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Growing the Internet 21 October 2016

The Road to Yasmine Hammamet: Expectations for WTSA-16

Elizabeth Oluoch – Do Canto
By Elizabeth Oluoch – Do CantoFormer Director, International Institutions and Relations

What is at stake for the Internet community at the ITU’s WTSA-16 event next week in Tunisia? What concerns are governments around the world raising? What will we as the Internet Society be watching?

The International Telecommunication Union’s World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly 2016 (WTSA-16) starts this coming Tuesday, 25 October. Members of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector, including governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisation, and academia will descend upon the resort town of Yasmine Hammamet in Tunisia to set the future direction of the ITU Standardization Telecommunication Sector (ITU-T). Mostly, ITU-T members will decide how best to structure and prioritise the work of this sector for the next four years. The task at hand is to define a future for the institution that is evolutionary enough to keep pace with the technological landscape and remain relevant.

Of course, the major challenge to overcome is achieving that particular future within the boundaries of its telecommunications remit. The past four-year period has been marked by an ITU edging closer into the Internet arena particularly on Internet services and applications. Much of this can be attributed to a strong desire by several governments to have the ITU play a more prominent role on emerging Internet issues. WTSA-16 will take place within this context; questions about the appropriate role for governments in some Internet policy and technology areas will dominate the discussions

What’s at stake at WTSA 2016?

A key question to consider is whether the extent to which WTSA-16 will lead to further expansion of ITU’s scope and mandate into the Internet space. That determination rests on the decisions made in Yasmine Mammamet. Governments will consider changes recommended to these agreements through a series of recent regional meetings, and depending on the nature of some of them, and they could have an adverse impact to the Internet community. The effects from these contributions could result in a transformative shift in the ITU agenda and lead to an increased role of the ITU in the Internet space.

What do we want to accomplish?

The Internet Society (ISOC) shares a common belief with the ITU that global communications are an enabler of growth and development, creative expression and innovation and that it should be available to everyone. To that end, ISOC is committed to collaborating with partner organisations around the world, each within its areas of responsibility and expertise, to make the Internet available to everyone, everywhere.  As governments map out the plans for ITU-T activities, we believe that those plans should be based upon and reflect the ITU’s specific remit on spectrum allocation and development of globally interoperable telecommunications standards.

Specifically, we a looking for the following in Yasmine Hammamet:

  • WTSA-16 should not approve work programs for the next study period that could lead to a regulatory or operational role of the ITU in the governance of the Internet.
  • Delegates at WTSA-16 should consider the respective roles and responsibilities of the various actors in the Internet Ecosystem and avoid duplication with other SDOs.
  • Delegates take the open Internet model into account as they consider the deployment of new technologies.
  • The ITU-T should strengthen its coordination and collaboration activities to avoid the development of competing and duplicative standards.
  • The ITU-T should foster a multistakeholder approach on any policy discussions that occur on the operational aspects of the Internet. 

Key Internet-related issues that will be discussed

Update – 24 Oct 2016 – We have now published a matrix listing the WTSA resolutions that will be up for discussion.

Internet of Things (IoT) – Though the IoT is, by definition, an Internet issue and therefore historically out of the scope of the WTSA, it will be the focus of many discussions in Yasmine Hammamet. Specifically, ITU-T members will discuss and debate issues related to this emerging policy issue, including the availability of Internet addressing space, IPv6 deployment, privacy and security of IoT data, analytics of big data, cross-border data flow and cloud computing. Some of the IoT-related proposals touch on sensitive national jurisdictional issues or are areas that are managed by other organisations with responsibility for IP-based resources. The key objective of the Internet Society is to encourage the ITU-T to strengthen collaboration with other Standards Development organisations (SDOs) and other organisations working on IoT to understand what others are doing on IoT infrastructure and architecture, privacy and security and, most importantly, to avert duplication and the development of competing standards. (See our IoT Overview document for more information about ISOC concerns with the Internet of Things.)

Internet Connectivitygovernments will consider adopting a recommendation for the establishment of national and regional IXPs to address the high costs of international Internet connectivity in developing countries. The Internet Society has championed IXPs for many years and has a long-standing commitment to working with countries to establish local infrastructure. However, the proposed one-size-fits-all solution proposed within the WTSA presents some significant challenges. It discounts the complexities and barriers that are unique to each country which may not yield the expected outcomes.  Additionally, this approach undermines the progress that has been made on Internet connectivity by the ITU Development Sector, the open consultations on the CWG-Internet with stakeholders on “Best practice for installation and operation of IXPs” and “Building an Enabling Environment for access to the Internet.” Furthermore, it fails to recognise the role played by governments, international organisations and the Internet community to promote the wider deployment of IXPs. This, of course, presents an opportunity for the Internet community to play an informative role by demonstrating the success metrics of IXP deployment in many parts of the world through promotion and awareness initiatives, collaboration and collective responsibility.    

Over-the-Top applications and services (OTT) – the economic and tax implications of Internet-based services and applications, particularly Voice over IP (VoIP), on legacy telecommunications revenues will be another major issue discussed. Several governments will seek to expand the sector’s work on finding regulatory frameworks for Internet-based services and applications with the goal of developing recommendations. Do the rules that govern the old telephony system apply to Internet-based services? This is a major consideration for the WTSA, as Internet-based services sit on top of the application layer and not the network. The Internet Society is concerned about proposals that would establish burdensome regulatory provisions for convergence technologies that could limit the innovation potential for Internet services and applications.

Cybersecurity –  cybercrime and security threats posed to IoT infrastructure will be at the forefront of the cybersecurity agenda. At WTSA-16 there will be renewed efforts to strengthen existing security activities for IoT and to carve out a much greater role for the ITU in cybersecurity by drawing on the outcomes of the WSIS+10 review.

Digital Object Architecture (DOA) the DOA is expected to be a more contentious issue debated at WTSA-16. There will be significant efforts to make the handle system, a type of DOA, a universally accepted standard for IoT.  The handle system provides unique identifiers for digital objects on the Internet. Its primary purpose is to identify digital objects irrespective of the location. The point of contention for many is that the handle system is a proprietary technology, and by implementing it for IoT, it could compete with other IoT identity management systems and present interoperability conundrums.  A critical message to amplify in these discussions is that any technologies that are deployed continue to support the open Internet model to for it to function and remain secure.  

International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) Review – we expect there to be a lively discussion on the scope of the ITR Review in 2017 as governments consider whether to incorporate emerging issues from ITU-T study groups into the ITR review process. 

WTSA-16 will be held from 25 October to 3 November. We invite you to follow our updates on

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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