Keeping his commitment to multi-stakeholder groups to engage in an open, transparent dialogue before the Indian delegation begins its negotiations at the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT) in Dubai, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal is holding an open house on Tuesday.
The meeting at Sanchar Bhawan at 3 p.m. is intended to have a substantive discussion on various critical issues and implications flowing from the language that has been submitted by India on Internet traffic, content, online speech, surveillance and cost to the consumers.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) sought comments from the industry in September, but submitted proposals that seemingly do not include several important views and inputs. Civil society groups that have a large stake in such discussion — given the “binding” nature of the final treaty agreement — have also asked that their inputs be considered by Mr. Sibal.
The Dubai conference will see over 193 countries negotiate the future of the Internet which could have a direct bearing on India, as it is expected that the country will have nearly half a billion Internet users by 2016, with nearly $100 billion contribution of the online economy to the GDP.
DoT Secretary R. Chandrashekhar told The Hindu that the government was considering a multi-stakeholder delegation where industry, civil society and media accompanied the government even though as per the ITU constitution, only governments are allowed to speak at the forum meetings.
The meeting in Delhi is only one week ahead of the global meet where multiple countries have now submitted proposals. During a year-long preparatory process across the globe, no significant participation was seen from India.
Mr. Sibal’s task now includes reconciling multiple inputs and positions in just a few days which will need some effort since industry and civil society do not agree on all issues.
The European Parliament, whose 27 members are signatory to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), passed a resolution last week, stating that “ITU or any single organisation is not an appropriate entity to claim regulatory authority over the Internet.” The resolution “regrets the lack of transparency and inclusiveness surrounding the negotiations for WCIT12, given the outcomes of this meeting would substantially affect the public interest.”
The European Parliament “stresses” that some of the ITR reform proposals will negatively impact the Internet, its architecture, operations, contents and security, business relations and governance as well as free flow of information online. It has called upon the Commission (EU) “to coordinate the negotiation of the revision of the ITRs on behalf on the basis of inclusively gathered input from multi-stakeholders.” It stresses that “ITU recommendations are non-binding documents which promote best practices.”
It is entirely possible that the WCIT conference will result in a sharp divide between countries that practise democracy and free speech and those which have found the Internet to be a source of political embarrassment and sometimes civil revolutions to be divided, resulting in the complete breakdown of any substantive output except for some high level principles.