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The Rapidly Changing Governance Environment of International Telecoms

Late last year I participated in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-2012) in Dubai, organised by the UN agency the ITU.

I reported extensively on that event, which was aimed at updating the International Telecommunications Regulations. You can refresh your memory about the background and developments of WCIT-2012 in my blogs on the event.

Australia played a key role in trying to bring the various parties closer together, but in the end there simply was not the political will to work towards a compromise.

From the outset there were several reasons WCIT might fail, not the least of which was the fact that the various technological, political and regulatory issues facing the new much broader telecoms environment were not sufficiently separated and so could not be addressed in a rational and systematic manner. There are simply too many conflicting interests involved under the umbrella of the internet which involve: the users of the internet, their governments, independent private internet companies and national telecoms companies, some of which have been (or still are) owned (or partially owned) by their government.

Simply trying to ‘fix’ the various governance, regulatory and other industry issues currently under discussion in the traditional way is not going to work. Once we have unravelled those key problem areas we will see that in some of the most critical areas, structural reforms of the telecoms industry will be needed before we can move on.

Furthermore, in the fast-moving world of the internet in the wake of NSA (and no doubt similar activities from other countries) the lessons from the last six months indicate that internet governance solutions driven by national governments are losing credibility.

It also became clear at WCIT-2012 that the national telecoms organisations that have served us well in the management of the telecommunications market over the last 150 years have largely missed the boat in transforming their businesses following the arrival of the internet and the subsequent industry and market changes. At the same time some of the commercial interests that have emerged over recent years are leading to questions about privacy and other rights of individual users. At far too regular intervals companies such as Google and Facebook announce further intrusions into people’s individual privacy.

Given a decline in trust in national governments, the inability of the old technology champions in the telecoms world to guide this process further, and the increasing intrusion on privacy by commercial organisations, it is essential to first separate these issues before any international progress can be made on solutions or new structures in relation to the developments currently under discussion within organisations and activities such as WCIT, IGF, ICANN, ITU, etc.

The problem with ‘unravelling’ the issues at hand, however, is that this will lead to a decrease of power for individual countries and telecoms organisations and it could limit the use of personal data by the internet companies, which they might not like. They all benefit from a more complex environment which they would claim needs their leadership involvement to solve those issues.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication

Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

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