ITU Chief Says WCIT-12 Is Not About Freedom of Expression

The delegates at a plenary session of the International
Telecommunications Union's WCIT-12 telecom treaty conference in Dubai on Tuesday
voted "overwhelmingly" to support the UN's universal declaration of
human rights, affirming freedom of opinion and expression through "any

That was an effort to allay fears that the conference would
be about giving those countries more control over Internet conference. Tunisia
also introduced a proposal to explicitly extend that to online in the treaties
by adding language that says "the same rights that people have offline must
also be protected online."

But according to a spokesperson for ITU following a press
conference at which Secretary General Hamadoun Touré took no questions, the
delegates did not agree to the U.S. and Canada request that the conference
first deal with proposals to change the definition of telecommunications or who
the treaties apply to before getting down to the details of any revisions of
the treaties. "I don't believe that was the case," he said in
response to whether the definitional changes.

Touré did say that discussion had begun on who the treaties
apply to, but that that would continue.

According to an attendee at the conference, on Monday the
European nations joined the U.S. and Canada in that call for dealing with
definitions first.

At the press conference following Tuesday's session, Touré
pointed to the adoption of support for those general universal freedoms and
said that should dispel the myths about the conference and it could proceed to
important issues. He said freedom of expression is not at issue in the conference,
that all delegations have affirmed that, and that the goal was getting
information and communications to unserved communities, sounding like an FCC
official on broadband build-outs.

But issues he said would be dealt with at the conference
include taxation, roaming and price parity and transparency, issues the U.S.
has concerns about as potential venues for greater government control of the Internet.

Touré made it clear that the conference would be very much
about broadband, how to get it to the billions who don't get it now and how to
handle increasing bandwidth demands. The U.S. is concerned that could translate
into taxing the Internet to raise the funds to build out broadband,
particularly given the fall-off of revenues from charges for international exchange
of traditional telecom traffic. Touré said there could not be "heavy"
taxation, but that was likely cold comfort to U.S. representatives.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.