Dubai: The battle at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is building up and the real issue comes when they debate article 6.0.6 proposed to be included in the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) in the next couple of days, which is to impose fees for content coming into the networks, a think tank told Gulf News.

The article proposed by the African States mandates member states to take measures to ensure that operating agencies have the right to charge providers of international communication applications and services appropriate access charges based on the agreed quality of service.

The Arab States proposals include the same language and further state that regulatory measures may be imposed by the member state in cases where appropriate access charges are not established through commercial arrangements and to the extent that such measures do not hinder competition. This clearly indicates an intention to reach beyond companies that are merely supplying international telecommunication services but to those who supply applications and services over them.

Threat to investment

A proposal from the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) about this is also attracting a lot of attention.

“Imposing fees for content coming into networks are a clear and present danger to investment that will connect our people to the internet,” Dr Rohan Samarajiva, chairman and chief executive of LIRNEasia and former Sri Lankan director general for telecommunications, told Gulf News.

He said it is widely recognised that access-network providers exert a degree of market power because they can control access to their customers.

For example, a person sitting in the UAE requests for a YouTube video. A small amount of data goes out to wherever the server is. A large amount of data flows in to the UAE network, a large net inflow.

According to this model, he said the sending network would have to pay an “access charge” that is considered appropriate by the various governments. There is talk of commercial agreements, but what is a commercial agreement in which the payments are second-guessed by governments? The transaction costs of negotiating thousands of commercial agreements in the newly liberalised telecom environment would be high.

European telecom companies have been trying to get Google to pay for the bandwidth YouTube and its other websites are using since 2010.

Samarajiva warns that Google, Facebook, Amazon and iTunes would have to pay national network operators significantly more for the bandwidth their services use.

Challenging the move

The Americans are to fighting this move to the bitter end in Dubai and Goggle has been campaigning for more than a month.

According to its blog, Google have so far garnered about 2.86 million people around the world for free and open internet.

“The internet has created so much value today due to its openness. [It is] borderless and belongs to everyone, it has brought unprecedented freedoms to billions of people worldwide: the freedom to create and innovate, to organise and influence, to speak and be heard,” Bill Echikson, Head of Free Expression Policy and PR, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Google, said.

“No single entity controls the internet; it is controlled by the billions of people. Governments have a role but the internet has always been an instrument of the people because it is designed to be open and free from the bottom up, not the top down,” he said.

“What should Google do? They need to do raise their voice before it comes into force,” Samarajiva of LIRNEasia said.

He said the new payment proposal that are being requested and the transaction costs are likely to Balkanise the internet. Entire countries and networks may cease to have access to attractive content, because the content providers or the networks that host the content may deprive them of access because it no longer makes economic sense to serve them.

If ITU member states vote for ill-considered proposals that elevate ITU jurisdiction, the current progress driven by the Internet in recent years to jump-start developing world economies could come to a halt.

“Such proposals would have deeply problematic effects on the developing world’s ability to access low-priced online content,” he said.