Skip to main content

Kramer: WCIT Conference Must Steer Clear of Internet

The U.S. is nonnegotiable on the point that international
telecom treaties not be expanded to include the Internet, and Ambassador Terry
Kramer, tapped by President Obama to lead the U.S. delegation to the World
Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT 12) in Dubai next month,
said as much so Tuesday in no uncertain terms.

At an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event in
Washington on Tuesday, he signaled that the U.S. could walk if the conference
morphed into an effort to extend the UN's International Telecommunications
Union (ITU) treaties on traditional telecom into Internet governance and
content control, which he pointed could come via innocuous-sounding changes.
FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who was also a speaker, seconded that motion.

Kramer said that confining the treaties to telecom was a
nonnegotiable item for the U.S. delegation. He acknowledged cybersecurity and
broadband build-out and access were all issues worth framing at the conference,
but they could not be solved there, and the attempt likely would fracture the

He warned that changes of a single word could have
far-reaching effects on geopolitics, the free flow of information and the world
economy. He also warned that if the conference did devolve into an attempt to
give governments more control over Internet traffic and content, the conference
could fall apart, which would not do Dubai or ITU organizers any good. He also
said that the U.S. would not be bound by any Internet-related changes, though
it would obviously have an impact given that the Internet is a global

On that note, he said it would not be productive to attack
the UN (as a number of congressional Republicans have done), or not to try to
remain at the table.

While he said that some European countries were backing off
a proposal to adopt a sending-party-pays model for charging for Internet
traffic (to help fund broadband build-outs), India was starting to talk about a
similar proposal, in which developed markets would help pay for broadband build-outs
in developing countries.

ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure has suggested consensus
at the conference is in reach. Kramer was not so sure given Toure's discussions
over the European pay Internet model that he finds troubling. He said consensus
was possible on identifying the problems, but that trying to find consensus on
solutions was where it would break down.

Moving the Internet to a pay model, including trying to
charge for quality of service, would fundamentally change its character, he
said, and made it clear the U.S. would support such a move. While he said he
was sympathetic to the need for broadband build-outs, a pay model would
discourage some players from sending traffic, or would require them to charge a
large fee that would exacerbate the digital divide over affordability. "We
understand the problem," he said. "But the solution is not

In fact, he said that a successful conference would be one where
they agreed on the problems, but did not try to reach solutions that would
inevitably divide them.

Kramer also said another proposal to give government's a
role in determining the routing of Internet traffic was a nonstarter as well.
He said that would only drive up costs and make it easier for the government to
censor traffic.

He also warned about efforts by Syria, Russia and China to
move away from the multistakeholder model of Internet governance that was the
key to its success.

Kramer's message in Dubai will be that the Internet is
working under the current multistakeholder model and the virtuous cycle of
innovation and investment that results from that approach and that attempts at
a more government-centric model would threaten that continued success.

Kramer said that is a message he will be relaying repeatedly
over the 2-3 weeks before the conference begins Dec. 3.

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who was on a panel with
Kramer at the EIA event, seconded the multistakeholder emphasis, also warned of
innocent-sounding proposals that may be anything but -- "small tweaks can
become tectonic changes," he said -- and reminded his audience that when
the conference is over Dec. 15, the fight will still go on. He noted that the
nation states pushing for more control of the Internet are "patient and
persistent incrementalists."

McDowell said he understood that the economics pushing some
of the efforts at expanding the treaties to include the Internet. They are
looking to replace dwindling revenues from the days of long-distance, money
that flowed disproportionately from the developed to the developing world. Some
of that went to the social benefit, some of that money to things not so
beneficial to the populace, he said. At any rate, getting the ITU more involved
was not the answer, he concluded. Countries that regulate the Internet are
freer and more prosperous, he said.

McDowell, who has been one of the leading voices on the
issue, will be in Dubai for the conference. He pointed out that preserving the
multistakeholder model and rejecting nation state encroachment is one issue on
which Congress has been uncharacteristically in accord. He said the
instructions from the directly elected representatives of the people were not
to allow expansion of ITU jurisdiction into the Internet "one iota."