concerns: that certain states are, not surprisingly, seeking to exercise greater control over the free exchange of information that characterises the Internet; and that others are seeking to impose on the Internet a variant of the accounting rate regime  that governs the exchange of telephony traffic between nations - and which has been a lucrative source of foreign exchange to some nations.

.NXT says it has published the WCIT documents  because the availability of these "has itself become a major bone of contention."

It explains: "These documents are widely available to those within the telecommunications industry, and they are available for download to all members of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

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"Membership of the ITU is open to all and the organisation relies on the resulting fees to carry out its important global work. It is a system that has worked for decades.

"Times have changed however and we feel that there is an overwhelming public interest case for bypassing this agreed approach and making the WCIT documents available without charge."

It adds that the leaking of some documents (which have been published on www.wcitleaks.org) "[adds] to a sense that there is some kind of global conspiracy among governments to increase control over the Internet.

The mere similarity of that name to Wikileaks will add to that sentiment. Certainly some nations have made contributions to WCIT-12 advocating for greater government control but that does not necessarily mean they are acting in conspiratorial concert.

This brings me back to Google. It has been using its very considerable influence to fan the flames and its actions should be a warning to any other organisation that is likely to come between the behemoth and its interests.

Google has created a 'Take Action' page  on which it is urging the public to "make your voice heard' to keep a free and open web.

Trouble is, Google presents these 'threats' to Internet freedom in highly simplistic terms and with no reference to any background to the issue.

Thus we are told: "There is a growing backlash on Internet freedom. Forty-two countries filter and censor content. In just the last two years, governments have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression...

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"Some proposals [to WCIT-12] could permit governments to censor legitimate speech - or even allow them to cut off Internet access. Other proposals would require services like YouTube, Facebook and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders. This could limit access to information - particularly in emerging markets."

All that may be true, but as the first statement points out, governments don't need permission from a higher authority to censor the Internet and enact laws limiting free online expression. They all ready do that, and far worse, with no sanction from any international body. That isn't going to change.

However Google's initiative will certainly bring awareness to the wider public and portray in an entirely negative way what today is an arcane organisation almost certainly unknown outside the telecoms industry.

.NXT accuses the ITU of making a poor response to the negative publicity it has received and says it "risks undermining its own proud history and processes by reacting against criticism rather than recognising it as an opportunity to reinvent itself, as it has done in the past." The ITU, it says, "has been forced into a defensive position, leading critics to believe all the more strongly that something untoward is happening."

I'd suggest that re-invention of an organisation like the ITU is not something that can be done fast enough to respond to the speed with which the controversy around WCIT has enveloped it and that the ITU, by its structure, is very constrained in how it can respond to counter this negative publicity.

So it's good that another body has at least brought some transparency to the WCIT-12 process.

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