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Home > News 12 October 2012

Raiders of the Open Internet?

ICT Researcher Highlights Developing World’s High Stakes at WCIT-12


Ranil-Senanayake-(L)-in-conversation-with-Nalaka-Gunawardene"The ICT story is the greatest public policy success of our times. We have not succeeded in providing drinking water to the people, or transport, or anything in that sense, to the extent that we have succeeded in giving them the use of ICTs. The Internet is not broken. It’s working. Don’t break it!”

This fervent plea comes from Dr Rohan Samarajiva, Chair and CEO of LIRNEasia, an ICT policy research organisation.

Speaking in TVE Asia Pacific’s latest web video, titled ‘Raiders of the Open Internet?’, he explains his deep concerns about some current proposals that, if accepted, can radically alter the way data moves around online.

He cautions that such myopic policies can fragment the open Internet, and make large swaths of useful content beyond the reach of hundreds of millions in the developing world.

The proposals are to be taken up at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), to be held in Dubai from 3 to 14 December 2012.

‘Giant Step Backward
or the Way Forward’

Read Dr Rohan Samarajiva’s position paper on European and African proposals to WCIT-12: how and why they threaten the Open Internet as we know it

Convened by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU), it’s a legalistic, treaty-level conference. Its task is to review the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). These global rules enable our phone calls, SMS, emails and web browsing to move seamlessly through telecom networks across borders.

Among the most troubling proposals to WCIT-12, Dr Samarajiva says, have come from the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) and the Africa Region contribution submitted by Egypt.

ETNO wants the ITU to designate Internet content providers as “call originators” and then subject them to a “sending party network pays” (SPNP) rule. That could allow telecom operators to charge content providers with rates that vary on how graphics-rich or data-heavy the latter’s content is.

Indian children using ICTBut if ETNO has its way, says Dr Samarajiva, access could become more expensive as content providers will be forced to pass along costs, cautions Samarajiva.

For millions of poor who are just getting on the information superhighway, this can mean: ‘Road Closed’.

“In the short-to-medium term, paywalls will result in the exclusion of the great majority of people from the developing world. Not only because they cannot pay, but because they do not have the means of making the payments: internationally recognized credit cards,” he says.

Another scenario: content providers – like Facebook and YouTube -- may just terminate connections with Internet service providers (ISPs) in countries where people have limited buying power or lack payment mechanisms.

Net result: the Internet gets “balkanized”, cutting off some poorer countries from large swaths of content.

Samarajiva, an infrastructure specialist and one time telecom regulator in Sri Lanka, has been engaged in WCIT-12 related dialogues in Africa and Asia, with particular focus on the developing world’s interests.

His organization, LIRNEasia, has been conducting path-breaking research on ICTs at the bottom of the pyramid – how low income people are leveraging the power of increasingly cheap and user-friendly mobile phones and digital devices to boost their incomes, strengthen human relationships and acquire new skills.

Read the Full Interview

In this full transcript of the interview, Nalaka Gunawardene talks to Dr Rohan Samarajiva about WCIT-12, Internet governance, ICT at the bottom of the pyramid and government attempts to control web content (censorship).

He fears that ITU’s domination in WCIT-12 discussions signals the agency’s takeover of the global dialogues started during World Summits on Information Society (WSIS). That process, which involved summits in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005), also involved UNESCO and UNDP who brought in the development interest.

“Sadly, this is a takeover of WSIS process by ITU. The ITU sees itself sitting on an increasingly marginal part of the system, and being an international organization and being subject to the normal bureaucratic imperatives, they are trying to preserve their existence and they want to extend their claws into the growing part of the sector – which is the Internet!” Dr Samarajiva says in the extended interview.

The interview, conducted by science writer and TVEAP Director Nalaka Gunawardene, was recorded in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 4 October 2012. The 15-minute video is being released without copyrights restrictions, allowing anyone anywhere to use it in advocacy.

Raiders of the Open Internet? Dr Rohan Samarajiva Speaks


Debate unfolds at:

Photos courtesy:
TVE Asia Pacific Image Archive


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