As the ITU's World Conference on Telecommunications (WCIT) continues in Dubai, a rather important "debate" has slowed any progress to a crawl. The key thing that is being worked on, of course, is new International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). Most of the debates we've talked about to date have been about what kind of mandate the ITU might have on things outside its direct areas of interest, as indications were that they wanted to expand the ITRs to cover things like the internet, online security and more. But a key fight shows how it goes beyond even just that. The big debate at WCIT right now is over a simple definition that could have massive implications: will the ITRs apply to "recognized operating agencies" or just "operating agencies."
Seems simple, right? Not really.
Currently, the ITRs apply to "recognized operating agencies" which tend to be the huge telcos, often either state owned, or formerly state owned (and often still closely aligned with the government). Basically, the big national telcos that everyone is aware of. Those are considered "recognized operating agencies." But, if they take out the word "recognized" then it would cover: "any individual, company, corporation or governmental agency which operates a telecommunication installation."
Have you set up a WiFi network in your home? Well, then, you just might be included in that definition. See how that one little word could make a massive difference in the impact of the new ITRs? Basically, it's a question of whether or not the new rules will apply to the giant national telco companies... or everyone. Countries are taking sides and there's a bit of a stalemate, as noted by .nxt:
Lined up against this measure [of expanding the coverage to everyone] are Canada, CEPT, Citel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Poland and the United States. For it are the Arab States, African States, Brazil, India, Iran, Philippines and RCC.
The conference chair is now pushing for a sort of "compromise" that certainly sounds a lot like siding with those in favor of the massively expanded definition. He's in favor of using "operating agencies" rather than "recognized operating agencies" but then trying to allow for "exclusions" to the definition by pointing to Article 38
of the ITU Constitution. Of course, that doesn't clarify anything. It just makes things more confusing.
Even if Article 38 could be used to "exclude" certain entities -- say, individuals and small businesses -- there would still be a massive problem. Beyond the fact that these rules would apply to many more companies who have no idea what's going on, it's a fundamental shift
in thinking about the ITRs. It goes from rules that are limited to just a few giant telcos to ones that are de facto inclusive of just about everyone... leaving only "exceptions." In some ways, it reminds me of the switch in copyright from an opt-in system, to one in which everything was automatically covered with just a few "exceptions." That sort of thing has been a disaster on the copyright front, and would be an equal, if not bigger, disaster for telecom rules.